A Cannabis History Lesson: the Origin of 420

The history of cannabis in the U.S. is more interesting than most history lessons and goes back farther than many would guess, even pre-dating the conception of our country. For example, in 1619 hemp was required by law to be grown on every farm in the then-colony of Virginia due to its various uses as a material for clothing, ropes, and paper products. While the popularity of hemp faded in favor of more desirable crops such as cotton, its sister product marijuana has only risen in popularity during the 20th and 21st centuries in America. As the seasons change and telltale signs of Spring emerge, we at Compliant Packaging are looking forward to a holiday that won’t be marked on your Apple calendar despite its prevalence across the nation: 420.

The Evolution of 420

Yes, 420 – the code word turned rebellious rally cry turned colloquial holiday. April 20th is a day now known both inside and outside cannabis culture as a celebration of the herb and how it makes us feel. But how did this vague term evolve from a cryptic message among friends to a widespread celebration? And how has the increased legalization of marijuana throughout the country changed the ethos behind the day?

Lore surrounding the term 420 is robust and varied and a brief internet search on the topic will reveal theories about a Bob Dylan song, Adolf Hitler, and police radio codes. The most credible origin story to earn a place in cannabis history in the U.S. is the legend of The Waldos: In the 1970s, five teenagers in California met up frequently to smoke weed at 4:20pm after their sports’ practices ended. The friends began using the time to disguise communication about their plans and then as a code for anything related to their favorite pastime. Reportedly, the term became widespread due to its adoption by a member of The Grateful Dead who was connected to The Waldos. (For an enjoyable dive into this and the other stories related to the history of 420, check out the documentary Legend of 420.)

The Transition from 4:20 to 4/20

Fortunately, 420 can translate to an annual day of celebration as easily as it can mark a daily excuse to indulge. As a Colorado company we would be remiss not to mention that the Denver 420 Rally organization (which organized the annual smoke out event in Denver for 10 years) claims to have pioneered the connection between cannabis and April 20th. Legal representation for the group is quoted as saying that prior to the first 420 rally in Civic Center Park in 2007, the significance of 420 in the cannabis community was a time on the clock and not a date on the calendar. Regardless of the validity of that claim, April 20th has been established in the history of cannabis nationally and worldwide as the once-a-year observance of the spirit of freedom, creativity, and feel-good vibes that marijuana has symbolized for decades.

420: Today and Tomorrow

With the increased legalization of marijuana across the country, 420 has transitioned from a countercultural expression to something much more mainstream and commercial. Record-breaking single-day sales were recorded in the cannabis industry on April 20th of last year, which undoubtedly indicates a growing acceptance of the holiday. The Emily Post Institute even released a publication in 2019 detailing proper etiquette around cannabis use. Whether these changing tides around the celebration prove to enhance or detract from its original ethos remains to be seen when the next chapter of the cannabis history in America is written.

Enter to Win the Compliant Packaging 420 Sample Giveaway!

To celebrate 420, the Compliant Packaging team is giving 4 lucky winners a FREE sample of any tin we offer! Get in the spirit and enter to win today.

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