How the brain responds to marijuana
Friday marks a big day for pot enthusiasts in California.
April 20 will be the first "4/20" since marijuana became available for retail sales, and weed-fueled festivities are planned in cities and towns across the state. One of the biggest will be at Hippie Hill in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, where organizers expect 15,000 people to show up at the gathering. They also expect massive plumes of smoke to ascend into the air at — you guessed it — 4:20 p.m.
But when did 420 become synonymous with marijuana? And how?
Like many things in cannabis culture, the term appears to have originated in California. The number started out as a code word used by several stony Marin County high-school students trying to skirt police, parents and teachers. Decades later, 420 has gone mainstream, firmly establishing itself in our collective vernacular.
With that in mind, here are four things to know about 420 — both the term and the holiday.
What exactly does 420 mean? And how is it used in conversation?
In a word (or two) — getting high.
But it has other meanings, such as 4:20 p.m. being weed's equivalent of happy hour. On dating sites, cannabis consumers will say they're looking for someone who is "420 friendly."
Pot businesses use 420 in their names and products almost as much as "marijuana," "weed" and other synonyms for the plant. In that sense, 420 seems to just mean cannabis.
Who invented the term?
To understand the origins of "420," you first have to meet The Waldos, five friends who congregated near a certain wall when they attended San Rafael High School in the 1970s.
"It's a private joke that the world got in on," said Dave Reddix, one of The Waldos.
The Waldos started using "420" in 1971 when they went on a hunt for a hidden weed garden planted in the Point Reyes forest; they met and started their adventure at 4:20 p.m. They continued to use it as a code to let each other know they planned to get high.
Several reporters have investigated The Waldos' claims, and concluded that they likely came up with 420. Although some people have challenged the claims, the final word on the matter might have come in 2017 when the Oxford English Dictionary — a leading authority on historical word usage — interviewed one of the Waldos and included the term in the dictionary.
The Waldos spent several years documenting their claims, going so far as to find a former U.S. Coast Guard officer who gave them the map of the pot patch on Point Reyes. He was homeless on the streets of San Jose. They also compiled some documents, including letters they wrote back in the 1970s that mention 420.
Some of The Waldos knew members of the Grateful Dead, and the band started using the term as well. In 1991, High Times magazine published a flyer from Dead shows that explains the history of the term. It appears the term spread because of use by Deadheads and other Bay Area stoners, as well as publication of the High Times piece.
Where's the party on Friday?
Events across California include multiple high-time happenings both big and small.
In addition to the blow out on Hippie Hill, other notable Northern and Central California events include 420 Fest SF in the city's Dolores Park (complete with a 5-and-10K fun run), a showing of Cheech & Chong's classic stoner comedy "Up in Smoke" in Hanford and "Restorative Ganja Yoga" in Cambria.
In Sacramento, Exhale Smoke Shop will hold its second annual "Hella 420" event, which includes raffles, glass blowing demonstrations and live music.
As you might expect, the star-studded events will be in Southern California, including San Diego's BAYKED by the Bay featuring Wyclef Jean.
One of the biggest events planned in the state, San Bernardino's Cannabis Cup featuring Lil Wayne and Nas, appears to be in limbo, as the city voted this week to deny permits.
Just how popular is cannabis in California?
The Waldos had to search the woods of Point Reyes to find weed. Now they can buy cannabis at any of California's 322 adult-use dispensaries (according to the Bureau of Cannabis Control).
Marijuana has become a big business since the friends came up with their code. California now is the "world's largest cannabis market," according to a report that said 13.5 million pounds of weed were grown in the state in 2016.
The report included another figure that for some is far more important than a numerical code about getting high: $3.7 billion. That's how much money is expected to be spent on legal weed in the state this year.
A few more stats to consider: A recent survey of approximately 1,000 pot-friendly Americans by the firm LendEDU found that the average 4/20 fan plans to spend $71 on marijuana to celebrate on Friday. In addition, around 35 percent of respondents said they plan to take the day off work.