Every year, on the 20th of April, pot smokers and cannabis lovers everywhere gather to celebrate their connection to the herb, and to protest the injustice of its prohibition. But how did this tradition get started? How did 420 become such a universally recognized counterculture symbol, and 4/20 the “International Day of Cannabis”?
Myths and rumors abound…
One of the most popular stories emerged in the 90s, and claims that 420 was a police code for “marijuana arrest in progress.” In order to fuck with the fuzz, stoners decided to take the term and turn it on its head — making 4/20 into a smoker’s holiday, gathering with friends and lighting up at 4:20 in the afternoon.
But like many others, this tale holds no water. It turns out that 420 isn’t really police code for a pot bust.
And the true origins of 420 code go back two decades further: to northern California in the early 70s, and a group of high school kids who called themselves “the Waldos.”
The Waldos were a group of friends who attended San Rafael high school in Marin County, CA. In the fall of 1971, a member of the group was given a map. And not just any map — a treasure map. The map was supposed to lead to a marijuana patch hidden somewhere on the Point Reyes Peninsula.
According to the tale, the weed was planted by a member of the U.S. coast guard who had gotten so scared of being busted that he abandoned his crop. He entrusted the map to his brother, who passed it on to Waldo Steve.
Steve and his friends decided they would go find the pot and harvest it — one of their many zany adventures, which they called “safaris.” They agreed to meet after school, at 4:20 pm, at the statue of the famous chemist Louis Pasteur which stood in front of the school.
As they passed each other in the halls they would whisper “4:20 Louis” as a kind of secret code, reminding them of their after school rendezvous. Day after day they would meet at the statue, pile into the “Safari-mobile,” and head out in search of the fabled pot field. And get high, of course.
They never found the weed patch, but their afternoon smoke session endured long after they had given up the search. “4:20 Louis” was eventually shortened to just 4:20, as a shorthand for getting high.
Soon the phrase took on a life of its own. From their little group of five, it spread throughout the school and into the local community. This being California, in the 70s, the local counterculture scene was thriving. Hippies, artists and musicians came and went — including members of the Grateful Dead, and their travelling entourage of fans and followers.
So the “4:20 code” was soon picked up by the nomadic Deadheads, and passed by word of mouth to stoners around the world.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Don’t believe me? Check out the Waldo’s website, where they have posted proof for all the world to see — including letters, school transcripts, a hand-made 420 flag, and even official records from the U.S. Coast Guard!