What does “420” mean?

When California teens in the 1970s needed a covert way of discussing their after-school plans, they used their meeting place and time as shorthand to avoid suspicion. Eventually, they shortened the phrase to just the time they would often meet after track practice, 4:20 pm. Soon after that, they used the number 420 as code for getting high. To this day, 420 has a major place in cannabis culture, and while it's not much of a code word anymore, it's a quick way to get your point across. April 20th is now an unofficial holiday for most users, and chances are if you're smoking with a group of buddies around 4:20 pm, one of them will point out the clock when it rolls around.

Example usage:

“I'm looking for a 420-friendly roommate to fill my empty room because I don't want another uptight square in my space.”

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Related Cannabis Vocabulary Terms:


Where does this obsession with the number “420” come from?

“420” has become a legendary term deeply rooted in cannabis culture. It is a widely recognized code word among cannabis enthusiasts and holds significance as a symbol of camaraderie, celebration, and the overall cannabis experience. While its exact origin is debated, “420” has grown to represent a time, a date, and a culture within the cannabis community.

One popular theory traces the origin of “420” to a group of high school students in the 1970s who would meet at 4:20 p.m. to search for an elusive abandoned cannabis crop. Although their quest was unsuccessful, the term “420” stuck as an inside joke among the group and spread throughout their social circles. Over time, “420” became synonymous with cannabis and gradually evolved into a worldwide phenomenon.

A global phenomenon

Today, “420” serves as a unifying symbol for cannabis enthusiasts, a time to come together and celebrate the plant and its culture. On April 20th (4/20) each year, individuals across the globe commemorate the day with various activities, events, and gatherings centered around cannabis. It has become a day to advocate for legalization, raise awareness, and share experiences within the community.

Moreover, “420” has transcended its numerical meaning and become an integral part of the cannabis vernacular. It is commonly used as a term to refer to cannabis itself or to signal a shared interest in cannabis culture. For instance, people might say, “Let’s meet up for some 420,” or “I’m a fan of the 420 lifestyle.” The term has found its place in music, movies, and popular culture, further solidifying its impact on mainstream society.

The spread of “420” has been greatly facilitated by the advent of the internet and social media, allowing cannabis enthusiasts to connect, share stories, and coordinate events. Online platforms have played a significant role in amplifying the term’s presence and fostering a sense of community among cannabis enthusiasts worldwide.

Ultimately, “420” has evolved into a symbol that transcends mere numbers. It represents the rich history, culture, and shared experiences of cannabis enthusiasts. From its humble beginnings as a local code word to its global recognition today, “420” has become a celebrated part of cannabis culture, serving as a rallying cry for unity, advocacy, and appreciation of the plant.

Check out this FPV video from the 2023 San Francisco 4/20 celebration on Hippie Hill! (@Caliwalks on YouTube)

Popular culture references to 4/20

“420” has become a pervasive and recognizable term within popular culture, finding its way into various forms of media, music, and entertainment. Here are a few examples of how it has been referenced in popular culture:

  1. Music: Numerous songs reference “420” as a nod to cannabis culture. For instance, Cypress Hill’s iconic track “Hits from the Bong” features the lyrics “Holdin’ the smoke like a motherfuckin’ G / Give me the brew and a fat-ass blunt / 420, always smokin’ the sticky green.” Additionally, popular artists including Wiz Khalifa have incorporated the phrase “420” into their lyrics, further solidifying its association with cannabis in the music industry.
  2. Movies and TV Shows: “420” has made appearances in various films and TV shows. In the classic Quentin Tarantino film ‘Pulp Fiction,’ some of the clocks depicted in the movie are stuck at the time 4:20.
  3. Social Media and Memes: The rise of social media platforms has contributed to the proliferation of “420” in popular culture. Memes, images, and hashtags related to “420” are shared across platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, creating a virtual community for cannabis enthusiasts to connect and express their love for the plant.
  4. Cannabis Festivals: In recent years, “420” has become synonymous with cannabis festivals held around April 20th. Events like the annual “420 Hippie Hill” gathering in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (featured in the media player above) and the High Times “Cannabis Cup” in various locations have drawn large crowds of enthusiasts who come together to celebrate cannabis culture.
  5. Merchandise and Apparel: The influence of “420” can be seen in the merchandise and apparel market. T-shirts, hats, and accessories featuring the number and cannabis-related imagery are popular among enthusiasts. These items serve as symbols of identity and solidarity within the cannabis community.
The famous “420 Freestyle” by Wiz Khalifa. (@WizKhalifa on YouTube)

Other theories and debunked myths

While the origin of “420” as a term associated with cannabis culture is often attributed to the high school students in the 1970s, there have been alternative significances and conspiracy theories that have emerged over the years. While some of these theories may be speculative or purely mythical, they have added to the lore surrounding the term.

One alternative theory suggests that it was the police radio code for marijuana-related offenses. However, this theory has been widely debunked, as there is no evidence to support such a claim. Another theory speculated that it referred to the number of chemical compounds found in cannabis, but this too lacks any factual basis.

Conspiracy theories have also come out suggesting that “420” holds secret connections to historical events or hidden agendas. Some claim that because April 20th was Adolf Hitler’s birthday, the number could be a symbol of Nazi influence. However, there is no evidence to support this claim and it is widely regarded as a baseless conspiracy theory.

Despite these alternative theories, the prevailing significance of “420” remains tied to cannabis culture and the April 20th date. It is worth noting that the term has evolved beyond its initial origins, with different interpretations and celebrations now associated with it. In recent years, “420” has become a day for advocates to push for cannabis legalization and for individuals to gather in support of the plant’s acceptance and benefits.

Ultimately, its widespread adoption as a symbol of cannabis culture and celebration is rooted in the shared experiences and enjoyment of the plant. While alternative theories and conspiracies exist, they do not detract from the unity and camaraderie fostered by the term within the cannabis community.