Gather round weedists, stoners and tokers of all varieties – it’s time for you to hear the mythical tale of 420 and why we celebrate it.
Those initiated into the weed world doubtlessly recognize 4/20 (April 20th) as weed culture’s holiday. I remember my 1st time celebrating 420 — some friends and I had already gotten high and we realized the time was about to be 4:20pm, so we ran down the street to my neighbors shed to smoke a bowl just in time. Afterwards we laughingly acknowledged, “Now we know who the real dedicated stoners are.”
Remember, if you ever miss lighting up at 4:20, you can always catch it again at 4:22 because it’s 420 too (hehe, stoner humor).
Now depending on who you ask, smoking at 4:20 is a celebrated tradition of stoners, or just some over-hyped fad that greenhorn tokers get excited about. To quote a friend of mine, “420 is just another day for stoners.”
Now that may be true if you are the kind of weedist that smokes weed ‘eryday, but for me, 420 is more than just a reason for newly initiated stoners to pack a bowl, and it should still be celebrated. I may not have been smoking as long as some veterans who can boast decades of experience with the ganj, but I enjoy celebrating 420. It is a fun way to acknowledge the weed culture that we all collectively partake in.
But how did 420 come to represent our favorite herb and become a stoner holiday? There are various explanations depending on who you ask.
One of the most common explanations is that 420 was the code police would use to indicate a suspect was smoking cannabis, and it later came to be used by stoners themselves. Personally I don’t like the idea that the weedist holiday is based on law enforcement’s treatment of cannabis as a criminal activity.
Huffington Post says that story is a myth and if you actually look up police codes there is no 420 code for weed violations. However, when California codified medical cannabis, it’s medical cannabis bill was named SB 420.
Another myth you might hear in stoner circles is that 420 is the number of active chemical compounds in cannabis – this one is easily debunked because the actual number of chemical compounds in weed is 483.
Despite all of the rumored origin stories behind 420, most reports seem to agree that the term originated in the 1970s with a group of 5 high school students in San Rafael, California, known as “the Waldos.”
The story goes like this – in 1971 the Waldos group had gotten word of a Coast Guard member who was no longer able to tend to a plot of weed he had grown near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. Not wanting to let the buds go to waste, the Waldos set out to find the cannabis plot. The five all participated as athletes at their school, so after practice they would meet by the Louis Pasteur statue outside the school at 4:20.
“We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis, and we eventually dropped the Louis,” said one of the original Waldos, Steve Capper in an interview with Huffington Post. They would meet every week and smoke while driving out to Point Reyes to search for the field of greens.
The Waldos never found their mythical field, but 420 became interchangeable with weed in their group. “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,” Capper says.
But how did the slang of a group of 5 high school kids spread to the stoney masses? Well the father of one of the Waldos, Mark Gravitch, took care of real estate for the Grateful Dead. Dave Reddix, another Waldo, had an older brother who managed a Dead side-band and was friends with bassist Phil Lesh. As such, the Waldos had access to Dead parties and rehearsals, spreading their code word to the illustrious group.
“There was a place called Winterland, and we’d always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, we’re using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So it started spreading through that community” said Capper.
As the Dead toured throughout the 70s and 80s, 420 spread among the fan base. Eventually High Times got wind of the code and decided to run with it. “I started incorporating it into everything we were doing,” Steve Hager, then editor of High Times, told Huffington Post in 2009. “I started doing all these big events — the World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and the Cannabis Cup — and we built everything around 420.”
So there we have it, the story of 420 originated with just a few regular stoners in the 70s looking for a patch of weed, and got spread to the world with a little help from the Dead and journalism. Now go impress your fellow weedists this April 20th with a little cannabis history.