For many the origins of the marijuana global code “420” is veiled in haze. Rumors and urban myths abound, from the number of active chemicals in marijuana to teatime in Holland.
The most credible story can be traced back to a group of five California teens who used to hang out by a wall outside their San Rafael school—a meeting spot that inspired their nickname “The Waldos.”
In the fall of 1971, The Waldos learned of that member of the coast guard who had planted a cannabis plant could no longer tend to the crop. Provided with a treasure map the group would meet at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their high school at 4:20 at least once a week conduct a search. They chose that specific time because extracurricular activities had usually ended by then. They would pile into a car, smoke some pot and go to nearby Point Reyes Forest to look for the elusive plant. One of the original members of The Waldos said:
We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out “4:20-Louis” but we eventually dropped the “Louis”.
They group never found the plant but the term 420 was coined, allowing the high schoolers to discuss smoking pot without their parents or teachers knowing.
Their secret phrase spread with the help of the band The Grateful Dead. Members of the Waldos had open access, and many connections, to the band:
There was a place called Winterland, and we’d always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, we’re using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So it started spreading through that community.
Today, the unofficial holiday is celebrated worldwide.