The Origin of “420”

| by: Purspirit Cannabis Co.

In case you don’t know—and of course you do—April 20 (4/20) will be here soon, and millions of cannabis users will celebrate what has been a sort of underground weed holiday for as long as anyone can remember (no pun intended). The number “420” appears both in pot culture and in pop culture—from movies and TV to music and all manner of merchandise, endless t-shirts and fake street signs. References to “four-twenty” are constant on social media.

But how did 420 become a cannabis reference? Explanations abound, but here are a few popular theories. The most common is that 420 is police code for “caught getting high,” as in the phrase “I’ve got a 420 in progress. Request immediate backup!” Others have noted that April 20, 1889, was the birthdate of Adolf Hitler; however, the “fuhrer” not being particularly known for his liberal views on cannabis (or anything ever), it’s likely that this connection is merely coincidence.

In The Beginning…

The real story goes something like this. The year was 1971. A pre-Watergate Richard Nixon was halfway through his first term in the White House. “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night was the most popular song on the radio. And just outside San Francisco, California, a group of friends at San Rafael High School were getting high…a lot. The group called themselves “Waldos,” because they stood around by a wall at school.

As the legend goes (and a video posted by the original Waldos), one day the Waldos got their hands on a hand-drawn “treasure map” revealing the location of a planted marijuana crop in nearby Point Reyes. Driven by their passion for standing around and getting high after school, the Waldos made a plan to find the hidden cache and live high ever after. They met one day after school at 4:20 in front of a statue of Louie Pasteur, and the hunt began. Though ultimately unsuccessful in finding the stash, the group found immortality in a new slang when “four twenty” became the group’s code phrase for all things cannabis.

420 Goes Global

So, how does an inside joke among high-school kids go worldwide in a pre-internet age? Well, as was known to happen in the 1970s, cannabis drew a crowd. The Waldos were popular. Also, it was southern California, so trendsetting current and future stars were practically everywhere. It just so happens that “Waldo Dave” had an older brother who worked with Phil Lesh, bassist for the Grateful Dead. Through this contact between the Dead and the Waldos, the lingo spread to the Dead and then the many Deadheads. As you can see, it never went away.

A Cannabis Celebration

Nearly 50 years later, what began as an inside joke between Bay Area high-school tokers is now recognized around the globe as a symbol of cannabis culture. So, on this April 20—at 4:20 p.m. if you’re orthodox—give a moment of thought to the Waldos and consider how

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