Depending on who you ask, or their state of intoxication, there are as many explanations for the term 420 as types of medical bud in Colorado.
The origin of the term 420, celebrated by pot smokers around the world on April 20th, has been clouded in the distant shrouds of memory by those who were at or near it’s origin.
According to a May 1991 issue of High Times many think that it started as a police code-word in San Rafael, California around the late ’70s. After local pot heads heard that police were using the term they decided to make it their own… But this story is only partially correct.
It had nothing to do with a police code, although the San Rafael piece of the story was dead on. A group of five San Rafael High School friends known as The Waldos set out with a treasure map and the location of a possible marijuana grow. Deciding to strike out after meeting up at 4:20 the search for this mystical cannabis grow became a daily routine for these boys.
“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,” says Steve. “We never actually found the patch.”
Even though they never found that patch of cannabis, they did however find an incredibly useful code-word.
“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 says. “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”
Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary already include references to The Waldos. But how did a couple of kids in San Rafael create what would become a massive global trend?
The collapse of San Francisco’s hippie utopia in the late’60s set the stage for what was to come. As a new crowd of people moved into the bay area… So did The Grateful Dead.
The Waldos had more than just a geographic connection to the Dead. Mark Waldo’s father took care of real estate for the Dead. And Waldo Dave’s older brother, Patrick, managed a Dead sideband and was good friends with bassist Phil Lesh. Patrick told the Huffington Post that he smoked with Lesh on numerous occasions. He couldn’t recall if he used the term 420 around him, but guessed that he must have.
The Dead, recalls Waldo Dave Reddix, “had this rehearsal hall on Front Street, San Rafael, California, and they used to practice there. So we used to go hang out and listen to them play music and get high while they’re practicing for gigs. But I think it’s possible my brother Patrick might have spread it through Phil Lesh. And me, too, because I was hanging out with Lesh and his band [as a roadie] when they were doing a summer tour my brother was managing.”
As the Grateful Dead toured the globe through the ’70s and ’80s, playing hundreds of shows a year – the term spread though the Dead underground. Once High Times got hip to it, the magazine helped take it global.
Sometime in the early ’90s High Times purchased the domain 420.com
In 1997, the Waldos decided to set the record straight and got in touch with High Times.
“They said, ‘The fact is, there is no 420 [police] code in California. You guys ever look it up?'” Blooms recalls. He had to admit that no, he had never looked it up. Hager flew out to San Rafael, met the Waldos, examined their evidence, spoke with others in town, and concluded they were telling the truth.
Hager still believes them. “No one’s ever been able to come up with any use of 420 that predates the 1971 usage, which they had established. So unless somebody can come up with something that predates them, then I don’t think anybody’s going to get credit for it other than them,” he says.
“We never made a dime on the thing,” says Dave, half boasting, half lamenting.
He does take pride in his role, though. “I still have a lot of friends who tell their friends that they know one of the guys that started the 420 thing. So it’s kind of like a cult celebrity thing. Two years ago I went to the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. High Times magazine flew me out,” says Dave.