Where did ‘420’ come from, anyway?

by Meggie J

In the early 1970s, a group of boys at a high school in San Rafael, California, self-named the Waldos, heard a rumor of patch of marijuana growing wild in the woods that a young man had left unattended because he’d been drafted. The boys decided to meet up after school – at 4:20 – by a statue of the French scientist Louis Pasture, to go out in the woods, smoke, and look for the patch. After their initial search came up unfruitful, they continued with the code “4:20 Louis” to mean they would meet up after school. Sometimes they continued on their search for the mythical plot of weed, which they never found, but mostly to gather to either smoke pot or try to score some. Eventually dropping the “Louis,” the Waldos use of their code “4:20” spread around their school, to their friends, and even their parents and beyond. Rumor has it that one of the Waldo’s fathers worked sound for the Grateful Dead and used the term around them, passing off this popular nomenclature like a joint, and spreading throughout the cannabis counterculture.

By the 1990s, although the term was well known, its origins were pretty hazy. Many thought it was a code the police used to bust people for possession, or the number of cannabinoids in marijuana. “High Times” did some investigating and turned up the Waldos and their story. The Waldos have a collection of letters and other memorabilia from the ’70s with references to 4:20, establishing them as the first ones to coin a term that went from a time to get high with your friends to a “High” holiday.

Happy 420 everyone!

— Meggie J

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