The legend of 420 goes all the way back to Fall of 1971 in San Rafael, CA. It begins with five homies (Dave Reddix, Larry Schwartz, Steve Capper, Mark Gravitch and Jeffrey Noel) from Marin County, CA named the Waldos.
One of the five Waldos had a friend whose brother was in the Coast Guard. That brother had been growing lil’ patches of cannabis in secret for years on the Point Reyes Peninsula. For some reason, the cadet got spooked that he may be caught; so instead of harvesting his last patch, he gave the Waldos a treasure map to where the patch was located, along with permission to keep all of the weed. At 4:20pm every day, the Waldos would meet under a statue of Louis Pasteur on their high school’s campus in San Rafael to get stoned and set out to find that secret garden of weed treasure.
For the full deep dive into, peep this episode of Great Moments in Weed History, a podcast hosted by David Bienenstock and Abdullah “T Kid” Saeed.
How did 420 become so popular?
420 was originally just an inside joke amongst the Waldos. People began to adopt the term as they heard the Waldos use it, and it spread throughout Grateful Dead subculture in Marin County, , and stoner culture through word of mouth. That game of telephone eventually culminated into a flyer that was floating around the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert, ending up in the hands of then High Times news editor Steve Bloom who just so happened to be in attendance.
While the flyer has an erroneous origin story of 420 being police code on it, at the bottom, it had an invitation to a stoner meetup on 4/20 at 4:20pm in Marin County, CA to “smoke pot hardcore.” This was the birth of 4/20 as a holiday for smokers.
Bloom then published the flyer in the May 1991 issue of High Times, and no one thought twice of it, until years down the line when the Waldos contacted him to say “Yo, we started 420, and that origin story is wrong.” And that’s one of the most common misconceptions about 420 was finally dispelled, over 20 years later.
Since its inception, 420 has become a worldwide phenomenon. Annually on April 20, people gather at concerts, protests, festivals, and all types of events to celebrate the history, community, and liberation of that lil’ green flower we all know and love.
5 common myths about 420
With all urban legends comes myths. Here are five of the most common surrounding 420, 4:20, and 4/20. Most of these you probably don’t hear too often anymore.
- 420 is a police code for weed smoking
The first misconception that spread throughout folklore is that 420 is a police dispatch code for “Marijuana Smoking In Progress.” It’s not true. In police code, according to Ripley’s (Believe it or Not) San Francisco has a 420 code for a juvenile disturbance; Section 420 of the California penal code references obstructing entry on public land; and Las Vegas’ 420 is a police code for homicide.
- Bob Dylan birthed 420
Bob Dylan says “Everybody must get stoned” on Rainy Day Woman (phenotype) #12 and #35. People multiplied the two numbers and came up with 420, and just like that, people ran with Bob Dylan as the inventor of 420. That myth is indeed false.
- 420 is the number of compounds in cannabis plants
Some believe that 420 is the number of chemicals in cannabis. This is another myth that is not fact. A study published in 2012 suggests there are over 400 chemical compounds in cannabis, with at least 60 of them being cannabinoids. There’s no evidence that number totals 420.
- 4/20 is the anniversary of Bob Marley’s passing
Another common 420 myth is that 4/20 is the day Bob Marley died. And Jimi Hendrix. And Jerry Garcia. But none of these are true. Bob Marley passed on May 11th, and the myth is false for everyone else too. You should still smoke in their honor though.
- All of the clocks in Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20
Movie legend has it that all of the clocks in Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20, a nod to the Waldos. This one’s false too, according to a mythbusting article from CBR. A lot of the clocks are set to 4:20, there’s also clocks that aren’t, like Butch’s childhood watch.