Former Freedom Leaf senior editor Chris Goldstein interviewed editor-in-chief Steve Bloom about the origins of how the number 420 became synonymous with cannabis in 2016. Bloom was the first journalist to write about 420 when he worked at High Times in the 1990s.
You claim to have discovered 420. How did that happen?
The last week of 1990 I went to several Grateful Dead shows at the Oakland Coliseum. I was walking in the parking lot and someone handed me a half-page flier. It had this message that people should smoke together at 4:20 and on 4/20. I brought it back to High Times in New York. We passed it around the office and everyone got a kick out of it. I was news editor at the time, so I transcribed the flyer and published it in the May 1991 issue. My little write up in High Times was the first time “420” got any national publicity.
What did the flier say?
“Four-twenty started in San Rafael, CA in the late ’70s. It started as police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call they started using the expression ‘420’ when referring to the herb—‘Let’s go 420, dude!’
“There is something fantastic about getting ripped at 4:20, when you know your brothers and sisters all over the country and even the planet are lighting up and toking up right along with you.
“Now, there’s something even more grand than getting baked at 4:20. We’re talking about the day of celebration, the real time to get high, the grandmaster of all holidays: 4/20, April 20th. This is when you must get the day off work or school. 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.
“Just go down Mill Valley, find a stoner and ask where Bolinas Ridge is. If you make it to Marin you will definitely find it.
“HELPFUL HINTS: Take extra care that nothing is going to go wrong in that minute. No heavy winds, no cops, no messed up lighters. Get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore.”
So after the flier was printed, where else did you see or hear the term 420?
It started to pop up on the High Times Hemp 100 list of things that stoners like. After a few years, there were baseball hats, t-shirts and stickers. 420 started to take off.
How about the first events on April 20?
Debby Goldsberry and the Cannabis Action Network did some 4/20 events in San Francisco in the mid-’90s. Those were the first professional events associated with April 20 and marijuana.
At High Times, we adopted it too. At 4:20 pm, we’d toke together and have brainstorming sessions. We made it a point to hang out at that specific time.
I remember one April 20 when we decided to go down to Union Square – which was a few blocks from the office. About 20 of us went there and celebrated 4/20 by passing joints under picnic tables. New York City was the marijuana arrest capital of the world. This was pretty daring at the time.
Was the idea of the 420 holiday part of the whole 420 phenomena from the beginning?
Absolutely. The big convergence was the ultimate goal. The people who wrote the flier, whoever they were, invented the 420 holiday.
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