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Who started 420?

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A month from now, thousands of people will be celebrating 420 but have you ever wondered how the term 420 started? I have to admit, I’ve been having my own little private 420 spark-up for years and somehow just always assumed it had something to do with Earth Day (April 22nd).  Boy, was I wrong.

Curious, I decided to do a little research and here is the what I found out:  One day in the Fall of 1971, five San Rafael High School friends nicknamed, the Waldos, found out about an abandoned plot of marijuana plants that a Coast Guard service member planted near Point Reyes Peninsula.  They got hold of a “treasure map” and planned to find this plot of marijuana and pick some free buds.  The Waldos were all athletes and agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20, after practice, to begin the hunt.  “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,” Waldo Steve explains.

Admittedly, because of how much weed they smoked along the way, they never actually did fine their Cannabis mecca.  What they did find was a useful code word. “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,” Steve says. “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”

So how did this phrase spread nationwide to become the celebration we have today?  The 78rpm version is this:  Marin County (CA) became ground zero for the counter culture.  The Grateful Dead practiced there. The Waldos had connections to the Dead through family members and had access to rehearsals and parties where they would get high with the members.  Using the term 420 became common place.

As the Grateful Dead played hundreds of shows a year through the ‘70s and ‘80s, and the term spread though the Dead underground. High Times magazine got wind of it, and helped take it global.  Then someone at High Times had the brilliant foresight to purchase the web domain in the early ‘90s.

For a few years, High Times took the credit for the term but the record was set straight in 1997 when one of the Waldo’s got in touch with High Times and produced flyers and other evidence dating back to 1971.  As there is nothing pre-dating any reference to 420 before ’71, High Times conceded that the Waldo’s did indeed start and coin the term 420.  Although the Waldo’s never made a dime on the phrase, High Times did fly Waldo Dave out to the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam as sort of a celebrity.

So there you have it.  April 20th was never the intent, a 4:20pm meetup of friends and a code for getting high!  Whether you choose the date or the time – enjoy, be safe and party on Garth!


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