If you’re one of the millions of medical or recreational marijuana consumers in America, chances are you celebrated 420 this year. Read to learn about the origin story of one of our favorite “stoner holidays.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are a lot of different versions of the “420 story” floating around out there. Here are some of the most common legends surrounding the origins of April 20th and its association with what some call “Weed Day” in the US.
Considering recreational marijuana’s shaky legal past, especially in the United States, it’s probably not surprising that one of the earliest 420 myths involves the California penal code. Although some claim that the association of the number 420 with marijuana users came from California criminal codes intended to punish the use and distribution of marijuana, that claim has been debunked. And, if you took the time to review California’s penal code, you’d notice that 420 applies to obstructing entry to public land.
This debunked legend is quite similar to the California penal code myth, with the exception that the legal code in question is the radio code that police officers commonly use to communicate with each other while on patrol. Unfortunately, 420 doesn’t even exist for LAPD and NYPD officers, and although San Francisco Police have one, it’s for juvenile disturbances.
American music legend Bob Dylan is notorious for his iconic songs and lyrics, but he cemented his place in stoner mythology with the lyric “everybody must get stoned” in this now infamous song. Where’s the 420 reference? Well, if you multiply 12 by 35, you get 420. See the connection now? Unfortunately, as Dylan has never confirmed any link between his song and 420, this myth is best left alone.
Although the doobie-ous history of 420 was hard to track down, the story that has the most evidence starts in Marin County, California in the 1970’s. The players are a group of five high schoolers who call themselves “the Waldos.”
According to legend, a coast guard member told the five friends of a weed crop he’d planted near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard Station. Because he was unable to harvest the crop, he gave the Waldos a map, directions, and the crop—if they could find it.
The friends decided to meet after school near a statue of Louis Pasteur at—you guessed it—4:20 to smoke weed before beginning their hunt for the lost marijuana crop. Over time, the group started referring to their stoner rendezvous as Louis 420 and then simply as 420.
As San Francisco’s hippie utopia collapsed in the late ‘60s, it also set the stage for how 420 would sweep through the country and the world in just a few years. Marin County quickly become ground zero for the new counterculture movement on the West coast and, as luck would have it, the band Grateful Dead moved in just blocks from San Rafael High School.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t one of the Waldos who introduced the term into the Grateful Dead lexicon; it was one of their brothers. The older brother of “Waldo Dave,” Patrick, managed two Grateful Dead sidebands and was good friends with bassist Phil Lesh. It was during their numerous smoking sessions and hangouts that Patrick and his brother used the term around the band.
Because the Waldos also had open access to Grateful Dead parties and rehearsals, the term 420 was tossed around—a lot. “There was a place called Winterland, and we’d always be backstage running around or onstage and, of course, we’re using those phrases,” said Waldo Steve in a Huffington Post interview, “When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So it started spreading through that community.”
The Grateful Dead went on to tour the globe for the next two decades, playing hundreds of shows every year; through them, the term 420 spread like wildfire, but it wasn’t until the High Times started incorporating the term into their magazine that 420 went global. Today, the term is still easily one of the most well-known staples in modern recreational marijuana culture.
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