If you’re wondering where the term 420 came from – as in “420 friendly” or getting high on April 20 at 4:20 – you’re not alone. In stoner culture, the numbers 420 are code for marijuana, and a quick way to find out if someone is weed-friendly.
What is the Meaning of “420?”
So what is the history of 420? Let’s start by dispelling the most prevalent myth first: the term 420 is NOT police code for possession of marijuana. It is not the penal code for possession. It’s also not the number of chemical compounds found in cannabis buds (although there are hundreds). Before marijuana was legalized for both medicinal and recreational use in California, there was a California Senate Bill 420 that referred to the use of medical marijuana; however, the bill was named after the code, and not the other way around.
The story, probably not surprisingly, goes back to Marin County, California. The date is 1971, and five high school kids are searching for a secret marijuana crop in the woods near the town of San Rafael. These kids called themselves “The Waldos” since they liked to hang out next to a wall. Legend has it that a member of the US Coast Guard told the Waldos that he had planted a couple of marijuana plants in the woods near the Point Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. Trouble was, he couldn’t harvest it. In his benevolence, he gave the Waldos a map – a real treasure map – and told them if they could find the pot, it was theirs.
Well, who wouldn’t jump at the chance for free weed? The Waldos were in. The group used to meet at 4:20PM after school, at a nearby statue of scientist Louis Pasteur (for whom the term pasteurization is named), to get high after school. Reportedly, they would meet there first, before heading out into the hills to hunt for the mythical harvest.
These secret meetings were referred to using the code “Louis 420” – and eventually, the Louis part got dropped and more than likely, the kids would get high and never venture out into the woods.
Five high school stoners do not a movement make, however. Apparently, some of the Waldos were friends with friends of the Grateful Dead and eventually, the term 420 was adopted by the Dead and thousands of Deadheads as a reference to smoking weed.
In 1990, a Deadhead handed a flyer to Steven Bloom, a reporter for the magazine High Times; the flyer used the term 420 and the magazine quickly adopted it. Most likely, it’s this move by High Times that brought the term from the Grateful Dead subculture into the mainstream.
So, did the Waldos ever find their mythical weed crop? Probably not (or if they did, they never made it public). But their legacy to the global stoner culture has lasted and is now an accepted term in popular slang.
Today, a code passed between classes has become not only a symbol for smoking weed, but has become a global event (held on April 20, at 4:20) for smokers as well as legalization activists everywhere.