The History and Evolution of 420
There are many questions and theories as to the origin of 420. Some reference Hitler’s birthday, born April 20, 1889, which is silly because why would anyone associate smoking with that crazy, catastrophic man? Then, others use Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women No. 12 and 35” that mentions everyone smoking. But really, it comes from a group of California teens who used to chill and smoke at their San Rafael high school.
Hanging out by a wall at their school, this group of teens were commonly referred to as “the Waldos,” and they seem to be the source of this well-known phenomenon.
In the fall of 1971, the Waldos found a Coast Guard member who planted a plant that he no longer intended to crop. He gave the kids a kind of treasure map to this plant and the kids took full advantage. The Waldos would meet at the Louis Pasteur statue outside of their high school at least once a week to conduct a recon mission. Their meeting time: 4:20 pm.
The Waldos would cram into a car, smoke and then search the Point Reyes Forest for the buried treasure they were so earnestly trying to seek. One of the seekers, Steve Capper, states that they would “remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis [because they would always meet at the Louis Pasteur statue, and we eventually dropped the Louis,” coining the phrase 4:20.
It All Started with the Dead
They never did find what they were seeking, but they did find success in coining the phrase “420.” This was the code they used to discuss smoking without parents or teachers knowing, and it eventually spread to the Grateful Dead, and then, the world.
The infamous Waldos had many connections the Dead. One of the Waldos, Mark Gravitch, was connected through his father who managed the Grateful Dead’s real estate. Then another member, Dave Reddix, had an older brother who was good friends with the Dead’s bassist Phil Lesh, and also managed a Dead side band.
This lead to then-High Times reporter Steven Bloom hearing the phrase “420” during a Christmas week at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California in 1990. While wandering through the hippie congregation, Bloom was handed a flyer that read, “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.” It included the origin story of the Waldos and High Times immediately leapt on the story and launched it globally.
Evolution at Its Finest
Today, the unofficial holiday is celebrated worldwide. Even officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of California, Santa Cruz (two colleges that brag about having the biggest anti-smoking “smokeouts”) attempted to extinguish the growing popularity of the 420 festivities among their students in 2009. They encouraged (or pleaded with) their students to not participate. It didn't work.
Even the California Legislature has codified bills for medical marijuana as SB 420. It’s clear that this number has become synonymous with smoking and any relation to it, as well as the rules that guide it.
The term 420 has also been referenced in a variety of classic films and TV shows. It was seen in Pulp Fiction and Rocko’s Modern Life on the clocks, and even the Price is Right (!) in which one contestant only bid numbers involving 420, like $420, or $1,420.
It’s so crazy to actually trace the holiday back to its origins, but it’s even crazier to see how far we’ve come in celebrating this motley celebration. With vapes, dabs, bongs, and rolls, 2019 is definitely the year of smoking, and gives us the means to celebrate this holiday to the max. So let’s tear it up!