The True Tall Tales of 420

A pink radio dialed to 420, by Joshua Coleman via UNSPLASH

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

420…it’s a magical time. Although the exact origins of this sacred number are obscured in a haze of mystery and legends, it is known to most that cannabis smokers worldwide celebrate every year on April 20th and engage in legalization activism. On a more daily basis, 4:20 (AM and PM) are perhaps the most popular time to indulge, particularly since one of many origin stories around the meaning comes from the Waldos - a group of students who met at that time after school to enjoy. 

Hazey Origins 

As the story goes, the term “420” was created by the Waldos, a group of high school students in Northern California at the height of the hippie age. The Waldos - Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich - lived in San Rafael, and it is said that they met at a statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20pm after school to search for a legendary lost crop of cannabis. “Waldo Dave” Reddix would go on to become a roadie for the Grateful Dead, traveling the country and spreading the term among the followers of the band, which up until then had just been an inside joke among a select few. 

A horrifying looking statue of Louis Pasteur, in San Rafael, with a stone base and a bronze statue of the man.

Statue of Louis Pasteur at San Rafael High School (source)

This story was first told in acclaimed canna-culture magazine High Times, in an article by Steven Hager, who was the first to interview the Waldos and tell their tale to the public.  

As I was growing up, I heard this turned-out-to-be-true origin myth, as well as ones about 420 being the police code for smoking in public, the number of chemical compounds in marijuana, and that April 20th is the best time to plant cannabis. Of course, all of those are untrue, and with the Waldos going public, their story was finally able to be told. Nonetheless, these other myths persist across high schools, college campuses, and neighborhoods to this very day.

Petty Pot Theft

Another urban legend around 420 is also true - changing highway signs to 419.99 to avoid theft by daring stoners across the country. The most notable example of this is the 420 mile marker on I-70 just east of Denver. The Colorado Department of Transportation changed it back in August of 2014; however, their plan backfired. With this change came another legend around the new sign, and it wasn’t long before the 419.99 mile marker became a target of pot-inspired thievery. Currently, there is no longer a mile marker anywhere around the 420 mark, as I am guessing the poor DOT employees of Colorado simply got tired of constantly replacing them.  

A highway mile marker reading "420" surrounded by prairie grass, with telephone towers in the background.

The 420 mile marker in New Mexico, courtesy of Monica Lee Wingate

Other signs that have been commonly stolen or changed include: 

  • The 420 mile marker on US Highway 95 in Idaho, which was changed to 419.9 (Idaho should have learned from Colorado)
  • Both 420 mile markers in the state of Washington, which as of April 2023 have not been replaced
  • The markers for 420 Street in Goodhue County, Minnesota, have been changed to 42X
  • The 420 mile marker on US Route 89 in Utah, which to my knowledge is still being replaced  

    A green highway mile marker sign in Colorado, reading 419.99

The 419.99 mile marker in Colorado (source)

420 Today 

In today’s world, as cannabis has been legalized in more and more states, it is easier than ever to celebrate 420 with the whole community. Some of the biggest festivals in the country celebrate cannabis and all that comes with it. These gatherings are a chance to advocate for legalization efforts, law reform, and freedom for those currently convicted of drug offenses.  

Here are some of the biggest and the best: 

A circular logo with a yellow background, "Mile High 420" in a teal hippie font, underlined with a cartoon blunt.

Mile High 420 Festival: Taking over downtown Denver every year, this festival is quite possibly the largest in the United States. Hosted by Tommy Chong, the festival will also include performances from legends of hip-hop like Rick Ross, Waka Flocka Flame, and Fivio Foreign. This FREE festival is held every year at Civic Center Park on April 20th. With food trucks, vendors, and public art exhibitions, it’s a true can’t-miss celebrating the first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Poster for the National Cannabis Festival, with a cartoon background and the lineup in a purple and pink font.

Poster courtesy of the NCF Instagram

National Cannabis Festival: Just a mile away from the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., this celebration of all things cannabis is a treat. With performances from 2 Chainz and Juicy J, as well as speakers from Congress, this event combines celebration with activism and political action. The festival also features the National Cannabis Championship. Held the Saturday after 4/20, on April 22nd, it’s a solid way to enjoy the best hazy holiday. 

Vancouver Happenings: On Thursday, April 20th in Thornton Park this year, SOMETHING is happening! While it appears that several different organizations are butting heads over the legacy of the longstanding 420 protest in Vancouver, based on our expert investigations, if you wander towards Thornton Park you should find some other like-minded cannabis enthusiasts, and a live performance from 2024 presidential candidate Afroman later that evening! 

A pink and purple poster for the Asheville Hemp Festival, featuring psychedelic cartoon drawings, and the listing of the lineup.

Asheville Hemp Fest: Bringing it all home to Pulsar’s headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina, this festival takes over Pack Square Park from April 20th through April 22nd to celebrate all things ~hemp~. With North Carolina the only state on this list that hasn’t legalized cannabis (yet!), this event shows the efforts to celebrate cannabis culture as well as advocate for the legalization of medical and recreational use. With musical acts from every genre, as well as a speech from longtime activist and former High Times columnist Ed Rosenthal, this is an essential event for those in Pulsar’s hometown.  


If you find yourself in need of gear to celebrate 420 this year, check out Pulsar’s wide selection, and most importantly, get out there and #EnjoyHigherCulture

What's your favorite 420 celebration event? Let us know in the comments below!


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