The History of 420
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of 420, we explore the story of cannabis in the U.S.A. Join us on a visual journey that highlights key moments of cannabis' history, from the first hemp planted in colonial fields, to how the phrase ‘four-twenty' become connected to cannabis five decades ago, to marijuana's influence in modern culture.
1500s
how did weed get to the united states?
Hemp was brought to the United States by the Spanish in mid-1500s with the intention of growing it as a crop. It was a reliable and renewable resource, with strong fibers that had versatile application. Most notably it was a primary material in building ship sails and ropes. By 1619 hemp was so popular as a crop that in some colonies farmers were required to grow the crop.
Fun Fact
the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper
1800s
Cannabis as Medicine
By the 1800s cannabis based medicines were widely used throughout the United States and could be purchased over the counter at pharmacies and general stores.
1910s
how did weed get to the united states?
Hemp was brought to the United States by the Spanish in mid-1500s with the intention of growing it as a crop. It was a reliable and renewable resource, with strong fibers that had versatile application. Most notably it was a primary material in building ship sails and ropes. By 1619 hemp was so popular as a crop that in some colonies farmers were required to grow the crop.
1920s
Roaring Weedies
In the 1920s, recreational cannabis was growing as a fine companion in the underground party scene becoming just as popular in the speakeasy as whisky in a teacup. In fact, The Volstead Act of 1920 raised the price of alcohol in the U.S., making marijuana an even more attractive alternative.
1930s
Jazz Joints and Banning Marijuana
Recreational marijuana use soon spread from the speakeasies to the jazz clubs, and was particularly popular among the black jazz community and ‘hepsters.'

While Prohibition was repealed during the Great Depression, lawmakers quickly found a new target in cannabis. While some were concerned about the potential harm of the intoxicating effects of marijuana, the primary reason was for taxation and regulation.

Another motive was to target marginalized social and ethnic groups, since recreational marijuana was being used most among Mexican and Black communities.

In 1936, the propaganda film Reefer Madness was released in a further effort to undermine public opinion of cannabis. In less than a century, cannabis went from being a respectable crop, a widely available medicine, and a popular tonic to completely illegal.
1940s
hemps second wave
While recreational use of cannabis was banned, industrial hemp use was experiencing a renaissance. During World War II, hemp was critical for producing marine roping, parachutes, and other military items.

While respect for cannabis as an industrial crop blossomed yet again, a study hoped to reverse negative perceptions of cannabis from the previous decade. In the 1944 La Guardia Report many misconceptions against marijuana were exposed as false or exaggerated.
1950s
Counter Culture & Harsh Sentences
In the 1950s a new generation, 'The Beatniks' emerged and traded conventional societal norms for a free-spirited, artsy, Bohemian lifestyle that included experimenting with drugs, particularly marijuana.

In an effort to control these movements, mandatory prison sentences for drug offenses, including marijuana were set in place. Even a first-time marijuana possession charge carried a minimum sentence of 2-10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000 (which would be just over $190,000 in today's money!)
1960s
Rebellious Youths
By the 1960s, Marijuana use and culture became a symbol of rebellion against authority. While the government relentlessly touted the dangers of marijuana, 60s youths were first-hand evidence that such claims were false. While not being used in a strictly medicinal manner, cannabis was being used to self-soothe during uncertain times, particularly amongst angst ridden youth.
1970s
Flower "Power"
The 1970s amplified the nation's opinion on marijuana, be it positive or negative.In 1970, President Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act as part of his campaign against drugs, or as President Nixon put it, the "public enemy number one.

"While there remains debate on this claim, was racism the sole motivation behind Nixon's anti-drug policy? No. Nixon's war on drugs was largely a "public health crusade" led by a man who personally despised drugs. Part of the evidence for this view is that Nixon's policies did not focus solely on criminalization, but also public-health initiatives for drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation, including medication-assisted treatment.Whatever the motives, Nixon's policies disproportionately impacted black and minority communities, a recurring problem with cannabis control legislation.

Possible synopsis: While there's debate on whether Nixon's motivation was racism or a passion for public health, at any rate the policies negatively impacted black and minority communities disproportionately.
1970s
Pot Protests
To counter the crackdown against cannabis as part of the war against drugs, social protests start to become more popular.America again found itself divided on that subject of cannabis. Even lawmakers struggled on what to do with marijuana. To help facilitate these changes, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) was also founded in 1970.
1970s
High Times is Born
The magazine dedicated to the love of marijuana was founded in 1974 by Tom Forçade. The magazine was originally intended to be a single issue joke: a Playboy for stoners that got up close and personal with centerfolds of beautiful buds instead of bodacious bods.
Fun Fact
High Times was originally intended to be a one-time issue as a parody of Playboy, but for stoners.
1970s
The Real History of "420"
The story of 420 begins with five teens in San Rafael, California who often hung out by the wall outside their school, earning them the nickname ‘The Waldos.' In autumn 1971, the Waldos were given a treasure map that was purported to reveal the location of a patch of orphaned cannabis plants.

