On this, our unofficial national holiday for weed, a St. Patrick's Day for stoners, if you will, I once again bring you the correct history of the term "420" and how April 20th then became the day that thousands of people descend on Hippie Hill in San Francisco and many other spots across the nation to get high en masse.
The story begins with a treasure map weed treasure, of course and a group of pothead teenagers at San Rafael High School in Marin County, California, in 1971. They used to hang out along a wall outside the school and got the name The Waldos. This group of guys pictured here, Waldo Steve, Waldo Jeff, Waldo Larry, Waldo Mark, and Waldo Dave a.k.a. Steve Capper, Jeff Noel, Larry Schwartz, Mark Gravitch, and Dave Reddix came into possession of a map that purported to show where a small field of marijuana had been planted and abandoned by a friend's brother-in-law in the Coast Guard, somewhere out near Point Reyes Station. Obviously psyched for an adventure and treasure hunt that ended with free weed, the quintet arranged to meet each afternoon after their after-school activities were over, at 4:20, by the statue of Louis Pasteur on the school's campus. "4:20 Louie" then became their giddy, shared codeword as they passed each other in the hall in school, and eventually it just got shortened to "4:20" and what did they do when they met up before setting out on another expedition? Get stoned.
There was an added need for the codeword: Jeff's dad was an SFPD narcotics officer.
The Criminal podcast recently delved into this history, speaking to Capper and Reddix, and they explain that on their very first mission, they "fired up a doobie, got high, hopped in Steve's '66 Impala with a killer Craig 8-track stereo, and we smoked all the way out there and started our search." Also, they add, "It looked like a scene from Cheech & Chong... we'd get the whole car clouded up with smoke and we'd be listening to the 8-track tapes and talking and grooving and having a great time and we were excited to find this patch."
Needless to say, they did a lot of weed smoking, and hunting for the mythical pot grow, but never actually found it.
Over the years, various bits of misinformation have attributed "420" to a police code, and to Bob Marley's birthday, and a few years ago some group in San Jose called the Bebes tried to take credit for coining the term two years before the Waldos. But the Waldos have steadily made the case for their story, and they are the only ones with physical proof, including a 420 flag their friend made with a cannabis leaf on it in 1971, letters postmarked in the mid-1970s with references to 420 and the flag, and an original 1970s San Rafael High School Red and White school newspaper with a student reference to 420.
From the Waldos, the term "420" spread to their friends, and their friends' siblings, and eventually to other Bay Area high schools. But the way it became a national thing, as far as anyone can tell, is because the Waldos were connected to the Grateful Dead. Dave Reddix's brother Patrick was pals with Dead bassist Phil Lesh, and apparently Lesh began using the term on stage though it's unclear when that happened, and Lesh doesn't quite remember. High Times magazine also recounted that a 1990 flyer for Grateful Dead shows in the Bay Area was responsible for spreading the misinformation about 420 being a California penal code, because that then ended up in the pages of High Times in 1991, which is when they declared 4/20 to be "the grandmaster of all holidays." By 1994, the term had exploded into popularity, and Quentin Tarantino and former girlfriend Sofia Coppola both made references to it in their movies, setting all the clocks in various shots in Pulp Fiction and Lost In Translation to 4:20.
The Waldos first came forward with their story in 1998, and they continue to have to defend it and repeat it in the media even though they themselves are in disbelief that their teenage tomfoolery gave birth to a term that's now in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Previously: Video: How 420 (and 4/20) Became A Thing