Keep it lit on 420

Inhale the vibes

Graphic+by+Louis+LaVenture%2FThe+Pioneer
Back to Article
Back to Article

Keep it lit on 420

Graphic by Louis LaVenture/The Pioneer

Graphic by Louis LaVenture/The Pioneer

Graphic by Louis LaVenture/The Pioneer

Graphic by Louis LaVenture/The Pioneer

Wendy Medina,
Copy Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






The one day when it’s acceptable and even celebrated to roast a bone out in public, April 20 evokes the gathering of thousands in one of the biggest sessions of the country, right here in the Bay.

Tons of misconceptions and myths about the origins and cultivation of the term 420 linger in the air, some which have to do with Jim Morrison or Bob Marley, some about the amount of compounds found in marijuana and some about it being a police radio code. Let’s set the record straight: For fellow stoners who might’ve never heard about the true genesis of this unofficial celebration, the only code 420 means is let’s get high.

In our very own San Rafael in 1971, a group of high schoolers known as “the Waldos,” so named for their hangout spot in front of a wall at their school, were the ones who coined the term “420.” It was shortened from “420 Louis” since another spot they burned at was in front of a Louis Pasteur statue on campus.

In a San Francisco Chronicle article published in 2000, a co-creator of the term who went by “Waldo Steve” explained, “It was just a joke, but it came to mean all kinds of things, like ‘Do you have any?’ or ‘Do I look stoned?’ It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it. Parents and teachers wouldn’t know what we were talking about.”

Further popularized by Grateful Dead followers, aka Deadheads, this counterculture observance to spark up when the clock strikes 4:20 exploded throughout the country and the following decades, into the worldwide stoner holiday that we have today.

While 420’s association with weed is considered general knowledge — even to those who don’t hit the bong — it’s baffling to hear a handful of people don’t know about the actual day in April reserved for the coming together of a massive ganja party. The actual tokin’ together didn’t start right away in 1971; that actually came two decades later, the announcement first making rounds among Deadheads, around Christmastime 1990 in Oakland.

According to the Huffington Post, then-reporter for High Times Magazine, Steve Bloom, came upon one of the first flyers ever to announce the April 20 celebration, which he published in their May 1991 issue. In it, the unknown author writes, “There’s 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 tokin’ up right along with you … Get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore.”

Amongst the most famous of the seshes going down, and San Francisco’s largest unsponsored event, is the gathering on Hippie Hill at Golden Gate Park, where over 15,000 bodies flood the green knolls to be part of California’s biggest smoke out.

Already thriving in life and culture on a regular day, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood becomes even more amplified with the energy of 420. The streets are thick in smoke and hundreds of people march together from all different directions to reach the hill, a few dressed in costumes adorned with weed leaf ornaments. It’s a must-do stoner experience in which everyone blazes it together, eagerly awaiting the unanimous chant to the countdown, just to puff out an even greater cloud of smoke that blankets the park for a while.

Of course, it being the Bay, you won’t go without meeting an array of interesting people who are just as blasted as you are and also there to enjoy the day, vibing to the various reggae and psychedelic music blasted in the distance. However, waiting in line for the porta-potty does kinda suck.

The BART, the Muni, city buses and of course the streets in general are significantly impacted every year, prompting city officials to have to lay down some rules to make sure no problems ensue with such a huge turnout of people. “To be clear, there is no sponsor for ‘4/20,’ and therefore no fiscal organizer to hold accountable,” said Board of Supervisors President London Breed in an official statement. “But as a City who welcomes visitors from all over the world, we need to do everything possible to ensure a safe, peaceful April 20th for both visitors and residents.”

Consequently, there are street closures and increased police presence — in both uniform and civilian attire — all over the neighborhoods surrounding Golden Gate Park. They won’t be enforcing any cannabis laws, and are only there to ensure public safety, prevent park and property damage and attempt to keep the park from getting trashed as it has years before, according Breed’s statement.

You can bet that the rest of the Bay will also be lighting up to commemorate the greatest natural herb in existence. If you have a medical card, there’s HempCon, America’s largest marijuana convention that sparks a massive crowd; 1st place winner in all three strain categories this year being SF-based JAH-netics. Memorial Glade field at UC Berkeley is a prime spot where you’ll definitely be smelling the excitement in the air, and might even catch a live performance, as rapper Danny Brown has made an appearance in the past. Santa Cruz gets so lit every year, the UCSC vice chancellor even has to send out an official email blast to all students and faculty about being safe and keeping it orderly during the festivities, as stated on the school website.

Something which was once an underground phenomenon has now flourished into a global observance, a whole culture-defining movement that has spilled over from the hippie era and has only gotten stronger as the decades progressed, along with the weed.

Relish in the mighty clouds of smoke that simultaneously arise in the Bay every year when the clock strikes 4:20 p.m., wherever you happen to be; or if not, in the fact that thousands of strangers participate in an unorganized, unofficial session simply to blaze together — commemorating not only Mary Jane, but also acting on the spirit of peaceful expression and good vibes that have their roots right here as well. Clearly, the Bay is the place to be on 420.