Where Did the Term 420 Come From?

Where 420 Began

The term 420 has been well known around the world for decades as the symbol for marijuana. How this term was coined has several different origin stories from it being the police code for pot, to some kind of symbolism for Hitler’s birthday, or for being teatime in Holland. However, none of these stories are actually true. It was coined by a small group of teenagers in the 70s.

This story starts like many great adventures, with the hunt for treasure. But this treasure wasn’t the gold coins you would find by using any given pirate map, and the hunt was not littered with booby-traps like you would’ve seen in the Goonies. This treasure hunt was started with the rumor that there was a field full of untended marijuana crops somewhere in the Point Reyes Forest.

Once a group of five San Rafael High School students found out about this marvelous treasure they went looking. They decided that the best time and place that they would meet up after school was the Louis Pasteur statue out front at 4:20 PM.

As the group would see each other in the halls and during class they would high-five and remind their friend about 420. It was great as they could refer to it and none of their parents, teachers, or any other student would know exactly what they were talking about.

Unfortunately, they searched for weeks on end but were unable to locate this mysterious crop. However, during their search they would have a great time smoking and laughing on every hunt. Even after they gave up and decided that the treasure was only a rumor they still use the term 420 to reference going out for a little toke. They used it as a telepathic innuendo that nobody else knew what they were talking about.

As this group referred to themselves as “The Waldos” invited more friends into their little secret codeword the term spread throughout their circle of friends and small community. It wasn’t until famous bands such as the Grateful Dead and the Haigth got wind of the word and started using it more frequently.

Fortunately, the Waldos had quite a bit of connections with the Grateful Dead. One of their fathers took care of the estate, and one of their older brothers managed the Dead’s sideband called “Too Loose To Truck” and was good friends with the bassist Phil Lesh. Although his brother doesn’t specifically remember the time and place that he mentioned the term 420 to Phil Lesh, but he strongly believes that he must have or else the term would never have gotten as big as it has.

Of course, this term cannot have just been mentioned once, as the Waldos got older they were invited to several different parties and band rehearsals for the Grateful Dead. During this time the term was adapted by the band and everybody associated as the new reference for getting high.

How it Spread World Wide

As the band grew bigger and they went on their global tour through the 70’s and 80’s where they played hundreds of shows a year; the term spread through the Grateful Dead underground. During this tour, the well-known magazine High Times got keen to the phrase and helped take the term global.

The High Times editor Steve Hager started incorporating 420 into everything that they were doing. He would associate it with big events such as the World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and Cannabis Cup. This phenomenal publicity was what made the term 420 and international thing.

When the Waldo’s began to hear their well-known phrase 420 popping up all over the country and not just in their small little community or the underground “Deadhead” scene, they decided it was time to set the record straight and let the world know the origins of the actual story.

They contacted the editor of High Times and invited him to a sit down. When he questioned them about the 420 police code in California, the Waldo’s simply told him that there was never a 420 police code and then asked if anybody had actually ever looked it up.

After further researching their story, High Times determined that there was no evidence of the use of 420 predating the 1971 usage. Therefore, unless further evidence comes to light, the Waldo’s will go down in history as being the group that coined the phrase that we now know and love.

So there you have it, nearly 50 years ago a small group when on a treasure hunt and unknowingly created a movement, an international holiday, and a well-known term that will go down in history.

Where it is Today

Today 420 is celebrated all around the world, with famous celebrations such as The Mile High 420 Festival in Denver; the High Times Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino, CA; 420 Celebration on Hippie Hill in San Francisco, CA; Toronto 420 in Toronto, Canada; and all the way down under to the Cannabis Community 420 Picnic in Victoria Park Sydney, Australia.These are just a few of the many celebrations all around the world.

Of course, there’s no way for us to list all of the celebrations or traditions that people use to celebrate this miraculous plant yearly on 4/20 or daily at 4:20PM/AM. But we can all agree that even though the Waldo’s didn’t find their hidden treasure in the Point Reyes Forest back in 1971. They did find something more meaningful by creating a way we can all get together and celebrate the plant we all know and love. To me that is better than anything you could find in a hidden treasure map.