Dec 12

What Does ‘420’ Mean And Where Does It Come From

What Does ‘420’ Mean And Where Does It Come From

The origin of the term 420, which is celebrated around the world by stoners every April 20th, has long been obscured by the clouded memories of the folks who made it into the common-place phrase it is today.

It was rumored to have started back in The Grateful Dead’s hayday, at the same time as their concerts in the 1970’s it was reported that the police were using 420 as a crime code for smoking in process, stoners took the word and made it their own.

This knowledge comes from Bloom, then a reporter for High Times magazine and now the publisher of CelebStoner.com and co-author of “Pot Culture,” had never heard of “420-ing” before. The flyer he is referring to came complete with a 420 backstory: “420 started somewhere in San Rafael, California in the late ’70s. It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call, they started using the expression 420 when referring to herb — Let’s Go 420, dude!”

However time has passed since the 1970’s and today this theory has been debunked, while fun it is not the whole truth.

The origin of 420 had nothing to do with a police code, though the San Rafael part was dead-on. A group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos  coined the term in 1971. This tight-knit group of friends never envisioned that their fellow stoners all over the world over would celebrate each April 20th as a result of their local smoke up.

The day has managed to become something of a national holiday in the face of official condemnation and is a great opportunity for potheads across the world to get one over on their local law enforcement.

420 meaning, 420 origin



 The Waldos’ story goes like this: One day in the fall of 1971 — harvest time — the Waldos got word of a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. A treasure map in hand, the Waldos decided to pluck some of the free bud.

The Waldos, who were all athletes, agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20 p.m., 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,” Capper, 57, says.

The first forays were unsuccessful, but the group kept looking for the hidden crop. “We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ’66 Chevy Impala, and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Point Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week,” says Capper. “We never actually found the patch.”

But they did find a useful codeword. “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,” Capper says. “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”


waldo weed, 420 origin, 420 meaning


The Waldos say that it took just a few years for the term to spread throughout San Rafael and start cropping up elsewhere in the state. By the early ’90s, it had penetrated far enough that Dave Reddix and Steve Capper began hearing people use it in unexpected places — Ohio, Florida, Canada — and spotted it painted on signs and scratched into park benches.

In 1998, the Waldos decided to set the record straight and got in touch with High Times.

“They said, ‘The fact is, there is no 420 [police] code in California. You guys ever look it up?'” Bloom recalls. He had to admit that, no, he had never looked it up. Hager flew out to San Rafael, met the Waldos, examined their evidence, spoke with others in town, and concluded they were telling the truth.

“No one’s ever been able to come up with any use of 420 that predates the 1971 usage, which they had established. So unless somebody can come up with something that predates them, then I don’t think anybody’s going to get credit for it other than them,” Hager says.