What Is 420 And Where Did It Come From?

The stoner’s code “420” has been around since the early 1970’s and is used for an array of slang, but do you know where it came from?

Jan 19, 2016

It is probably hard to find a marijuana user who does not consider 420 to be a sacred time and date. But it is certainly more difficult to find anyone who has a certain answer of what 420 means and where its use originated. Sure there are plenty of people who are positive that they know this information, but if you ask 5 people the same question, you are likely to get 5 different 100% positive responses—there are just too many 420 truths floating around.

420: Don’t mind if I do

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Instead of forcing you to spend hours searching the web for answers, I figured I’d do the work for you and put it all here in one nice and easy place. But hold on, it’s 4:20 here and I’ve got to step outside quick.

All right – lots of folks seem to think that 420 was used as police code for “marijuana smoking in progress”. Guess what – that’s not it. 420 is also not the death anniversary of Bob Marley or Jimi Hendrix, but it is the birthday of one evil S.O.B.

I’ll give you a hint, his name rhymes with Shitler. The use of the term 420, 4/20, or 4:20 began in the early 1970’s in the town of San Rafael, California.

The Waldo’s

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There was a group of 5 San Rafael high school students who called themselves the “Waldo’s”. The nickname came from their favorite hangout spot, a wall nearby the high school.

The Waldo’s heard of a marijuana crop that was hidden in the nearby San Reyes peninsula and they agreed to meet at a statue of Louis Pasteur near the school to seek out the buds. The group would meet week after week in the same spot at the same time, they would pile into their car and smoke joint after joint on their way to search for the mystical marijuana crop.

Originally, the group would say “420-Louis” as their code as their code to schedule a meeting. Eventually, they dropped the “Louis” because they found themselves using the term “420” to describe anything marijuana related.

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 Capper, one of the original Waldo’s.

Grateful Dead

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The Waldo’s may have connected 420 and marijuana in their high school days, but it was the Grateful Dead that helped it catch on in American counterculture. After the Haight-Ashbury scene was overrun with “speed freaks”, “thugs” and “artists”, the Grateful Dead packed up and headed to Marin County hills, just a few blocks from the Waldo’s high school.

Mark Gravitch, another original Waldo, recalled that his father managed real estate for the Dead, so the group often knew where the band would be. Dave Reddix’s (also an original Waldo) brother managed a Grateful Dead cover band and was friends with Phil Lesh, the band’s bassist.

The Waldo’s remembered often hanging outside of the band’s rehearsals, they would smoke joints and listen to the band practice.

The Band 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 (420) through Phil Lesh. And me, too, because I was hanging out with Lesh and his band [as a roadie] when they were doing a summer tour my brother was managing. – Dave Reddix

The Waldo’s managed to get the term 420 stuck in the band member’s heads and as they began using it 420 was solidified in history. The group was often invited to Dead parties and they would use the term in those crowds, further spreading the popularity of 420.

Phil Lesh admitted that Dave Reddix is an old friend of his and that it is likely that he and his friends coined the term, adding to the validity of the Waldo’s claim to fame.

High Times eventually picked up the term, in the early 90’s, and published it throughout their magazine. Many believe this is how/when the term went global.

Today we use 420 less as a code and more as a celebratory roar. Everyone knows that 420 signifies something to do with marijuana and I doubt that will ever change.

Treat yourself to some new 420 gear in the Herb Shop. Everything is 20% off with the code 420HERBSALE to celebrate 4/20!

Jan 19, 2016