By, Brian Applegarth
No matter if you’re a cannabis enthusiast or a newcomer to the world of weed, there’s a good chance you are familiar with the phrase four-twenty, or more commonly recognized as 420.
It has become a much recognized code word for cannabis that has matured from a wink and a nod that “iIt’s almost 4:20 p.m., let’s smoke,”, into an international holiday celebrating cannabis each April 20. The 20th of April, or 4/20, has quietly become the day in which we honor the cannabis plant itself and appreciate the rich history of the movement and culture of inclusivity.
So how did 420 come to be? A short distance north of San Francisco, lies the city of San Rafael. Here is where the most accepted origin story began and the term 420 was born.
Meet the Waldos
The history of 420 started in 1971. The group responsible for coining the code-term called themselves the “Waldos,” a self-described group of five high school stoner-athletes that used to hang “by the wall” (hence calling themselves “Waldos”) at San Rafael High School, according to their website.
Their story began when the group was sitting on the wall and a friend told them of an abandoned cannabis grow in the Point Reyes National Seashore. According to the history provided by the Waldos on their site, a group of U.S. Coast Guardsmen were growing cannabis plants, but abandoned the grow when they became afraid that they would be caught. The Waldos were given a map to the grow near the coast guard station and permission from the guardsmen to harvest the secret crop.
For the next few weeks, each day after football practice, the Waldos would meet at 4:20 p.m. in front of the statue of French biologist and chemist Louis Pasteur. They would get stoned and head to the nearby hills to search for an abandoned cannabis grow. While at school during the day, they would speak in code when reminding each other of their treasure hunt, saying “420 Louis” to indicate the time and location in which to meet. They searched for weeks but never found the grow, but they dropped the “Louis” part of their code-term and continued to meet at 4:20 p.m. to smoke. Eventually the session became a ritual, and the code-word became a stand-in for marijuana.
So how did it go global? According to the Waldos website, one of the Waldos’ father worked with the Grateful Dead, assisting them in purchasing homes and finding rehearsal space in Marin County. The Grateful Dead would play each Monday at Winterland Arena in San Francisco; The Waldos were often backstage guests.
The Waldos believe that through their running around backstage at concerts, or hanging at rehearsals smoking joints, and throwing the term 420 around to describe weed, the crew caught on with the term and adopted the slang. As one of the most popular bands of the 1970s, the Grateful Dead played shows all over the world. It is believed that this is how the term spread from a small Northern California county to the global term we have come to know as 420.