What Does 420 Mean? How Teens Popularized the Weed Slang

March 09, 2023

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420, also written 4/20, or 4:20, is the international sign for weed smokers everywhere, letting them know that it's time to, well... smoke weed.

Representing either a day (April 20th) or time (4:20, usually pm), 420 is an unofficial holiday and a slang term for consuming cannabis. It can be used as a signifier for marijuana smokers to self-identify (e.g., "420 friendly") and a reference to broader cannabis culture.

As for the holiday, it's likely the only one that can be identified based on smell. You might hallucinate an anachronistic pot smokers stereotype if you see a group of dreadlocked—grateful Dead tee-wearing hacky-sack players surrounded by a skunky aura. But then again, you might want to check the calendar. It could be 4/20.

420 has grown to be about more than just an excuse for cannabis enthusiasts to smoke weed. 420 is a grown subculture encompassing all things cannabis culture—from smoking to advocating for its legal use to art and music.

Many proponents of 420 culture focus on how to smoke marijuana with mindfulness and intention. Using it as a tool for creativity, relaxation, and personal growth, it's not just about saying, "Let's get baked bro!" and melting into the couch.

Thanksgiving Pre-Dinner Walk T-Shirt

After all, some of the finest art produced throughout human history has been done while totally blazed. From reggae and hip hop to jam rock and even comedy (remember Cheech and Chong?), 420 culture has impacted society far more than the averageThanksgiving pre-dinner walk with the cousins might have you believe.

Above all, marijuana culture promotes community and togetherness, which can be seen in the way 4/20 celebrants get together to smoke pot and collectively share their love for the plant.

If you need proof, consider all the terms and phrases that specifically reference sharing a marijuana cigarette, like "Don't bogart the joint!" or "puff, puff, pass." And good luck getting the tune of "Pass the Dutchie" by the Musical Youth out of your head once you've recalled it. It may not come as a surprise, but by Dutchie, they mean—you guessed it—a joint.

The History of 420

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So, where did this whole 420 thing come from? As a matter of fact, that's a topic of scholarly debate among marijuana users and historians.

A common theory is that 420 is a code word from the police code for "Marijuana smoking in progress." This theory has, however, been debunked, as there's no record of any police department having or using that code.

Another theory—in our opinion, a reasonably half-baked one—is that 420 represents the number of active chemicals in cannabis. While it isn't true, imagining an extremely high armchair-scientist pot smoker having that eureka moment and passing it on to their friends like they're Isaac Newton is entertaining.

The prevailing theory for how the code word came to be is that it originated with a group of five students from a high school in the 1970s in California.

Regularly gathering at an after-school meeting place to consume cannabis at 4:20 pm, the group eventually shortened "hey guys, wanna go smoke marijuana in the parking lot again at our regular meeting time of 4:20 pm?" into the much tidier code word "420." Thank goodness for that.

The code was likely a way of avoiding undue attention to their cannabis consumption. After all, these were the days when the drug's recreational use was illegal. Depending on where you live (we're looking at you, Oregon and Colorado!), that might seem like a strange and distant past.

This theory remains popular because it simply makes sense... High school students seem responsible for every new trend and catchphrase, so why would 420 be any different?

While the identity of these five students from California may be lost to the annals of history, we can thank them for inventing such a handy slang term that grew into the national holiday we know today. If only we could find these heroes and thank them for contributing to the culture...

Record scratch. Wait a second—it turns out we do know who these teens are! And digging a little deeper, we can connect the dots throughout 1970s California and see just how the term proliferated.

No need to thank us for our investigative journalism... we're just doing our job here at Famous in Real Life. Our second job, that is... the first one, is making great420 shirts.

So anyway, back to the teens. These students called themselves the Waldos and went to San Rafael High School in Marin County, where they played sports together. Before 420, the term they used was "420-Louie," a reference to their meeting point in front of the Louis Pasteur statue near the field where they'd practice.

But how did the term jump from San Rafael High School to international fame? That's primarily the responsibility of the iconic jam band The Grateful Dead, specifically their bassist Phil Lesh.

As it happens, the Waldos were fairly well-connected with the already popular rock band. One of the Waldos' had a brother who was friends with Lesh, and another's father was a real estate manager for a band. What sort of band has its real estate manager? We aren't convinced.

Either way, it appears the Waldos must have been running around backstage at enough Grateful Dead shows smoking weed and saying 420 that the band itself began referring to smoking weed using the new slang.

Soon enough, 420 caught on. Its early spread throughout the US survived failed attempts to besmirch the stoner holiday, such as the pointing out that April 20th is also Adolf Hitler's birthday.

So, the next time you're toking up with your 420 buddies, take a moment to thank the Grateful Dead and the friends of the younger brother of the friend of the Grateful Dead's bassist for giving us such a handy term for smoking weed. Oh yeah, and the real estate manager, too, I guess.

International Cannabis Culture of April 20

Roll Me Another T-Shirt

As we've mentioned already, 420 is now a global phenomenon. Smoking marijuana dates back to ancient history but hasn't always been a holiday. Across the world, some significant events recognize the occasion.

Here are a few of the most famous iterations of the annual gathering from elsewhere on the planet:

Amsterdam: Hardly a surprise here, I'm sure. The Dutch capital is known for its relatively relaxed drug laws, so when 420 rolls around, many of the city's potheads probably already have a good head start on the celebrations. How do you say, "roll me another?" in Dutch?

When the big day arrives, people take to the streets to smoke and enjoy discounts and parties in the city's many marijuana cafés and dispensaries. There's even a Cannabis World Cup that takes place over three days around 420.

Vancouver, Canada: Another place stereotypically linked to weed culture, the Pacific Northwest loves its marijuana. On April 20th, Vancouverites gather in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery by the thousands to put up a giant cloud of smoke—although these days, they're probably leaving just as many crumbs from weed edibles. The event features music, food trucks, and all kinds of weed merch.

Montevideo, Uruguay: As the first country in the modern era to fully legalize marijuana, cannabis is widely used and forms a prominent part of Uruguayan culture. On 420, people gather across the city to burn one down and celebrate. If you intend to take a trip for the festivities, consider staying in the 420 Beach Hostel, the city's first 420-friendly backpacker hostel.

Negril, Jamaica: No list of marijuana destinations would be complete without Jamaica. Home of the culture with perhaps the strongest association with weed (Rastafarianism), one might be surprised to learn that marijuana is actually illegal in the small Caribbean country. For that reason, the ganja-and-reggae festival known as Stepping High began as a somewhat clandestine event. Since 2015, however, marijuana has undergone decriminalization for simple possession, allowing the festival to expand and draw in weed tourists from across the world.

Apparel to Smoke Weed In

Jazz Cabbage T-Shirt

Now that you know just about everything there is to know about 420, it's time to show off your appreciation of stoner culture. And what better way to do so than with a great-fitting, comfortable, and, dare we say—hilarious—420-themed shirt?

We've got a range of men's, women's, and unisex gear designed to make your high times even higher. They're not just for April 20th, either. Who says you can't makeChristmas all about smoking trees, too?

Whether you call it weed, grass, sticky icky, orjazz cabbage—we've got theplant-based apparel for you. Our shirts, hoodies, and tanks are made with incredibly soft cotton and high-quality prints, lasting approximately 420 4/20s.

So, what are you waiting for? Check out our cannabis t-shirt collection today.

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