The Origin of 4/20

Marley poster 420 P

How did today's unofficial stoner holiday come to be? THR looks at the birth of a cultural movement that thrives on entertainment.

This site won't be the only place you'll read or hear about tributes to "four-twenty" today.   

Twenty years ago, Deadheads declared that April 20 would become the “grand master of all holidays,” and so it has become -- for stoners anyway. On Friday, pot smokers across the country and perhaps even around the world will light up in unison at 4:20 p.m. for a unique weedy celebration.

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At first, the term 420 was said to be police code for a marijuana bust in progress. Stoners started using the number as an underground term for getting high. Several former San Rafael students came forward and claimed that it wasn’t a police code and that they had in fact coined the term. Still shrouded in mystery, what we do know is that 420 started in Northern California among the Deadhead crowd and gradually spread until by the early ‘90s it coalesced into a unifying communal activity.

Friday is a particularly good day for April 20th to fall on. It’s the start of the weekend, and good vibes can flow without worries about hangovers affecting the work week. So on Friday, there are the usual spate of concerts and movie openings. Add 420 to the mix, and you have a very special social elixir. For instance, the documentaries Marley and California 90420 are both premiering on 4/20 for obvious marketing reasons.

Countless clubs and venues have booked bands and special guest with specific pothead cred. In Denver, Cypress Hill is headlining the Ogden Theatre, and in New York, the 92YTribeca is devoting the evening to a stony Shabbos discussion with this writer.

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Of course, the border- and language-defying recognition of 4/20 as an almost universal tradition owes a lot to pop culture, from movies to music to TV shows (watch a special 4/20 teaser from Showtime's Weeds below). THR chose 12 such pivotal "pot culture" moments here. Read on, tune in, drop out... 

Steve Bloom is the publisher of