Why is 4/20 associated with weed?

4/20 is a pillar of the cannabis subculture, but how did the tradition begin and why? We explore the meaning of 4/20 and why it matters.
Why is 4/20 associated with weed?
minute read

Unless you’ve been off the grid for decades, you’ve probably encountered the term 4/20 in popular culture or everyday life. The simple sequence of numbers might seem arbitrary, but it has a deep meaning in the cannabis subculture that has gone fully mainstream in recent years.

Nowadays, you can’t log onto social media or walk downtown without encountering 4/20 in some form or another, but you still might ask — what does it really mean? 4/20, like so much of cannabis culture, comes from humble origins and has left its mark on the world in a lasting way. 

This article will explain how 4/20 came to be associated with cannabis, why it’s shown so much staying power, and how you can celebrate the 4/20 tradition in a way that fits your lifestyle. 

What is 4/20?

4/20 is a broad term used to refer to cannabis acceptance, enthusiasm, and a general “wink and nod” to the world of cannabis at large. You may see the term on the signs of smoke shops, on cannabis products, or everywhere from posters and billboards to event promotions and cultural movements. 

4/20 also refers to an annual date, April 20th, which is widely celebrated by cannabis enthusiasts worldwide. If you see the term “4/20 friendly” in person or online, you know that the individual or message is somehow associated with cannabis — even if the content isn’t directly promoting or discussing cannabis openly.

Think of 4/20 as a cannabis code word that goes beyond the world of cannabis itself. In many cases, it’s simply used as a lighthearted joke or a subtle way to make a cannabis reference with numbers. 

How did 4/20 originate?

The story of 4/20 takes us back to the early days of cannabis use, when pot smokers had to stay under the radar to avoid the consequences of a harsh penal code. It all started with a group of high school students in San Rafael, California, located in Marin County near San Francisco and Oakland. 

Back in the early 1970s, these high schoolers — Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich — would meet up after school near a statue of Louis Pasteur to enjoy an afternoon toke at 4:20 pm. It was a wise selection of time and place, ensuring the stoners wouldn’t be caught. Remember, this was long before medical cannabis or the path to legalization, so being busted with cannabis could mean a severe penalty for these young trailblazers.

The group coined themselves as “the Waldos” because they couldn’t be found, and kept the 4/20 code word in place to keep their recreational use a secret. San Rafael High School will always have its place on the map of cannabis culture, though the story of 4/20 doesn’t end there.

Even after the Waldos graduated, the 4/20 term stuck around in the community and soon made its way across the country with the help of the Grateful Dead. Deadheads would travel from one state to the next, bringing plenty of cannabis and mythology along with them. The 4/20 concept soon became a staple of the Deadhead culture and the lexicon of American cannabis enthusiasts in every state.

What began as a simple code word soon became a broad term associated with hippie, roadie, and recreational cannabis cultures in general. We now see 4/20 references everywhere, from local events and online communities to the halls of the Senate as they pass legalization bills and more. 

What are some common 4/20 traditions and rituals?

There are many ways to celebrate 4/20, whether you choose to smoke cannabis or enjoy the fruits of the cannabis plant in some other way. Whether you’re in Colorado, New York, or Sydney, Australia, there are typically large events organized on April 20th each year, coinciding with warm weather and high times.

These events usually feature music, activities, and organizers promoting the latest push for cannabis rights and awareness. No matter where you are on earth, you can expect large gatherings of people coming together to enjoy cannabis and all it has to offer. 

Now that 4/20-friendly environments and businesses are more common than ever, we can enjoy cannabis in peace without worrying about legal consequences in most states. As long as you stay safe and smart, there’s something for everyone to enjoy, whether you’re smoking weed or not.

How has 4/20 evolved through the years?

4/20 might have started small at a California high school, but it has transformed into a global phenomenon that nearly everyone recognizes. Let’s look at how 4/20 traditions have evolved over the years and what’s to come as cannabis culture and business change. 

Legalization and cultural acceptance

With nearly half of U.S. states having legalized recreational cannabis, the push for legal cannabis has made some major strides in recent years. Additionally, the 2018 Farm Bill brought non-psychoactive cannabis products into a legal safe zone, allowing millions of people to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids like CBD.

On the other hand, legalization is just one side of the coin. Cultural acceptance still varies widely from one state to the next, and 4/20-friendly individuals should be mindful of when and where they partake in cannabis consumption. 

Luckily, things are certainly trending up and in the right direction, as more states are pushing for legalization and a broader shift toward cannabis acceptance.

A growing cannabis marketplace

The cannabis industry has made significant strides in growth and variety, thanks to the Farm Bill and broader legalization efforts in the past several decades. 

Cannabis market leaders like Sunmed quickly entered the arena, creating high-quality products with transparent processes and stringent third-party lab results. This has opened up a new world for cannabis users who demand clean, trustworthy, and effective cannabis products for both recreational and therapeutic use cases.

The cannabis marketplace still features some staple product categories like dried flower, edibles, extracts, and concentrates, and these likely aren’t going anywhere soon. In this sense, the 4/20 ethos is still alive and well, as these old-school cannabis formats are going strong.

However, the industry is changing fast and expanding rapidly, and there’s always something new to discover no matter what type of experience you’re looking for.

How can you celebrate 4/20 today?

There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate 4/20, especially now that cannabis is more widely accepted and legal in many contexts. Here are some ideas for how you can make the most of 4/20, whether you designate a time of day to enjoy cannabis or wait for April 20th for a big bash.

Enjoy cannabis flower recreationally

Cannabis flower is still one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis, whether with joints, blunts, pipes, or resin products like hash. Today’s cannabis is very potent, however, so it might not be the cannabis you grew up with. Try a small amount first and ensure you’re in a comfortable environment to enjoy your experience to the fullest.

Use hemp extracts for health benefit

Not everyone is on board for smoking or vaping cannabis, so hemp extracts from Sunmed offer a perfect entry point to enjoy 4/20 on your own terms. If you want to experience a more traditional THC high, our Beyond Delta-9 THC product lineup allows you to take a precise serving size and stay in control of your experience.

For those who want a non-psychoactive 4/20, consider using hemp extracts like our long-lasting CBD tinctures. These give you a wide range of potent cannabinoids that won’t produce mind-altering effects. You can enjoy 4/20 any way you want, so determine what works best for you and make the most of each moment.

The bottom line

4/20 is a term that has been around for decades, and it still plays a central role in cannabis culture and the popular lexicon across languages. Be on the lookout for 4/20 wherever you go, and you’ll definitely see it in some unexpected places.

Meanwhile, dive into our full hemp product lineup so that you can reap the benefits of hemp on 4/20, or any day of the week. 


How pot holiday 4/20 came to be | PBS

4/20's founding fathers recall long, strange trip to pot holiday | CBS

Is 4/20 an Event-Specific Marijuana Holiday? A Daily Diary Investigation of Marijuana Use and Consequences Among College Students | NIH

Transcultural Aspects of Cannabis Use: a Descriptive Overview of Cannabis Use across Cultures | Springer