420 and its connection to smoking weed is widely known and referenced, and April 20th (4/20) has become an internationally-celebrated, unofficial holiday for stoners around the world. But where did the 420 phenomenon come from in the first place?
There have been a variety of different theories around the origin of 420 and its significance to marijuana. Some speculations include the urban legend that “420” is police code for a marijuana arrest, or the theory that it came from the Bob Dylan “Everybody must get stoned” refrain from “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35”. After all, 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420.
But neither of these turn out to be the case.
420 isn’t actually the police code for a marijuana arrest, and the idea of it coming from the Bob Dylan song ended up being unsubstantiated. So what is the truth?
It all can be traced back to a group of five teenagers in California in the 1970s. They were known for hanging out by a wall outside their school in San Rafael. Because of this popular hangout spot, the group earned the nickname “the Waldos”.
In Autumn 1971, the group heard a story of a US Coast Guard member who had a patch of weed that he was growing near the coastal town Point Reyes which he was no longer able to harvest. The group would meet up at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their school at least once a week. They met after their school schedules, which was at around 4:20pm, and would get high and search for the patch in the nearby Point Reyes Forest.
At school in the hallways, they would remind each other of their meeting time at 4:20. Steve Capper, one of the original members of the Waldos, says: “It originally started out 4:20-Louis, and we eventually dropped the Louis.”
The Waldos never did discover the rumoured quantity of free pot, but the term 420 was born, and its legend lives on as a global phenomenon.
420 References Over Time
For decades to come, 420 has been referenced in multiple ways. The band Grateful Dead picked up on it shortly after its inception, and helped popularise it amongst their fans. Pictured below is a flyer that was handed to “High Times” journalist Steven Bloom by a “Deadhead” in 1990, just before a Grateful Dead concert. The flyer was sent to the Huffington Post and it references 420-ing at 4:20 on 4/20.
There are many 420 references in popular culture, too. In Tarantino’s hit film “Pulp Fiction”, some of the clocks in the background have the time set to 4:20. The quirky 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon “Rocko’s Modern Life” also features on clock in the background reading 4:20. The bill that legalised medical marijuana in California in 2003 was called the California Senate Bill 420,a nod to cannabis culture.
The legacy of the Waldos continues as potheads around the world continue to celebrate and reference 420. The term spread from generation to generation, culture to culture, and all throughout the media.