Celebrity deaths and police codes? Here’s the true story behind 4:20
With the history of “420” stretching back almost 50 years, there have been countless urban legends behind smoking cannabis, the time 4:20 pm, and the date April 20th. One myth was that people lit up on April 20th because it’s the date that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died. Many said that 4:20 was the L.A. police radio code for “marijuana smoking in progress”. 420 could also refer to the number of chemical compounds in cannabis. All of these popular theories are incorrect, despite what your first dealer told you. There is one definitive origin story though, and we’re here to share it with you.
Where’s Waldo? A San Francisco High School in 1971
It all began in 1970, Northern California: the San Francisco Bay Area was a hippie mecca, long hair, afros, and bellbottoms dominated the scene. The people were chill, the weed was plentiful, and the music and art scenes were vibrant.
The Waldo’s were a group of creative, motivated kids who smoked, enjoyed life, and fully debunked the ‘lazy stoner’ narrative. They also coined the term 4:20, and, unlike claims from others to the notorious time, the Waldo’s have hard evidence to back up their story.
Marijuana Treasure Hunts in the California Forest
The year is 1971. The Waldo’s were situated in their usual spot, hanging out against a wall (hence the nickname) outside of San Rafael High School, when a cannabis-centered adventure landed literally in their laps. A treasure map leading to a grow-op ready for harvest, but hidden deep in the California redwood forest, chanced by them and the Waldo’s thanked their lucky stars.
They started meeting after school every day at 4:20 pm under the Louis Pasteur statue. Some of the Waldo’s had sports practice after school, and 4:20 was the only time they could all be sure to be at the statue. They would meet, smoke, then pile into their Chevy Safari to continue their green treasure hunt. In a sense, 4:20 is reflective of their athleticism and commitment to prior engagements, the time itself could be seen as a symbol for dismantling the ‘lazy-stoner’ stereotype.
The Waldo’s would pass each other in the halls at school, saluting “4:20 Louis” as just one of their many inside jokes. They shortened the saying to simply “4:20”, using it as code for anything cannabis related.
The Grateful Dead: 4:20 Introduced to the Rock World, Then Cannabis Culture
An association with the Grateful Dead helped 4:20 take hold in cannabis culture. Waldo Dave’s brother was a friend of the Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh. Close to the time of the treasure hunt, Waldo Dave worked at some of the bands shows where he had the opportunity to introduce them to the term 4:20. The phrase hit home with musicians and Deadheads alike, snowballing into the term we now know and love.
The Waldo’s kept relics of the 4:20 treasure hunt in a bank vault in San Francisco, including a postmarked letter from Dave to another Waldo describing the 4:20 experience with the Grateful Dead, and have been able to prove their story as founders of the term. Others, like a group called The Bebe’s, have attempted to lay claim to the mythological time, but haven’t been able to prove it.
The Waldo’s never did find the weed patch, but the 4:20 concept lives on. It’s morphed from a term encompassing cannabis, creativity, and the freedom of adventure to something representing so much more. 4:20 is now a date commemorated by a community of cannabis-enthusiasts who are dedicated to celebrating the plant and supporting the legalization of marijuana.