Everyone with the slightest connection to marijuana knows that “420” is code for weed, or the time to smoke it, or something like that. But when you have a magazine called The 420 Times, you should know the real story behind 420. And since we do, so so will you.

You won’t be surprised to learn that it involves a bunch of high school kids in California. This particular bunch went to San Rafael High School and called themselves “The Waldos” because, well, they used to meet by a wall. One day in 1971 they heard a rumor that there was a secret crop of marijuana hidden somewhere in the area, so they came up with a plan to find it.

The Famous 420 Statue

The Famous 420 Statue

They decided to meet every day after school, by a statue of Louis Pasteur, at 4:20 PM. Then they got in a car, hotboxed it to a fare-thee-well, and went searching for the Mythical Garden Of Grass.

They never found the Golden Stash, but started using “420” as code for their meetings, then as a general code for weed or weed-related activities in general (just like it’s used today).

And that might have been the end of it, except that San Rafael is in Marin County, and several of the Waldos had family connections to the Grateful Dead. Their use of “420” as code for marijuana quickly spread through the backstage denizens of the Dead, and then through the entire Deadhead community. You know, those happy folks who followed the Dead from town to town, bringing their happiness, weed, and language with them everywhere they went…?

You know the rest. Now “420” means weed in any context. Is it 4:20 yet? Time to smoke. “420-friendly” to renters on Craigslist means you won’t be hassled when you move in with your bong. And of course, April 20 (4/20) is pretty much party day everywhere, involving actual organized smoking activities, even where illegal.

It’s also been slipped into more movies than you’d care to count; not just traditional “stoner flicks” but also things like Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Pulp Fiction. But perhaps the best “slip job” was the one that permanently encoded 420 in the law…marijuana law, no less.

The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, California’s groundbreaking legislation that made medical marijuana legal for the first time, was not actually passed by the legislators themselves, but by direct democracy as Proposition 215. When the California legislators finally got around to solidifying some of the unclear concepts in Prop. 215, they passed it as Senate Bill 420 for all the world to see.

Cosmic Significance

But wait, there’s more.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, the mega-super-duper-computer Deep  Throat calculates the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything” to be precisely 42, which is clearly just 10% of a perfect 420.

And in what is clearly either an incredible coincidence or proof that God is not only playing dice with the universe, but smoking fatties while he rolls them bones, the first-ever intentional LSD trip was taken by Dr. Albert Hofmann way back in 1943 at exactly 4:20 PM (and it was on April 19…damn! So close!).

Bob Dylan Is A Time Lord

There’s also Bob Dylan’s immortal party song, Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, with its subtle chorus, “Everybody must get stoned!”. No question about what Dylan meant by “stoned”, either, since he made a practice of smoking a joint or two before performing that particular song. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also the guy who turned The Beatles on to weed.

Dylan fans need no further proof that their guy is omniscient, since that song was released on Dylan’s Blonde On Blondee album in 1966, before any of the Waldos even got to high school.

12 x 35 = 420.

What a wild world with weed!


Old Hippie is a MMJ patient living somewhere in the wilds of California whose only link with the real world is a 420 MHz radio. He blogs on BeyondChronic.com and vapes on Sour Diesel.

About The Author

49 Responses

  1. Srikanth Kadiyala

    My roommate went to that high school! I’ve heard many stories for the reason for why its 420, but once I learned the truth, it seems almost spectacular how this has gone international. Shout out to /r/trees !

  2. Patti Nunez

    “And when I need to free my mind
    I can find, satisfaction in a bag of weed
    Everything I need, leave it to the trees
    It can make me feel better” ;)

    What an awesome story, learn something new everyday!

    Much love from r/trees!

  3. Klops

    It does seem plausible, but I’ve heard so many different “how 420 started” stories that it is hard for me to believe any of them. I would love to see some quotes from The Waldos or from members of The Grateful Dead to back this up. I know /r/trees would appreciate some citations or proof.

  4. Organic Sprout

    SO lucky to live in Canada. I’ve got my 420times, r/trees, and my real trees. Not to fellow all my fellow Ents :) Who needs anything else?

  5. hideous_elf

    Ah man, wonder what the next generation of slang is going to be like. I should make up my own. Love from r/trees!

  6. ganjapunk88

    hell yeah. learn something new every day. [6]

    -r/trees

    also ♫ its the most wonderful time of the year♫♫

  7. Joe Santos

    I love hearing this story! How a few kids coined a term that would eventually shape an entire culture. Good on you, 420 Times. And cheers, r/trees!

  8. TheClassyGentleman

    I love this story, I’ve only heard it via word of mouth but it’s great to read it actually written and more “documented”.

    r/trees is the place to be

  9. GreenWoman

    Awesome post, and I have to agree between r/trees and this site I’ve gotten a lot smarter about our culture. :D

  10. Jonny

    Great story. Back in the early 70’s while I was in HS, we didn’t know the code of 420. I was on the football team and most of the guys were into weed big time, out universal code to meet before and after practice or school was similar, we i also invented our own lingo,when it was time to toke up, our code that only a dozen of the team would recognize was, let’s go ” sorrow morrow”. The coaches had no idea what we were discussing or referring to, but during practice you would always here, ” Sorrow morrow”. They thought we were nuts, but it was a great way to pass the word, and the joints!
    Happy 420, and or let’s go Sorrow morrow!!
    Peace!!

  11. alex testre

    Very well put! Your words move in such a fluent motion that I didn’t realize you started rambling until the end. – Thanks for clearing this up, and providing me with a new resource for marijuana related news!

  12. Jack

    Glad to finally know what happened cause i’ve heard a lot of urban legends about 420.

    representing r/trees! Wassup to my fellow ents :D

  13. Wally Waldo

    More than a decade ago, a group of fellows called the Waldos from Marin County, California came forward to explain how they created the term “420” as a euphemism for marijuana back in the early 1970’s. Multiple pieces of evidence proving their story were examined by legitimate press and reported by credible news organizations such as The Los Angeles Times, Reuters News, High Times Magazine, ABC News, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Huffington Post.

    The Waldos have heard many dozens of theories and stories about 420 from all over America. We have heard stories from our hometown, from people who knew us from way back when, and local residents who did not know us. New stories always emerge, and many of the old ones we have heard continually mutate with the addition of time, drugs, dreams and old-fashioned storytelling. And there is never any evidence or proof to back up these false claims. More recently we have heard of a group up in Minnesota that claimed they started 420 in the late 60’s, and of another group in San Jose, CA, that claims they used to meet at a Round Table Pizza Parlor at 4:20 in 1969. The bottom line is anybody can make up any story about anything and put it at any period of time, especially when it was many decades ago. But you need proof. That’s like someone saying, “Hey everybody, I was a golf caddy for England’s WWII leader Winston Churchill in the year of 1969!”…. “It’s true because I just said it!”

    The FACT is: The Waldos’ are the only ones with a true story of how we created the term 420, backed up with proof positive physical evidence.

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