This article was originally published on April 20, 2009, and has been reposted each year since. This year, it is updated to include the full identities of the men behind the coining of the term “420,” as well as additional details. Carly Schwartz contributed to this story.
Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band guitarist, routinely plays with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, touring as The Dead. It’s the spring of 2009, he’s just finished a Dead show in Washington, D.C., and he gets a pop quiz from The Huffington Post.
Where does “420” come from?
He pauses and thinks, hands on his sides. “I don’t know the real origin. I know myths and rumors,” he says. “I’m really confused about the first time I heard it. It was like a police code for smoking in progress or something. What’s the real story?”
Wavy Gravy is a hippie icon with his own ice cream flavor who has been hanging out with the Dead for decades. HuffPost spots him outside the same concert. Asked about the term 420, he suggests it began “somewhere in the foggy mists of time. What time is it now? I say to you, ‘Eternity now.'”
Depending on whom you ask or their state of inebriation, there are as many varieties of answers as strains of medical bud in California. It’s the number of active chemicals in marijuana. It’s teatime in Holland. It has something to do with Hitler’s birthday. It’s those numbers in that Bob Dylan song multiplied.
The origin of the term 420, celebrated around the world by pot smokers every April 20, has long been obscured by the clouded memories of the folks who made it a phenomenon. Read more…