How a Group of High Schoolers Coined the Term “420” in Northern California in the 1970’s

The number 420 is the international number associated with cannabis. At 4:20 pm, marijuana aficionados are likely consuming their favorite plant. April 20 (4/20) has become a holiday of sorts for cannabis enthusiasts. But where did the number come from and how did gain so much prominence in modern society?

You’ll be surprised to learn that the term 420 was created right here in Northern California.

As with any cannabis-laced story, the details remain a little fuzzy, but Time Magazine was able to trace the origin of the number to a group of Marin County high school students in the 1970’s. Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich began a ritual at San Rafael High School where they would meet to consumer marijuana at 4:20 pm. The exact time wasn’t significant then, it was simply when their extracurricular activities were usually finished for the day. So when they discussed embarking on the then illegal activity in their teens, they referred to it as “420” for code, according to Time.

Years later, Reddix got a job working as a roadie for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. The band, known for its legendary drug consumption, began using the word throughout their tours. In the 1990’s, a group of dedicated fans learned about the term and began distributing flyers to smoke “420” on April 20 at 4:20 pm. The flyer was obtained and printed by High Times magazine, spreading the code number to its international audience and forever sealing the fate of 420.

The original 420 flyer printed in High Times

The legend of 420 reported by Time was corroborated by an investigation by the New York Times in 2009. Their interview with Steven Hager, a former editor of High Times, confirmed that these NorCal teens were responsible for the term, and High Times spread it throughout the world.

An April 2021 poll from Pew Research found that 91% of U.S. adults think marijuana should be legal, either medically, recreationally or both at the federal level. Cannabis is currently legal in 19 states for recreational consumption and 36 for medical use. In 2022, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana use on a federal level, setting up its full legalization in the United States in the near future.

The negative stigma behind consuming cannabis has faded. One could argue that all started with a group of stony high school students in Northern California in the 1970’s.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

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