In this day in age, you would be hard-pressed to get around the globe without hearing the term “420.” In cannabis culture, this term unquestionably translates to “let’s consume cannabis,” especially around 4:20 p.m. and on its celebration day, April 20th. The popularity of this phrase begs the question: why the number 420? Well, some say it is the number of active ingredients in cannabis. Others say it is tea time in Holland. Another theory has something to do with Adolf Hitler’s birthday (April 20, 1889). These theories are bit odd but they are, also, largely unsupported by evidence.
While there are many tales of the origin of 420, the true story traces back to five teens who would hang out by a wall at San Rafael High—a meeting spot that earned them the name “the Waldos.” The Waldos went on a treasure hunt for a secret grow, a story that will uncover the mystery and marvel of a term that has made its way into the lives of pot smokers around the globe.
The Waldos of San Rafael
It was five friends—the Waldos—who learned of a Coast Guard member who planted a cannabis plant at Point Reyes. No longer able to tend to the plant, he created a treasure map that got into the hands of the Waldos. After school, the Waldos met at the Louis Pasteur Statue, smoked some pot, and went on a search for the elusive, yet, free herb. The meeting time? 4:20 p.m. According to one of the members, Steve Capper, they called their devised search plan “420 Louis,” but after a few failed attempts they just called it “420.” While, they never found the elusive cannabis plant, the treasure hunt did conceive, “420”, which became their secret phrase to smoke without parents and teachers knowing.
So, wait, then, how did 420 spread to the rest of the world?
That story begins the with Grateful Dead.
The Grateful Dead 420
The Waldos had many connections to the Grateful Dead. According to an article in History.com, Mark Gravitch’s father managed the Grateful Deads’ property. And Dave Reddix’s older brother was good friends with the bassist, Phil Lesh. Capper told Huffington post that when they went to Dead concerts, they would shout “hey, 420” to let someone know to pass the joint. That’s how the word started spreading through the Grateful Dead community.
The phrase started to take off globally in 1990 when, Steven Bloom, a reporter from High Times was handed a flyer at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland. The flyer said, “we are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420ing in Marin county at Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” High Times published the text of this mysterious flyer and promoted it as “the grandmaster of all holidays: 4/20, or April 20th.” The publicity launched the term into the world and in 1997 High times launched 420.com taking the concept to the digital world.
The term 420 has firmly taken its place in cannabis culture. April 20th has become an unofficial holiday—a day when cannabis lovers get together and consume. In 2009, a 4/20 event at UC Santa Cruz’s campus be came so large that the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs sent out an email stating, “the growth in scale of this activity has become a concern forboth the university and surrounding community.” From California to New Zealand, 4/20 observances have been held all over the world to celebrate the beloved plant. The best thing about this unofficial holiday is that it can be appreciated every day. When the clock strikes 4:20 and you got a random Grateful Dead song playing in the background, you know what to do.