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The Real Story of How “420” a.k.a. April 20th Got Its Name
We’ve all seen, heard or even used the popular term “420” used to represent any and all things marijuana-related but where exactly did it originally come from? The long-held belief was that “420” started as a police code for Marijuana Smoking In Progress but that isn’t the case! Check out the details to the real story below…
It had nothing to do with a police code — though the San Rafael part was dead on. Indeed, a group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos – by virtue of their chosen hang-out spot, a wall outside the school – coined the term in 1971. The Huffington Post spoke with Waldo Steve, Waldo Dave and Dave’s older brother, Patrick, and confirmed their full names and identities, which they asked to keep secret for professional reasons. (Pot is still, after all, illegal.)
The Waldos never envisioned that pot smokers the world over would celebrate each April 20th as a result of their foray into the Point Reyes forest. The day has managed to become something of a national holiday in the face of official condemnation. This year’s celebration will be no different.
The Waldos do have proof, however, that they used the term in the early ‘70s in the form of an old 420 flag and numerous letters with 420 references and early ‘70s post marks. They also have a story.
It goes like this: One day in the Fall of 1971 – harvest time – the Waldos got word of a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. A treasure map in hand, the Waldos decided to pluck some of this free bud.
The Waldos were all athletes and agreed to meet at the statue of Loius Pasteur outside the school at 4:20, after practice, to begin the hunt.
“We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis and we eventually dropped the Louis,” Waldo Steve tells the Huffington Post.
The first forays out were unsuccessful, but the group kept looking for the hidden crop. “We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ‘66 Chevy Impala and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Pt. Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week,” says Steve. “We never actually found the patch.”
But they did find a useful codeword. “I could say to one of my friends, I’d go, 420, and it was telepathic. He would know if I was saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?’ Or, ‘Do you have any?’ Or, ‘Are you stoned right now?’ It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it,” Steve says. “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”
It’s one thing to identify the origin of the term. Indeed, Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary already include references to the Waldos. The bigger question: How did 420 spread from a circle of California stoners across the globe?
As fortune would have it, the collapse of San Francisco’s hippie utopia in the late ‘60s set the stage. As speed freaks, thugs and con artists took over The Haight, the Grateful Dead picked up and moved to the Marin County hills – just blocks from San Rafael High School.
“Marin Country was kind of ground zero for the counter culture,” says Steve.
The Waldos had more than just a geographic connection to the Dead. Mark Waldo’s father took care of real estate for the Dead. And Waldo Dave’s older brother, Patrick, managed a Dead sideband and was good friends with bassist Phil Lesh. Patrick tells the Huffington Post that he smoked with Lesh on numerous occasions. He couldn’t recall if he used the term 420 around him, but guessed that he must have.
The Dead, recalls Waldo Steve, “had this rehearsal hall on Front Street, San Rafael, California, and they used to practice there. So we used to go hang out and listen to them play music and get high while they’re practicing for gigs. But I think it’s possible my brother Patrick might have spread it through Phil Lesh. And me, too, because I was hanging out with Lesh and his band when they were doing a summer tour my brother was managing.”
The band that Patrick managed was called Too Loose To Truck and featured not only Lesh but rock legend David Crosby and acclaimed guitarist Terry Haggerty.
The Waldos also had open access to Dead parties and rehearsals. “We’d go with [Mark’s] dad, who was a hip dad from the ‘60s,” says Steve. “There was a place called Winterland and we’d always be backstage running around or onstage and, of course, we’re using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So it started spreading through that community.”
As the Grateful Dead toured the globe through the ‘70s and ‘80s, playing hundreds of shows a year – the term spread though the Dead underground. Once High Times got hip to it, the magazine helped take it global. – via huffingtonpost
Well, there you have it! Some stoner teenagers from California started a term which is now globally known as the unofficial term for smoking weed. In all seriousness, marijuana (especially medicinal marijuan) should have been legalized a long time ago but the way our government and big pharmaceutical companies are set up…SMH. S/O to all the bud smokers toking up today. This bud’s for you!
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