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Here's How April 20 Became the 4/20 of Global Cannabis Significance

What was once code for some Northern California high school stoners is now global shorthand for celebrating marijuana's growing acceptance.

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How curious it is that April 20 has become a cannabis celebration throughout most of the world. Despite its modest beginnings, celebrations of all things cannabis take place on every continent.

Irene Rodriguez | EyeEm | Getty Images

Back in the day

Nothing specific or memorable happened on any past April 20th. In fact, the whole 420 concept was invented by a handful of scholar athletes at San Rafael High School in northern California. The boys gathered daily against a favorite wall to smoke, and that earned them the name “Waldos.”

In the fall of 1971, they came into possession of “a treasure map to a patch of weed on the Point Reyes Peninsula.” The patch belonged to a U.S. Coast Guard member who had gotten paranoid that he would get caught. So, through his brother, he urged the Waldos to help themselves.

After talking it over, the Waldos agreed to meet at the high school’s statue of Louis Pasteur – at twenty minutes past 4 o’clock. They met, got stoned, and drove out to find the weed farm. They never did find it, but they started the 420 code to call meetings to smoke. It did not matter if they met and smoked exactly at 4:20; it was just a signal to get together for a smoke.

According to, the original code was “420 Louis,” but they would drop the “Louis” in time. A later family connection with members of the Grateful Dead would put the 420 in the musicians’ minds and mouths, and so it spread around the world. There’s a lot of mythology surrounding the choice of 420, but only the Waldos have “multiple pieces of physical-evidence proof of the very earliest usage of the term '420'. In fact, The Waldos are the only ones in the world with any proof at all. The Waldos story/proof of '420' origination has been investigated, and verified, by numerous credible journalistic news organizations.” These include Huffington Post, BBC News and SFGate.

From its humble beginnings, thoroughly believable in the weed world, 420 has spread culture to culture and may be one of the few things uniting people across the globe. The holiday brings a massive influx of culture and revenue to the market.

“April 20 is like Octoberfest and New Year’s Eve rolled into one for those of us in the cannabis industry,” reflects Dr. Stuart Titus, CEO of Medical Marijuana, Inc. The celebration generates more product sales and awareness of the cannabis movement than any other date, Titus explains.  “We are ramping up staff to handle incoming calls, orders and handle inquiries. Throughout the country, there will be many cannabis rallies and events to commemorate "National Cannabis Day.’"

At the same time, the culture around 420 has shifted with legalization, 420 has become an opportunity to celebrate the new perception of marijuana culture in America. "It is no longer about smoking in a back alley or a basement - it's about acceptance," reflects Mike Liebowitz, Partner, sales and operations at Veritas Cannabis. "It's about everything from recognizing the many medical benefits of cannabis to the acceptance of having edibles at a dinner party."

Related: Marijuana In the Midwest? Nebraska Lawmakers Consider Cannabis Legalization.

Market impact

Dinner parties can be expensive, and the same's true for cannabis ones. According to data from cannabis delivery service and mobile app, Eaze, people stocked up the day before 420 with more traditional forms of marijuana in 2016. Last year, flower sales jumped 71 percent the day before April 20, indicating consumers are taking it old school to celebrate the big day. On the day of April 20 there was a 27 percent increase in edibles and 66 percent increase in pre-roll sales, indicating people are looking for shareable forms of consumption. Vaporizer sales stayed constant throughout that week.

Millennials are the driving force behind last year’s 420 but we're expecting more participation from all generations. 

  • Millennials comprised of 68 percent of total deliveries made during 4/16/16 - 4/21/16.
  • Gen Z comprised of 15 percent of total deliveries made during 4/16/16 - 4/21/16.
  • Gen X comprised of 14 percent of total deliveries made during 4/16/16 - 4/21/16.
  • Baby Boomers comprised of 3 percent of total deliveries made during 4/16/16 - 4/21/16.

Related: Most People in Attorney General Jeff Sessions's Home State Want to Legalize Marijuana

Top World 420 Events

If you haven’t made travel events, you still have time to plan for next year.

