420: From Stoner Holiday to Shopping Holiday and Everything in Between

April 19, 2019

By Chloe Aiello

From humble roots in the '70s as a tradition among five pot-loving friends to a worldwide phenomenon, Apr. 20 ー or 420, as it’s more commonly known ー has become synonymous with cannabis consumption. But in recent years, 420 has earned a reputation for something else, too: shopping.

A year ago, April 20 marked the single biggest day in cannabis sales for all of 2018 with $26.6 million in total sales, according to insights from cannabis industry analytics company Headset. Dispensaries that year tallied about 60 percent more in sales than the average Thursday and about 50 percent more than the average Friday, according to data collected by point of sales and compliance software provider Flowhub.

This year should be no different. In fact, experts at both Flowhub and Headset anticipate it will be the biggest 420 shopping day in history, not only because of strides in legalization ー 10 states and Washington D.C. have now legalized recreational marijuana ー but also because the cannabis holiday falls on a weekend.

Although marijuana businesses have come to think of 420 as the Black Friday or even the St. Patrick’s Day of cannabis, the holiday didn’t begin that way.

Legend has it that the unofficial stoner holiday was started by five friends in Northern California who call themselves “the Waldos.” As Dave Reddix, who goes by Waldo Dave, tells it, the friends would gather at 4:20 p.m. everyday after class and sports practice to smoke.

“The spirit of our code was just to have fun, because the Waldos are all funny guys,” Reddix told Cheddar. “The spirit of 420 was friendship, fun, and kindness.”

As the men grew up and went their separate ways ー always remaining friends ー they spread the word about their high school tradition. Reddix eventually went on the road with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and, as he tells it, the 420 tradition proliferated among the widespread Deadhead community.

“Somehow it turned into a worldwide phenomenon, and it’s kind of mind boggling -- but it’s still a private joke to us,” Reddix said.

And as far as commercialization goes, the Waldos have no beef with folks who want to shop the holiday, so long as they keep true to the original kind and fun-loving spirit of the day.

“For some people, they consider it the Black Friday of cannabis, and maybe some people like that because they get better deals,” Capper said, adding that the Waldos “don’t get so much into all the debate about what goes on politically,” but that they urge people to be “friendly and kind and considerate and helpful and cheerful” on “420 day.”

But 420 has taken on a lot of different identities since the days of the Waldos, including being an important platform for cannabis activists. Erik Altieri, executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said focusing on exclusively the consumerist aspects of 420 minimizes the experiences both of activists who have helped make progress in the industry, and of communities continuing to suffer from impacts of cannabis criminalization.

“Prohibition is still very much still alive in this country and is still causing a lot of harm to far too many people. Even in states with legalization, the fight is still not over,” Altieri said.

More than 650,00 Americans were arrested in 2017 for marijuana-related offenses, according to Drug Policy Alliance. And data from the American Civil Liberties Union shows that despite roughly equivalent rates of cannabis use among black and white Americans, blacks are almost four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana.

Altieri urged industry insiders, media, and consumers to have a more conscientious 420 by taking care not to forget the inequities that still exist. For industry professionals, that might mean acknowledging the work of advocates that have paved the way for the industry, and using their positions to push for responsible regulations in the space. For consumers, that might mean connecting with lawmakers about legalization issues like conviction expungement and minority representation in the industry.

“No one is saying that no one should have a good time and celebrate their love of cannabis on 420, but they can do it in a way that is attentive to the cause they support,” he said.