Have you ever wondered about the significance of the date of April 20? Why is it linked to cannabis culture? Why is it a badge of honor for all those weed warriors? What were we talking about again? Hey man, you can like, see the universe if you just try.
Where does 420 come from?
From a 2011 article on the Huffington Post, Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band guitarist, sat down for a pop quiz to figure out just where that all important “holiday” came from.
“I don’t know the real origin. I know myths and rumors,” he said. “I’m really confused about the first time I heard it. It was like a police code for smoking in progress or something. What’s the real story?”
Steven Bloom, former reporter for High Times magazine and current publisher of CelebStoner.com and co-author of Pot Culture, once received a yellow flyer from a Deadhead that referred to the mythological origins of 420.
“420 started somewhere in San Rafael, California in the late ’70’s,” read the flyer. “It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call, they started using the expression 420 when referring to herb – Let’s Go 420, dude!”
The story, though, was only partially right. It had nothing to do with a police code—though the San Rafael origins are widely considered accurate.
A group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos—because of their chosen hang-out spot; a wall outside the school—coined the term in 1971. The Huffington Post spoke with Waldo Steve, Waldo Dave and Dave’s older brother, Patrick, and confirmed their full names and identities, which they asked to keep secret for professional reasons. (Pot is still, after all, illegal in much of the country.)
California legislative staffers, who were there when the state’s medical marijuana law, a bill named SB420, was approved say that the 420 designation remains a mystery, but that both lead Assembly sponsor Mark Leno and the lead Senate sponsor John Vasconcellos most likely new what the numbers represented when they were drafting the law.
The Waldos do have proof, however, that they used the term in the early ’70’s in the form of an old 420 flag and numerous letters with 420 references that had early ‘70’s post marks.
The story says that one day in the Fall of 1971—harvest time—the Waldos got word of a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. The Waldos decided to pluck some of this free bud, and since they were all athletes, they agreed to meet at the statue of Loius Pasteur outside the school at 4:20, after practice, to begin the hunt.
“We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis and we eventually dropped the Louis,” Waldo Steve told the Huffington Post.
“We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ‘66 Chevy Impala and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Pt. Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week,” said Steve. “We never actually found the patch.”
“I could say to one of my friends, I’d go, 420, and it was telepathic. He would know if I was saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?’ Or, ‘Do you have any?’ Or, ‘Are you stoned right now?’ It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it,” Steve said. “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”
Never before has the term “Where’s Waldo” been so pertinent.
The collapse of San Francisco’s hippie utopia in the late ‘60’s, a time when speed freaks, thugs and con artists took over The Haight, the Grateful Dead relocated to the Marin County hills, just blocks from San Rafael High School.
It was with this fateful relocation that several amazing series’ of events led to the spread and common usage of the term 420. Coined by a group of high school students, and passed along with destiny through stoner rock icons before making itself a household phrase, and no longer just a code-word for a good time.