The Waldos began meeting at least once a week to attempt to decipher the map and find their cannabis treasure. The designated time? 4:20 PM, a convenient time after practice since all the Waldos were athletes.

But how did a little secret between highschoolers grow into an international phenomenon?
1970s
The Grateful Dead's Role in 420'S History
The Waldo's were well connected to the band. "We'd always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, were using those phrases," says Capper. "When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.' So it started spreading through that community."

High Times reporter Steven Bloom first heard the phrase during a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California, Christmas week 1990. One of the many ‘dead head' hippies handed him a flyer that read:  "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." The flyer briefly explained the meaning and history of the phrase. Bloom sent the flyer and story to High Times, and 420 was soon launched into a cannabis culture canon.
1970s
The Start of The Medical Marijuana Movement
After being arrested and prosecuted for growing his own plants on the porch of his Capitol Hill home, Robert Randall took his case to court. As a glaucoma sufferer, he presented a compelling argument that without the proven effects of marijuana, he would be blind. In 1976, the D.C. Superior Court found Randall not guilty, stating his "right to sight was greater than the state's need to enforce the drug laws."
The tension between cannabis activism and the war on weed continued to escalate through the next decade.
1980s
War on Drugs
While visiting a school in Oakland in 1986, a young girl asked Reagan what she should do if someone offered drugs, to which the former First Lady replied, "Just say no." These three simple words became the cornerstone of Reagan's decades long crusade to end drug abuse among school aged children.

This passion against drugs was shared by her husband, President Reagan, who vowed to reprioritize the War On Drugs started the decade before by his predecessor Nixon. Another famous anti-drug campaign was founded in 1983 by the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Daryl Gates. The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, known as "D.A.R.E."

Effective or not, both "Just Say No" and "D.A.R.E" put marijuana use back on the general public's radar. Surveys conducted during this time period revealed that the percentage of people who considered drug use as "America's number one problem" skyrocketed from 2% to 64%. These anti-drug initiatives also burned themselves into 80s pop culture (raise your hand if you ever owned a D.A.R.E. tee shirt).
1990s
Fight for Medical Marijuana
A notable figure in this fight is Dennis Peron, called the "father of legal marijuana" in California. Openly gay and living in an LGBTQ epicenter, Peron witnessed first-hand the horrors of the AIDS epidemic. During these early years, when treatments were new, limited and with misconceptions abound, few had access to medication or therapeutic relief.

Peron saw that cannabis could help. In an interview with Weedmaps News about the lack of AIDS medication and the connection to cannabis, Peron's spouse John Entwistle Jr. said: "The drug that people did have was pot, and it helped. It helped with the appetite, it helped with nausea, and it helped with the depression, and that's a pretty big deal."

Peron believed so strongly in the therapeutic benefits of cannabis that in the 70s he opened the Big Top Pot Supermarket...which was actually 11 rooms spanning the top two floors of a Castro District Victorian...where he illegally sold marijuana. The Big Top was raided in 1978 and Peron was even shot in the leg by an undercover officer. Peron subsequently spent three months in the hospital, followed by three months in jail.

When Peron lost his love and partner West, however, he fully threw himself into the fight for legalization of medical marijuana. Peron eventually organized and co-authored the 1996 ballot known as Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act, which argued for legal use of medical marijuana in the entire state of California. Proposition 215 passed with 79% of the votes.
1990s
Cannabis Buyers' Club
That same year, Peron turned his illegal marijuana supermarket into the first public medical cannabis dispensary in the U.S., with the new name of San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. The club eventually had over 8,000 members, many of which were AIDS patients.

Another figure that helped open the doors to medical marijuana was patient-rights' activist, aptly named Mary Jane Rathburn. As a volunteer for The Shanti Project (an organization that offered the first medical services to AIDS patients), Rathburn secretly gave pot-infused brownies to patients, which earned her the nickname "Brownie Mary."

