Hemp Knowledge

420: The Wacky History of Our Favorite Holiday

The History of 420

If you’re a cannabis enthusiast, there’s an incredibly high chance that you’re at least somewhat familiar with the term “420”. However, despite the fact that most cannabis users have heard of the holiday, many are unaware of its origins. And that’s because there are various theories floating around about how the holiday started. These theories include everything from 420 symbolizing the number of active chemicals in marijuana to representing the time that Hollanders drink tea in the afternoon (apparently it’s every afternoon at 4:20 PM). However, despite all of these wacky theories, the true origins of 420 can actually be traced back to a group of five California teens who used to hang out by a wall outside their San Rafael school—a meeting spot that inspired their nickname, “the Waldos” (history.com). The story goes that in the fall of 1971, the group of teens heard about a member of the Coast Guard who had planted a cannabis plant but was no longer able to tend to the crop because he had to go back on active duty. The five teens were provided with a treasure map (who some say was given to them from the Coast Guard member himself), that apparently led to the cannabis plant. In order to search for the cannabis, the 5 friends would meet after sports practice once a week at exactly 4:20 PM at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their high school. They would then all pile into a car, smoke some weed, and then search for this elusive marijuana crop. One of the original members of the Waldos, Steve Capper, told the Huffington Post, ‘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.’” (history.com). Unfortunately, the friends never did find the mysterious abandoned cannabis plant. However, what they did create was even more important – the name of the most famous cannabis holiday. 

After the Waldo’s coined the term, it quickly began to spread – in big part thanks to none other than The Grateful Dead. Members of the Waldos had close connections to the band. In fact, two members’ parents were actually close friends with members of the band. One of the Waldo’s explained, “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” (history.com). Fast forward a few years, and a reporter for the High Times named Steven Bloom heard the term being used at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California. He was then handed a flyer that was titled “Deadhead” which explained the history of the Waldo’s and the significance of “420”. Steven then went on to publish an article in The High Times and 420 immediately became a national sensation. 

Although other theories about the origins of the holiday do still exist and float around online, The Waldo’s know the truth. In fact, they still have the original letters that they wrote to one another about meeting up at 4:20 PM to search for the elusive marijuana plant. To this day, two of the Waldo’s insist on remaining anonymous while the other three are more open about their identity and their contribution to the cannabis community.