The Origin of 420

Monday, April 20th, 2015



By Patrick Thompson

origin of 420 pic

The term 420 originated in San Rafael California. The term surfaced around 1971 In San Rafael high school. There was a group of five kids who were known around town as “the Waldos”. They got this name because every day they would smoke weed by the wall outside of the school.

In the fall of 1971 the Waldos got word that a coast guard member with an outdoor grow near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard Station could no longer tend to his plants. If the Waldos found the patch they would have a steady supply of bud…for free.

The Waldos agreed to search for the plants every day after school until they were found. The Waldo’s were all athletes and had practice after school; they decided that the meet up time would be after practice at 4:20 pm in front of the statue of Louis Pasteur. They would meet at this spot every day and then go search for the outdoor grow. Unfortunately the plants were never found.

However, 420 became part of the Waldos’ lexicon. The Waldos would say 420 and knew exactly what their buddy was referring to. 420 meant several things, “You wanna go smoke?” “You have any bud?” “Are you high right now”? But how did the “420” spread across the country and then across the world?

The Waldos had connections to the band The Grateful Dead. One of the Waldos fathers took care of real estate for The Grateful Dead. Another member of the Waldos had a brother who managed a sideband of The Grateful Dead. The Waldos were backstage at Grateful Dead rehearsals and concerts because of those connections. Backstage, the Waldos often used the term 420, they would say it at times like when a joint was being passed around or somebody was rolling up. Soon it began to spread throughout the underground community. The Grateful Dead toured the world throughout the 1970s and 1980s and the term 420 spread to the followers of “The Dead.” As the term became ubiquitous High Times caught wind of it and globalized it through their magazine. HighTimes then purchased the web domain By the early 90s it was being heard as far as Florida and Canada, but the origin of the word was still an enigma.

In 1997, the Waldos revealed that 420 originated from their group. When the Waldos stepped out of the shadows it debunked the myth that 420 was the code cops used when smoking was in process. The Waldos contacted HighTimes to get the record straight. The Waldos spoke with high times’ editor Steve Hager. Hager flew out to San Rafael and examined the proof the Waldos provided. Old letters with numerous 420 references, old 70s post marks, and an old 420 flag.

Hager concluded that it was the Waldos who originated the term. In addition there is no evidence that predates the 1971 usage of “420”. However even after being accredited for the discovery of the term, the Waldos have still not seen a dime from the term that originated from their group and has since become a term recognized worldwide as a symbol for weed.

Patrick Thompson of OpenStrain



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