September 24, 2023

Excited Caucasian senior woman in green smoking marijuana

How April 20 Became the Unofficial Marijuana Holiday

If you have any doubts about whether or not Congress wants to decriminalize marijuana, look no further than Senator Chuck Schumer’s recent declaration of April 20 as an unofficial American holiday celebrating marijuana use. His choice of date is no coincidence. The number 420 has long been associated with cannabis.

The number is so well known among marijuana users that all sorts of medical cannabis events are routinely scheduled on 4/20. A Utah company that specializes in medical cannabis cards,, joined up with other companies in the state to promote 4/20 events this year. They weren’t alone.

So how did we get here? How did the number and the date of April 20 become associated with marijuana? This post will explain it in detail. Know this: the association began long before medical cannabis was a legally recognized thing.

  1. Secret Code Among Users

Information provided to CNN by the now closed Oaksteram Cannabis Museum indicates that the 420 code originated among high school students at Marin County, California’s San Rafael High School. As the legend goes, this group of students would meet at 4:20 in the afternoon to smoke weed.

The time was chosen because it gave the students ample time to get high. School was out and students were gone. Meanwhile, parents were still at work. They allegedly met somewhere near the Louis Pasteur statue in the city of San Rafael.

Apparently, the students began referring to their activity as 420 so as to be able to freely discuss it in the presence of adults. CNN says it just spread from there. They say that the term really caught on when Grateful Dead fans began using it.

With the number entrenched as a secret code for using marijuana, it was but a short step to adopt April 20 as an unofficial holiday. And there you have it. But that is not the only explanation.

  1. Easily Disproved Myths

Oaksteram’s official explanation is generally accepted as being the right one. Yet that has not stopped other myths from emerging. CNN discussed several such myths in a piece published on Weed Day 2020.

At the top of their list was a long-held claim that 420 refers to a section of California’s criminal code relating to possession and distribution of marijuana. But if you actually go look at the text of the code, you discover it has nothing to do with marijuana. It deals with access to public lands.

Speaking of the law, another easily disproved myth is that 420 relates to some sort of police radio code. As the thinking goes, police use the code when responding to calls relating to drug distribution. CNN could not find any such code used by Los Angeles or New York police. They did find a code 420 in San Francisco, but it has nothing to do with drugs.

  1. Part of the Culture Now

Despite the Oaksteram account being considered the official explanation for 420 and its relation to Weed Day, there is really no way to prove or disprove it. But it doesn’t really matter. In the end, all that matters is the fact that 420 and April 20 are part of the marijuana culture now.

Chuck Schumer designating April 20 as an unofficial American holiday is simply a recognition of that culture. Does Senator Schumer really care? Probably not. His move was likely just a cynical display intended to make it clear that he has every intention of bringing a marijuana decriminalization bill to the Senate floor. Had he no such plans, he probably would never have made the declaration. And now you know.