  • Able and willing to travel, sooner or later, you must hit Amsterdam 420 Festival. The festival and smoke-out surrounds Amsterdam City Hall and The Sand Beachport & Events Complex. Entertainers and educational speakers teach and entertain, and vendor’s sell everything bud-related, including some hot new strains. As long as Amsterdam remains cannabis central, it deserves the best in 420 celebrations.
  • Among the many 420 events in and around Los Angeles, the first Herb N Baked #420 Smokeout will meet at The Overpass in the Silverlake district on April 20. An open bar, live DJ, and surprise guests will entertain an adult 420-friendly crowd.
  • Marijuana remains illegal in London, but users hold a picnic in Hyde Park every April 20th. Every year, some arrests mar the activities, but you wouldn’t think so by the size of the 420 smoke cloud. Police insist they are bound to act in the event of criminal activity like selling weed. Still, crowds grow every year to hear speeches on advocacy, cultivation, and medical uses while entertained by a series of bands and the occasional drum circle.
  • You’ve missed Barcelona’s fabled Spannabis 2017, so you’ll want to plan for next year. It does not fall on 420, but it is a smoke-out along the strand above the beaches on the Mediterranean. Music, vendors and programming occurs at the Fira Cornella Business Center, but you’re welcome anywhere in the gorgeous city of Barcelona.

  • Year after year, tens of thousands meet on Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. But, this year they’ll be celebrating legally. Not officially organized, the event is free with only one requirement: pick up your trash when you leave. Folks gather in the morning, but everyone is focused on lighting up at 4:20 PM.
  • Denmark hasn't legalized marijuana, but Copenhagen is a great place to visit each 420. More specifically, you want to check out Christiana, a small section of Copenhagen, a place out of time. It’s a pot smokers dream -- welcoming environment with no questions asked and darn good product from trustworthy vendors.
  • Marijuana’s not legal in the Czech Republic, but Prague hosted a Million Marihuana March in 2016. They’ll be marching again on May 6, 2017. Its purpose is political, of course, but participants report on the fun and excitement. Like the events on April 20, the march bears a deep unity of purpose in expanding citizen rights to choose marijuana.
  • In South Africa, it’s “420 Dagga Day.” Thousands gather for exhibitions, performance artists, tasty treats, great coffee, and, of course, a chance to socialize and smoke. Werner Weber, reporting for NEWS24, remarked on the variety of people who showed, shopped, and smoked: “People who work in banks, people who work as petrol attendants, waiters, leather workers, even that old codger that looks angry at the world, even he stood there smoking his joint and just taking in the happy vibes.” Johannesburg is close to making South Africa the first nation on the continent with legalized marijuana sales and use, so this year should be a celebration.
  • Free Cannabis New South Wales hosts a community picnic on April 20 in Sidney at Victoria Park near the University of Sidney. It promotes music, food and friends with a menu of musical acts, munchies vendors and a bong throw. And, there is the expected smoke-off at 4:20.
  • Mario Tanaka will host Día Mundial de la Marihuana at Waho’s Bar (The House of Reggae) at Avenue of the Firemen 111 in Barranco, Peru on April 20. Music and festivities from 8:00 PM to 3:00 AM. It doesn’t look like a big event, but it promises a lot of fun.
  • Atlanta’s SweetWater 420 Fest starts at Centennial Olympic Park on April 24 with a 5K Race, Lyrics & Laughter Tent, 420 Disco, and much more. SweetWater is a music-centered event with a family atmosphere including a KidZone. So, any use of marijuana requires some prudence, but Georgia hopes to make this a legal option in the future.

  • Israel hosts the prestigious Cannatech sponsored event, the world’s most respected gathering of cannabis industry leaders, researchers and advocates. You missed this year’s March event, but you can schedule 2018’s event. It’s not a festival as much as a scholarly event. But, with Israel’s becoming the cannabis research capital of the world, it’s drawing a larger crowd every year.

Related: California Strikes Back: Proposed Law Bans Locals from Working with Feds on Pot Crackdown

This list is nowhere near complete, and many events are scheduled the weekends before or after the 20th when it falls during the week. In the U.S. alone, there will large festivals in Denver and Boulder, Colorado; San Bernardino and Long Beach, CA; Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. Smokers will meet in Miami, FL, Washington, D.C., and Boston, MA. They’ll take to parks in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Berlin.

When you add the 420 events to marches and festivals earlier and later in the year, your cannabis caper calendar starts to fill up. Enjoy!