Today we dive deep into stoner myth and legend to recount how American cannabis consumers grew their own holiday for pot.

Three simple numbers  – 420 – (always pronounced "Four Twenty")  have been associated with marijuana for at least thirty years.

So what does 420 commonly mean today?

Here's a short list:

  • 420 can simply refer to marijuana itself. Do you have some 420?

  • 420 can mean a session…to smoke weed:  It's 420 time!

  • Cannabis consumers sometimes meet at 4:20 a.m./p.m. on any given day to enjoy marijuana together.

  • April 20th –  420 – is now the international Marijuana Holiday.

This Saturday millions of Americans will celebrate with MaryJane and call for legalization at concerts, events and protests.

Freshly legal Denver is playing host to the first annual (non-medical) High Times Cannabis Cup this week. The Mile High City will experience concerts by Method Man and Redman; newly remonikered Snoop Lion and Cypress Hill at Red Rocks along with a large 4:20 p.m. demonstration at the city civic center.

A gathering of hundreds is expected right here in Philadelphia. PhillyNORML and The Panic Hour will hold their fourth "Smoke Down Prohibition" at the Liberty Bell with a "moment of cannabis reflection" at the hallowed moment.

So where do these magic numbers come from?

For the lexicological roots of 420 my friend Steve Bloom is one of the best resources. We met when I worked at national NORML and Bloom was an editor at High Times Magazine. Now Steve and I coordinate The Teapot Party marijuana politics project for Willie Nelson.

Bloom follows high profile toking on his blog and literally wrote the book on this stuff called Pot Culture: The A-to-Z Guide to Stoner Language and Life.

Philly420: When did you first become aware of the term 420?

Bloom: 1990 at the Oakland (CA) Coliseum. The Grateful Dead did their five or six shows leading up to New Year's Eve and I'm walking out there in the parking lot and someone hands me the flyer...a half page flyer. It had this message that people should like gather, get together, on 4/20.

But there was something in the way they said it that really people liked.

I showed it to all my friends and everyone got a kick out of it. Then I brought it back to the High Times office in New York. We passed it around the office and everyone got a kick out of it there too…so I was the news editor at the time and we got some art and we printed the content of the flyer.

The Dead had moved their office up to San Rafael and the whole 420 thing seemed to be from that specific area.

Really my little write up there in High Times was the first time the "420" probably got any national publicity outside a small network of stoners in the California area that kind of used it locally there.

Here's the transcribed text of the flyer originally printed in High Times magazine:

"Four-twenty started in San Rafael, CA in the late '70's. It started as police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call they started using the expression '420' when referring to the herb—'Let's go 420 dude!'

After a while something magical started to happen. People began getting stoned at 4:20 a.m. and/or p.m.

There is something fantastic about getting ripped at 4:20, when you know your brothers and sisters all over the country and even the planet are lighting up and toking up right along with you.

Now, there's something even more grand than getting baked at 4:20. We're talking about the day of celebration, the real time to get high, the grandmaster of all holidays 4/20, April 20th. This is when you must get the day off work or school. We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpias.

 Just go down Mill Valley, find a stoner and ask where Bolinas Ridge is. If you make it to Marin you will definitely find it.

HELPFUL HINTS:  Take extra care that nothing is going to go wrong in that minute.  No heavy winds, no cops, no messed up lighters. Get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore." 

Philly420: So after the flyer was printed where else was the term?

Bloom:  I started to see it pop up here and there. Like on the back page at High Times there was like a Top 100 things that stoners were into and 420 came up. Then after a few years it was baseball hats and t-shirts and stickers and 420 really started to take off everywhere.

Philly420: How about the first events on April 20th?

Bloom: Debby Goldsberry [a marijuana activist and founder of the successful medical cannabis dispensary Berkeley Patients Group] did some 4/20 events in the Berkeley area and those were the first kind of professional events associated with the day of April 20th and marijuana. There were comedians and bands. But really since the 90's promoters have used 4/20 for shows and other events.

At High Times we adopted it too. We were getting together at 4:20PM to, you know, toke together…not to say we didn't smoke earlier in the day too...but for a while we all made it a point to hang out at that specific time.

I also remember this one April 20th, not too many years ago, when we decided to go down to Union Square – which when you think of all the arrests we have in New York - but about twenty of us walked down from the High Times office and celebrated 4/20 – passing joints under the table because it is New York City after all– but giving off a pretty big cloud of smoke!

Now it has turned into this day for groups to rally and march for legalization.

Philly420: So the themed holiday for cannabis seems to have always been a part of the whole 420 phenomena from the beginning?

Bloom: Absolutely. The big convergence was their goal. The people who wrote the flyer, whoever they were, invested the holiday.

Philly420: How many 420 events are happening Saturday?

Bloom: We started a list up at with about  25 events and now we're up over 50. There seems to be more and more every year.

It used to be that California was the kind of 4/20 hub but in the last five years or so it has really shifted to Colorado. The campus smoke down in Boulder had become one of the biggest in the country. But 4/20 has also gone international – we have events listed in Amsterdam and even London.

Philly420: So police claimed there never was a code '420' for pot. High Times and 420 Magazine journalists in recent years have offered some conflicting reports on the absolute, definite roots of who coined the 420…

Bloom: Personally, I really don't give a s--t about that anymore. Does it really matter? Let it be a collective thing…something that stoners have passed along to each other and turned into this international day to celebrate everything about cannabis.

Philly420: Of course, Philly420 will be joining in the festivities and earnest appeal for federal marijuana legalization with PhillyNORML, The Panic Hour, Pennsylvania Veterans for Medical Marijuana, NJWeedman and others. The gathering begins at 3:30 p.m. at 5th and Market.

Can't make it to an event? Wear a green ribbon on 4/20 to support cannabis law reform and to show support for America's prohibition prisoners.

Chris Goldstein smoked his first joint in 1994 and has been working to legalize marijuana ever since. He serves on the Board of Directors at PhillyNORML has been covering cannabis news for over a decade. 

Contact Chris at