The origin of 420

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The origin of 420

Back in 1971 in San Rafael, USA, a group of friends would start a tradition that would become known and celebrated worldwide by stoners everywhere.

Have you ever heard of the term 4:20? If you have had any contact with marijuana, either by using it yourself or by people around you, I would say, that it is likely to very probably you have heard it mention or have read about it already.


Well, that is easy enough to answer; it refers to smoking weed, having some bud or going out to get some (new) weed. The term has found its way into a lot of popular culture and more mainstream setting. For example all of the clock in the famous movie Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20 and even the bill approving of medical marijuana in the state of California is called SB420. Students in college looking for a roommate that will tolerate their smoking post ads looking for a "4:20 friendly roommate" and every year the day is celebrated by stoners all around the world.


The origin of the term is often debated and there are a lot of explanations; it is supposed to be police code for the smoking of marijuana in progress, it is supposed to be tea-time in Holland, it is said to be the number of chemicals in weed and it is even said to have something to do with Hitler's birthday.

To find out about the true start of the 4:20 story we need to travel through time back to the fall of 1971 in San Rafael California in the United States of America. Richard Nixon is president, the world is in an uproar over the war in Vietnam, the Apollo 14 landed on the moon, returned safely back to earth and Walt Disney World has opened its doors for the first time.

At San Rafael High School a group of five friends used to smoke weed by the wall outside their school and were therefore called the Waldos by the kids around the town. The Waldos learned, that a coast guard service member had a patch of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula coast guard station and could no longer tend to them. Being about harvest time, it’s the fall after all, the Waldos saw a free supply of bud if they could find it, so they decided to go treasure hunting.

The Waldos were athletes next to being stoners, so after they were done practicing they would meet up at the statue of Louis Pasteur around 4:20. They would remind each other in the hallways of the daily treasure hunt by saying "4:20 Louis" and eventually the "Louis" was dropped, abbreviating it further to just saying 4:20. After meeting up they would get into Waldo Steves ’66 Chevy Impala and smoke all the way to Point Reyes. At arrival they would roll another joint and continue smoking joint after joint while looking for the trichome-rich treasure trove.

The patch of weed plants was never found, but the term 4:20 was a hit however. It became a sort of code word for being stoned, or going smoking. The Waldos could say they were going out for 4:20 and their parents or teachers had no idea what they were talking about.


420In the late 60’s the Grateful Dead were moving away from the collapse of San Francisco’s hippie scene and the thugs and con artists taking over their neighbourhood the Haight to settle down in the Marin County hills. The new location for the members of the Grateful Dead happened to be just blocks away from San Rafael High School, the school the Waldos were attending, and over the years it grew into a popular spawning pool for counter culture.

The connection between the Waldos and the Grateful Dead was deeper than just location. Waldo Mark's father used to take care of real estate for members of the Grateful Dead and Waldo Dave’s brother used to manage a sideband of the Grateful Dead, called Too Loose to Truck, and used to bring the Waldos who would smoke joints backstage at the concerts and rehearsals. The band had members like David Crosby and Phil Lesh, the bassist of the Grateful Dead. In fact Waldo Patrick smoked with Phil Lesh on numerous occasions.

The Grateful Dead would rehearse in a hall on Front Street in San Rafael and the Waldos would be there, listening to the music and passing joints around. The Waldos would also frequently visit the Grateful Dead concerts and parties and they would be backstage running around and smoking weed, all the while using the term 4:20 when referencing the marijuana. The band members, as well as the Waldos commonly used the term 4:20 and from there it spread to the Grateful Dead fans.

It wasn’t until the weed related magazine High Times got to like and use the term that 4:20 would become famous outside of the Grateful Dead scene. The website was purchased by High Times in the early 90’s and they started to incorporate it into all their events.

It wasn’t until 1997, that the term would get back to the Waldos. They would see it pop ut here and there, but not as much as since High Times coined the term. They decided to contact High Times and set the record straight. High Times' editor Steve Hager flew out to San Rafael to meet the Waldos and verify their story. After examining their evidence, which included letters and flags dating back to 1971, and talking to people around the town he concluded that their story was true.

Even though the Waldos effectively never made a dime out of the invention of the term 4:20 they did all end up good. They say they don’t endorse the use of marijuana, but enjoyed it. Nowaday they have too busy jobs to smoke regularly, although they are quite sure that on their headstones it will say: "One of the 420 guys." They are very proud, that the invention of their term 4:20 has led to worldwide celebrations, concerts, smoke outs, peaceful rallies and protests for the legalisation of marijuana by stoners everywhere on the 20th of april, or as they dubbed it: 4:20