Today is basically St. Patrick's Day for stoners, the high holiday known as 4/20, and the date does not have anything to with the fact that it's Hitler's birthday. As most educated stoners likely already know, it stems from the hour of the afternoon, 4:20, which has become a traditional happy hour for pot smokers the world over. And now that this day of cannabis celebration has come back around, it's time to make sure everyone knows the difference between fact and myth surrounding this magical number.
The way I originally heard the legend, via a high school friend on the East Coast who was from Bolinas, California, it was a group of Bolinas teenagers who coined the term and began the 420 tradition, using the term "boasting" for pot smoking and saying that 4:20 was International Boasting Hour. This turns out to be false, but not terribly far, locationally, from the truth. "Boasting" comes from NorCal pot slang in the 80s, and the real story traces to a group of five dudes who went to San Rafael High School, circa 1971.
Though they had tried to keep their names out of the press, at least three of them have decided to own their piece of pot-smoking history in recent years, as VICE tells us, and their names are Mark Gravitch, Dave Reddix and Steve Capper. Their group was called the Waldos because they were the stoners who used to hang out by a particular wall next to the school, and in '71 they started a tradition of meeting up at 4:20 p.m. by a statue of Louis Pasteur next to the school and driving out to Point Reyes in search of a rumored abandoned pot field that had been planted by "some dude in the Coast Guard." They spent several weeks doing this search, regularly, using 4:20 as their code word, but never found this mythical pot field.
They continued to use the term, as did fellow Marin County stoners to whom it spread, but there's a Grateful Dead connection that brought the term into international use come the early 1990s, as High Times explains. It turns out that Waldo Dave (Dave Reddix) had an older brother who was pals with Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead's bassist. Lesh was among those who had probalby regularly used "4:20" over the years, and then in 1990 there's a flyer that gets printed promoting Grateful Dead shows around the Bay Area that tells a legend of "4:20" that's actually incorrect, saying that it was connected to the California penal code for "marijuana smoking in progress," and connecting the coinage to San Rafael.
From there, the text of the flyer ends up in the pages of High Times in 1991, simultaneously creating "the grandmaster of all holidays: 4/20, or April 20th."
And the popularity of the use of "420" then exploded, and by 1994, Quentin Tarantino was making cheeky reference to it by setting all the clocks in Pulp Fiction to 4:20. Later, as High Times notes in this timeline, girlfriend Sophia Coppola does the same thing in her 2004 film Lost in Translation.
It wouldn't be until 1998 that the Waldos came forward with letters and posters of their own to prove the origins of 420, and they wouldn't appear in public in connection with their story until 2002, at the HIGH TIMES Doobie Awards.
Below, Slate has their own video about the Waldos' 420 legend. And now you can correct any friend who tries to spread misinformation about this crucial piece of drug history.