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The Origin of 4/20

Many of us celebrate 4/20, but do we actually know the origin of the term?

Let’s start with the myths, here are a few that we may have heard but don’t have the evidence to back them up:

  • Some believe its based on teatime in Holland,

  • Some believe its the number of active chemicals in cannabis,

  • Some reference the birthday of Adolf Hitler,

  • It’s those numbers in that Bob Dylan song (“Rainy Day Women” #12 and #35) multiplied,

  • One common belief is that 420 was the California police or penal code for marijuana smoking in progress.

All rumours aside, 4/20 can be traced back to a group of five California teens that went to school in San Rafael in 1971 (shout out to one of our favourite cannabis brands – San Rafael ‘71 ).

An inflatable shaped like a joint is tossed above the crowd during the annual 4/20 marijuana celebration in Vancouver on Saturday, April 20, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Waldos

Waldos at the Metropolitan Museum, image credit to 420waldos.com.

As the story goes, in 1971 the Waldos learned of a Coast Guard member that had planted a cannabis plant and could no longer tend to the crop. Rumour has it that the Coast Guard member himself provided a treasure map leading to the abandoned product, and the Waldos would meet at 4:20 pm at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their high school at least once a week to continue their search. The group would jump in their car, smoke their weed, and search the close-by Point Reyes Forest for the mystical, free herb. One of the original members of the Waldos, Steve Capper, told the Huffington Post , “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.”

After several failed attempts to find the crop, 420 became the time they would meet up to get high, and a way to refer to their favourite plant, while keeping parents, teachers, and authorities in the dark.

While many other rumours and stories of the origins of 420 have wafted into the history books, the Waldos have proof they used the word back in the 70s. Kept in a vault in a San Francisco bank is their original 420 tie-dyed flag, a newspaper clipping where one of the members discusses wanting to just say “420” for his high school graduation speech and postmarked letters between the group filled with 420 references.

Why are they called the Waldos?

Their typical hangout spot was a wall outside their school.

Why 4:20 pm?

They were all high school athletes, and their sports activities were finished at that time.

The Grateful Dead

So how did a group of high school students in California get this term to be internationally known?

For that, we can thank the many connections and open access the group had to the Grateful Dead. Mark Gravitch’s father managed the Dead’s real estate. Dave Reddix’s older brother was good friends with Dead bassist Phil Lesh and managed a Dead sideband.

High Times

The first time Steven Bloom ever heard the phrase “420” was during Christmas week at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California, in 1990 while he was a reporter for High Times. Bloom was wandering through the groups of hippies that would gather before Grateful Dead concerts, and a “Deadhead” handed him a flyer that said, “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 found the old flyer and sent it to Huffington Post. The flyer told the history of 420, referencing the Waldos of San Rafael. Once “High Times” latched on to the story, the magazine helped launch the word globally.


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