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How 420 Became a Cannabis Holiday

In 2016, Heady NJ Guest Writer Chris Goldstein interviewed former High Times Editor Steve Bloom about how 420 became synonymous with cannabis in the 90s.

CG: You are widely credited with discovering and popularizing 420. How did that happen?

SB   The last week of 1990 I went to several Grateful Dead shows at the Oakland Coliseum. I was walking in the parking lot and someone handed me a half-page flier. It had this message that people should smoke together at 4:20 and on 4/20. I brought it back to High Times in New York. We passed it around the office and everyone got a kick out of it. I was news editor at the time. So I transcribed the flier and published it in the May 1991 issue. My little write up in High Times was the first time “420” got any national publicity.

What did the flier say? Here is the full text, which is full of some fun fantasy for sure.

«Four-twenty started in San Rafael, CA in the late ’70s. It started as a police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call they started using the expression ‘420’ when referring to the herb—‘Let’s go 420, dude!’

«There is something fantastic about getting ripped at 4:20, when you know your brothers and sisters all over the country and even the planet are lighting up and toking up right along with you.

«Now, there’s something even more grand than getting baked at 4:20. We’re talking about the day of celebration, the real time to get high, the grandmaster of all holidays: 4/20, April 20th. This is when you must get the day off work or school. We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.

«Just go down Mill Valley, find a stoner and ask where Bolinas Ridge is. If you make it to Marin you will definitely find it.

«HELPFUL HINTS: Take extra care that nothing is going to go wrong in that minute. No heavy winds, no cops, no messed up lighters. Get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore.”

CG: So after the flier was printed, where else did you see or hear the term 420?

SB – It started to pop up on the High Times Hemp 100 list of things that stoners like. After a few years, there were baseball hats, t-shirts and stickers. 420 started to take off.

CG: How about the first events on April 20?

SB – Debby Goldsberry and the Cannabis Action Network did some 4/20 events in San Francisco in the mid-’90s. Those were the first professional events associated with April 20 and marijuana.

At High Times, we adopted it too. At 4:20 pm, we’d toke together and have brainstorming sessions. We made it a point to hang out at that specific time.

I remember one April 20 when we decided to go down to Union Square – which was a few blocks from the office. About 20 of us went there and celebrated 4/20 by passing joints under picnic tables. New York City was the marijuana arrest capital of the world. This was pretty daring at the time.

CG: Was the idea of the 420 holiday part of the whole 420 phenomena from the beginning?

SB – Absolutely. The big convergence was the ultimate goal. The people who wrote the flier, whoever they were*, invented the 420 holiday.

Since this was published in 2016, a group of pals who long dubbed themselves “The Waldos” have become the folks fully credited with ‘inventing’ the 420 cannabis association back in 1971.

4/20 2024 NJ cannabis community

By Chris Goldstein

Chris Goldstein is a writer and advocate based in New Jersey. For the last 25 years, he’s been a cannabis consumer activist. Today, he’s a regional organizer for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in NJ, PA, and DE.

From 2005 to 2008, Chris hosted National NORML’s weekly and daily audio podcasts, which were top-ranked on iTunes. From 2012 to 2019, he wrote a dedicated weekly column on cannabis for the Philadelphia Inquirer called “Philly420,” and he also created the “Marijuana in the News” class at Temple University’s journalism department.

Goldstein formerly served on the Board of Directors at Philly NORML, NORML NJ, Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana (PA4MMJ), and the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey (CMMNJ).

Chris has worked on municipal, state, and federal legislative and ballot efforts. He helped write Philadelphia’s landmark 2014 ordinance decriminalizing cannabis, and in 2024, he received one of President Biden’s pardons for marijuana possession.

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