Why The Number ‘420’ Is Associated With Marijuana

Why The Number ‘420’ Is Associated With Marijuana
Image: YouTube/Powerful JRE

Marijuana is once again a hot topic as the New Zealand cannabis referendum approaches. Taking place on Saturday, October 17, the cannabis referendum will allow New Zealanders to decide whether recreational cannabis use should be decriminalised in the country. It’s a battle that’s currently being fought around the world, with countries like the U.S. already voting to legalise its use in some states.

The U.S. has a long history of celebrating marijuana use, with ‘stoner culture’ and weed-related events being popularised and influenced by the country. One of these events, which New Zealand may be able to legally celebrate soon, is ‘420 day’. This is an annual day (April 20) where pot smokers around the world come together to get high.

While the event is fairly well known, the origin of the ‘420’ term is harder to come by. There are multiple theories about why the day is associated with marijuana, by the general consensus is the term was founded in the 1970s during the height of the marijuana craze. According to some reports, 420 was used as code by local Californian cops to describe marijuana smoking incidents in progress. This code was then adopted by pot smokers.

But there’s another story, reported to be the ‘true’ origin of 420.

This story, as uncovered by the Huffington Post, features a group of friends getting together to discover a mystery crop of marijuana in a Californian forest.

So the story goes, a group of five San Rafael High School students heard word of an untended marijuana crop near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station in 1971. To hunt this legendary crop, the boys gathered after school at exactly 4:20 p.m. — a time they would repeat to each other in the school halls as a reminder.

Their hunts were reportedly unsuccessful, but the boys continued to meet at 4:20 p.m. for weeks. After a while, their codeword became shorthand for marijuana itself with friends, and friends of friends, sharing the in-joke. As hippie culture grew in California, word quickly spread and 420 went down in history. Since then the phrase has been used to describe and celebrate marijuana use all over the world.

While it’s important to take the story with a grain of salt, it’s a wild and daring tale filled with adventure and camaraderie. It’s as good an explanation as any.

The results of New Zealand’s cannabis referendum will be announced by the end of October. Whether they can celebrate 420 day in April 2021 remains to be seen.