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What is 420 and where does it come from?

Every year on April 20th, people around the world congregate at different locations to celebrate a day that is of importance to marijuana advocates. For instance, in London, people always converge on Hyde Park or any other location to mark the day. In the US, thousands gather in cities across the country not only to mark the day but also to consume marijuana in locations where it is legalized.

What is 420?

This is a catchphrase expressed as a calendar date – April 20th – and time of day to mark what marijuana advocates have come to recognize as “Weed Day.” Also referred to as “Marijuana Appreciation Day”, marijuana advocates celebrate the day with a goal of calling for the decriminalization of marijuana.

Over the years, the Marijuana Appreciation Day has gained momentum not only in the US but also in Europe and select nations in other continents.

Despite the popularity of the number – 420 – not many people have an idea of how or why the code – 420 – came to be associated with marijuana. Today, we will reveal to you the real story - the origins of 420, the founders behind the catchphrase and also we will be debunking the controversies surrounding the origin of 420.

Where did 420 come from?

The origin of 420 can be traced back to a group of 5 California teens – Dave Reddix, Larry Schwartz, Steve Capper, Mark Gravich and Jeffrey Noel - who went by the nickname, “the Waldo.” The teens used to hang together by a wall outside their high school – San Rafael school- which is actually how they got the nickname – the Waldos.

In 1971, the Waldos, as they have come to be referred by many people, learned that a member of the Coast Guard had planted cannabis at a certain location and was no longer tending to the plants. According to sources, the brother of the Coast Guard member gave the Waldos a map with the “location” of the crop.

To come up with a plan on how to continue tending to the cannabis plants without raising any suspicions, the teens met once a week at the Louis Pasteur statue located just outside their high school. Guess the exact time they used to meet at this location?

Well, you guessed it right. It was 4:20 PM. The reason they met at this time was that they were all athletes and so they chose to meet after practice each day. They would all pile into a car and begin smoking cannabis as they searched for the location of the cannabis crop.

In an interview with Huffington Post, one of the Waldos, Steve Capper said that the time 4.20 PM came about as a means of reminding each other in the hallways when to meet. At first, the code they used was “420-Louie” – but as time progressed, the Waldos dropped the word “Louie” and remained with 420 only.

Even though they were in possession of the map, they never located the free bud. The good news is that they were able to coin the catchphrase -420 – which became a way for high school kids back then to talk about smoking cannabis without their parents or teachers being privy to their discussion.

You may be wondering how a group of high school teens from California managed to spread the code – 420 – around the world.

How did the code 420 become an internationally recognized phrase?

Mark Gravitch’s was one of the Waldos and his dad managed the real estate of Grateful Dead, a renowned American rock band founded in 1965. On the other hand, the older brother of Dave Reddix, another Waldo, was a good friend of Phil Lesh, the bassist of Grateful Dead. As the Waldos interacted with the band and other members at the backstage, they continued using the phrase 420 as a way of passing cannabis between each other.

Before they knew it, the code became a popular slang among the community. The term continued to spread everywhere Grateful Dead performed. Deadheads, who were diehard fans of Grateful Dead, started spreading flyers with cryptic messages during the concerts. One of the flyers preserved by one of the Waldos had the following message:

“We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge on Mt. Tamaulipas.”

Basically, the flyers were an invitation for Deadheads to meet at the Bolin Ridge to smoke pot.

The 420 Controversy

In 2012, a man calling himself “the Bebe” claimed that he and his pals coined the term 420 back when they were in high school – San Rafael. The article was published in the 420 Magazine and the guy claimed that the Waldos were actually “self-promoting wannabes” who attended San Rafael High school but never coined the term 420.

Although the magazine’s editor, Rob Griffin, concluded that “the Bebe” actually coined the term 420 and not the Waldos, in an interview with the Huffington Post, the online editorial disputed the conclusion made by the editor of 420 Magazine. From the evidence presented by the Waldos during the interview, the Huffington Post concluded that the Waldos actually coined the term.

Some of the evidence that the Waldos presented include:

  • A letter from college – In a 1970’s US Postmarked letter, Waldo Dave wrote to Waldo Steve referring to 420 in cannabis context. In addition, Waldo Dave refers to his connection with the Grateful Dead in the letter.
  • The Original 420 Flag – the flag was designed using early 70s arts and crafts. Simply put, it was batik style. It had a large cannabis leaf design which referenced the meaning behind 420. Patty, a lady friend of the Waldos, made the flag.
  • San Rafael Newspaper with a reference to 420 – The Waldos had a copy of their high school newspaper dated June 4th, 1974. In the newspaper, one of the Waldo’s answered in the Question Man column with the term 420.

For more evidence, click here.

420 Today

As said earlier, 420 has grown into an international counterculture holiday where marijuana advocates not only consume pot but also advocate the decriminalization of cannabis. As stated by Vivian McPeak, the founder of Seattle’s Hempfest, 4/20 is “half celebration and half call to action.”

On April 20th of every year, people around the world congregate at different locations and at 4.20 PM exactly, they light up and smoke pot. Thanks to such efforts, marijuana is now decriminalized in over 50 states in the US. Despite this, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.

Learn more about the Waldos and 420 origins.

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