The History of 420
The origin of this highly popular day has a big variety of different versions, depending on the person you ask and how far into the celebration they are at the moment.
The significance of April 20th for pot smokers across the world is an interesting topic, but to know the true origin, we need to go back and do some research.
It all starts with the popular band “The Grateful Dead” now only known as “The Dead”, back in 1990, around Christmas time, publisher Steve Bloom was walking across the lot (where fans gathered before every Grateful Dead concert) when someone gave him a flyer with the following information:
“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”.
Bloom did not have any idea about the meaning of 420, but he investigated it and sent the information to High Times magazine, and the article appeared on the May of 1991 issue.
Bloom’s first theory was that everything began in San Rafael, California in the late ‘70s, where supposedly “420” was the code for Marijuana smoking in progress for the police. Someone heard the code and started using it as an expression for smoking pot.
He was right about the origin being in San Rafael, but it had nothing to do with the cops. The term actually was created in 1971 by “The Waldos”, and don’t worry if the name does not sound familiar, because it’s not a rock band. The Waldos were just a group of High School friends that used to hang-out close to a wall outside their school, that’s why they were called Waldos.
They never imagined that fans of Marijuana across the world would use this term to celebrate each April 20th.
This “holiday” for cannabis has become so big that different kind of activities and celebrations are planned everywhere in the world, while not everyone loves what happens on this day.
Every year, universities express their concerns about what their students may be doing on April 20th, after all, smoking weed is not legal everywhere and it’s certainly not accepted everywhere either. Parents, teachers and even students often disagree with the consumption of cannabis and any public activity involving it.
The effort of some universities and organizations to stop any celebration on this date clearly has not been enough to stop them.
Students get together at 4:20 on this day and just get stoned. There is no need for music, bands or any kind of show, to celebrate this day, you just need a little bit of weed (or a lot).
The cultural impact of these three numbers has reached mainstream audiences; you can find little Easter eggs referring to this code on big movies like Pulp Fiction.
Even the bill of medical marijuana in California is named SB420. It’s not clear who may be responsible for the name but it is clear for most people involved with the bill that the person that did it knew the meaning of the number.
The term is even all over the internet. If you are “420 friendly”, that just means that you smoke or are okay with people smoking around or close to you. It’s a convenient way of finding out if your possible roommate won’t have any troubles with your smoking habits.
Saying 420 instead of literally describing the action makes it sound cooler and a little bit vaguer.
Going back to The Waldos, they actually have proof of what they are saying; they have numerous letters and flags with 420 references, including early 70’s post marks, and of course, they also have a story.
The story starts in the fall of 1971, The Waldos heard about a Coast Guard service member who owned a plot of marijuana plants close to the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard Station. Apparently this man could no longer tend his plot and of course, this came as a great opportunity for The Waldos to get some free pot.
They all came up with a plan to go hunt the plot, and they decided to meet at exactly 4:20; this was the most convenient time because they were all athletes and that is when they were all finished with practice.
They kept reminding each other of the time, at first they would say “4:20 Louis” because they were meeting at the Louis Pasteur Statue, but it ended up being just 4:20.
The first couple of tries were not successful, but they didn’t give up easily and kept meeting at 4:20 to try again.
Week after week, they would travel there and smoke in the car the whole time, sadly, they never found the plot of marijuana.
What was left of this experience was a new code word for one of their favorite activities.
They even say that according to the tone of their voice, “I’m going 420” could mean “Hey do you want to go smoke?” or “Are you stoned?” or even “Do you have any marijuana?”
It was the perfect code, their parents and teachers did not have any idea about what they were saying.
This is the origin of the term which you can find some references to on Wikipedia or even Urban Dictionary, but how did something that started with just a group of high school friends become so popular worldwide?
In the late ‘60s, the hippie safe haven that was San Francisco started to change.
Speed freaks and violence took over, and The Grateful Dead choose to move to the Marin County Hills, close to San Rafael High School. The Dead were not only close to The Waldos but the father of one of The Waldos took care of some real estate for The Dead and the brother of another Waldos’ member was friends with bassist Phil Lesh, so they used to smoke together at numerous times.
The Waldos used to hang out and smoke at The Dead’s rehearsal and Steve (The Waldos’ member whose brother was friend with The Dead’s bassist) thinks it was probably his brother who was the first to introduce them to the 420 term.
They had open access to The Deads’ parties and rehearsals so if it wasn’t his brother, it was probably him or any other Waldos’ member. They used the term constantly and the community around them started to adopt the code.
Phil Lesh admits that it was probably The Waldos who coined 420 but he does not remember the exact time he heard it for the first time.
As the Grateful Dead toured across the globe during the ‘70s and 80’s, they took the term with them, spreading it to their fans and once High Times Magazine heard of it and published the article, it became known globally.
The magazine started using the term in everything they did, making references to it in every event and they actually purchased the web domain 420.com.
Eventually, The Waldos decided to set the record straight and talk to the magazine about the true origin of 420, saying it was not about a police code, it was just about a group of friends trying to find free marijuana.