Despite the media attention, intense lobbying by activists such as Rathburn and Peron,  and Proposition 215's victory, California's cannabis freedom did not last long. A federal judge closed the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers' Club (and other dispensaries) in 1998. It would be nearly 20 years before cannabis was legal for adult use in California.
2000s
Road to Legalization
By the 2000s, the coverage regarding marijuana use made the topic less taboo. Weed culture again found itself in the mainstream.(show Afroman, Pineapple Express, Harold & Kumar, That 70s show)

At the turn of the new millenium, a number of celebrities came forward (or were "caught") using cannabis. In 2003, Oscar winner Frances McDormand came out as a marijuana lover by gracing the cover of High Times magazine. Famous Olympian Michael Phelps was photographed smoking weed with a bong, which subsequently led to a loss of his deal with Kellog's cereals and a three-month suspension from all swim competitions.

Perhaps most shocking of all, however, was an interview with George W. Bush in the late 90s, during which the soon-to-be president as much as admitted to using marijuana, but that he didn't want his children to follow his example.
2010s
Cannabis Advances
By the 2010s, marijuana walked the fine line between illegality and popularity. Still on the fringe for mainstream America, a subtle yet steady shift towards normalization was discernible. In 2014, comedian Sarah Silverman shocked her interviewers on the Emmy Awards' red carpet when showing them what she could fit in her tiny evening clutch...which included a cannabis vaporizer pen. "And this is my pot, my liquid pot," Silverman said.

Until the early 2010s, cannabis users who wanted to inhale their high could either smoke in the traditional sense or smoke using a bong. Cannabis vaping was about to change that, and O.pen one of the first vape pens on the market was ready for the ride.

While it took a bit of work to develop the right vape pen, just the concept of cannabis in a cartridge was exciting. Chris Folkerts, CEO of GreenCo., told Vice Magazine about his very first puff on a vape. While it didn't get him high, the experience was still  "probably the most powerful moment" of his life. "Holy shit," Folkerts recalled thinking to himself. "This just fucking digitized weed."

Vaping cannabis quickly became popular because it was convenient, easy to use, gentler on the lungs than traditional smoking, and, of course, discretion. The cannabis industry exploded with new brands and new products, and by the end of the decade legal cannabis sales were estimated to be over $200 billion. The value of the industry itself is projected to over $50 billion over the next five years.
2010s
In Prison For Pot
By the 2010s, marijuana walked the fine line between illegality and popularity. Still on the fringe for mainstream America, a subtle yet steady shift towards normalization was discernible. In 2014, comedian Sarah Silverman shocked her interviewers on the Emmy Awards' red carpet when showing them what she could fit in her tiny evening clutch...which included a cannabis vaporizer pen. "And this is my pot, my liquid pot," Silverman said.

Until the early 2010s, cannabis users who wanted to inhale their high could either smoke in the traditional sense or smoke using a bong. Cannabis vaping was about to change that, and O.pen one of the first vape pens on the market was ready for the ride.

While it took a bit of work to develop the right vape pen, just the concept of cannabis in a cartridge was exciting. Chris Folkerts, CEO of GreenCo., told Vice Magazine about his very first puff on a vape. While it didn't get him high, the experience was still  "probably the most powerful moment" of his life. "Holy shit," Folkerts recalled thinking to himself. "This just fucking digitized weed."

Vaping cannabis quickly became popular because it was convenient, easy to use, gentler on the lungs than traditional smoking, and, of course, discretion. The cannabis industry exploded with new brands and new products, and by the end of the decade legal cannabis sales were estimated to be over $200 billion. The value of the industry itself is projected to over $50 billion over the next five years.
2020s
Modern Marijuana
The number of medical marijuana patients continues to grow, with roughly 1.5% of the American population registered as medical marijuana patients. Qualifying medical conditions have expanded beyond glaucoma and cancer as more research proves the health benefits of cannabis.

Increased understanding of the endocannabinoid system reveals that our bodies are literally built to interact with the cannabinoids found in cannabis. Such insight has spurred the use of cannabis to enhance wellness rather than treating disease only. Cannabis consumers often seek more than just the euphoria of being "high," but use marijuana as a tool to boost creativity, focus, mindfulness, and so on. Microdosing and exploring blends of cannabinoids and terpenes allow users to incorporate cannabis into a healthy daily routine.

According to a 2019 government survey on drug use, an average of 28.7% of adults regularly use marijuana--that's nearly one third of the U.S. population! Despite such widespread use and continuing normalization, marijuana is still federally illegal. According to the FBI's crime statistics, cannabis comprises 35% of all U.S. drug related offenses. Perhaps this decade, home of 420's 50th anniversary, will change that.