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Where Did "420" Come From?


Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve most likely heard or used the term “420” before. It is the number that became affiliated with marijuana in more ways than one, but more commonly recognized as the date, April 20th (4/20), which is observed as the cannabis holiday. Though some people recognize 420 as Adolf Hitler’s birthday (why? we don’t know), others insist it is a police code for “marijuana smoking in progress.” And other's believe that 420 came as a result of Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” because 12 multiplied by 35 is what.. 420. But these falsehood’s can be related to, but are not the source of the term 420. Do you know where 420 came from? The story is short and sweet and as an herbalist, it is one that you should know.

Right now, what we’re gonna do is go back.. wayyy back, to 1971. A couple of students at San Rafael High School in California began to gather by the campus’ statue of chemist Louis Pasteur. Steve Capper, Mark Gravich, Jeffrey Noel, Dave Reddix and Larry Schwartz became tired of getting high with the jock’s under the bleachers - so they got creative. At 4:20 PM, after the after school extracurricular activities ended, the five athletes would meet by a wall, earning them the nickname “the Waldos.” In 1998, Capper told HighTimes magazine “We used to sit on this wall and mock everyone,” and one day, while sitting on the wall, a friend gave them a treasure map to a pot patch at nearby Point Reyes Peninsula.

The Waldo’s at San Rafael High School

The Waldo’s at San Rafael High School

The Waldo’s were known for their fascination of the Marx brothers, stand up comedy and of course, marijuana. After receiving the treasure map, the crew reminded each other through out the school day, saluting each other in the hallways and saying “420-Louis.” The met at the statue, got into Capper’s 1966 Chevy Impala and drove to Point Reyes where they found a huge rural area. “We always got lost and would ‘420’ continuously,” Capper admitted. “Strange, humorous things would happen to us out there. We never found the patch but we had a lot of fun searching.” They called their searches “safari’s.”

The First Flier displaying 420

The First Flier displaying 420

The term 420 became world renowned after Dave Reddix’s brother helped him land a roadie gig with Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh. The Waldo’s attest to their term becoming frequently used by “Deadhead’s” (fans of the group, Grateful Dead), which lead to the rapid spread of 420. A flier was given out by Deadheads in Oakland on Dec. 28, 1990, inviting people to smoke "420" on April 20 at 4:20 PM. Steve Bloom, former editor of HighTimes Magazine and Deadhead, got his hands on one of these fliers, which in turn was published in the magazine in 1991. Deadhead’s and HighTimes continued to reference the numbers as an affiliation to marijuana - and there we have the history of 420.

A couple of high schoolers made it up. Rock band fanatics took the phrase and ran with it. And publications had no choice but to jump on the bandwagon. Are you in disbelief?


Where Did “420” Come From?