Marijuana for recreational use has been legalized in 18 states and the district of Columbia over the last decade. You’ve probably heard that the numerals 420 has a special meaning in cannabis culture whether you know a lot or a little about marijuana.

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What is the origin of “420”?

In Wikipedia, you can get some details about the “420”. In 1971, five high school students in San Rafael, California, used the term “4:20” in connection with a plan to search for an abandoned cannabis crop, based on a treasure map made by the grower. Calling themselves the Waldos, because their typical hang-out spot “was a wall outside the school”, the five students- Steve Capper, Dave reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich- designed the Louis Pasteur statue on the grounds of San Rafael High School as their meeting place, and 4:20 pm as their meeting time. The Waldos referred to this plan with the phrase “4:20 Louis”. After several failed attempts to find the crop, the group eventually shortened their phrase to “4:20”, which ultimately evolved into a code-word the teens used to refer to consuming cannabis.

Steven Hager of High Times popularized the story of the Waldos. The first High Times mention of 4:20 smoking and a 4/20 holiday appeared in May 1991 and erroneously attributed the origin of the term to a police code; this and other spurious incorrect origin stories became common. The connection to the Waldos appeared in December 1998. Hager attributed the early spread of the phrase to Grateful Dead followers- after "Waldo" Reddix became a roadie for the Grateful Dead's bassist, Phil Lesh—and called for 4:20 pm to be the socially accepted time of the day to consume cannabis.

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Nowadays, 420 is the day that tens of thousands of Americans gather around the country to celebrate marijuana. It becomes a holiday celebrating cannabis.

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But as support for marijuana legalization grows, the festivities are becoming more mainstream and commercialized. As a result, marijuana businesses are looking to leverage the holiday to find more ways to sell and market their products. This puts 4/20’s current iteration in sharp contrast to the holiday once embraced by a counterculture movement largely made up of hippies and others who decried greed, corporate influences, and all things mainstream. And that tells us a lot about how cannabis is changing in America as marijuana is legalized.

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