The Origin of 420

Apr 18, 2016

The Origin of 420

4/20 Urban Legends

The use of 4/20 to designate one's affection for cannabis is so popular that even those who don't partake know what it means. Just open up the classified section of a newspaper in a city like Denver where recreational use is permitted. You'll see listings for apartment rentals that are “4/20 friendly!” The slang term may have been something like a code at one point, but today everyone is in on it. 

One of the most popular urban legends is that the Grateful Dead are responsible for creating 4/20. Certainly, the legendary jam band was no stranger to the pleasures of cannabis. The myth claims that the Dead always stayed in room 420 when they were on the road, and that the designation became standard in their discussions of weed. It's a sexy and cool legend, one that people enjoy repeating. It's also false. Aside from the fact that many hotels don't even have a room 420, the large band would have required more than one room.

Another myth is that 420 was used by police as a radio code for calls involving marijuana use. That one isn't true, either. A 420 in police communications is a bit more serious than firing one up. It's the police radio code for homicide.

The story you probably heard growing up might be the closest to the truth. It is said that 4:20 in the afternoon was the time students gathered to smoke cannabis after their studies. Once classes were done, students all wound up having a toke at around the same time. They noticed this and began using 4/20 as a way to invite one another to a gathering.

4/20 urban legends range from the outrageous to the plausible. Before you go making complex mathematical calculations related to that Bob Dylan album in your collection, though, tamp down the part of your mind that loves conspiracies and secrets. The origin of 4/20 can most likely be credited to a group of guys who called themselves the Waldos.

The Waldos and the Golden Crop

The glorious 1970's was a happy time for cannabis lovers in California. Fresh off the Summer of Love and the protests at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, marijuana subculture was still thriving. In San Rafael, a group of local high school students heard another legend. The rumor was that a massive crop of cannabis was located in close proximity to the school.

The students embarked upon a daily quest to find the golden crop of ganja. Think of them as the Indiana Jones and company of weed. As it turned out, they met each day beside a statute of Louis Pasteur to begin the search. What is more relevant is that their meetings gradually began to occur at the same time. 4:20.

Every group of guys hunting for a mythical marijuana patch needs a name, right? These fellows began calling themselves the Waldos. As in Waldo Dave or Waldo Steve. By now, you have probably envisioned things about this story that could have inspired several scenes in a Cheech and Chong film. You wouldn't be far off the mark, either. Hunting for the fabled crop often turned into a comedy of errors which resulted in the students scrapping the mission and lighting up. They never found the stash, but they continued to meet for their daily aromatherapy sessions.

Eventually, 420 became a way for the Waldos to communicate. Saying the number could mean any number of things. Do you have any? Will you be there today? Watch out! It was a universal way of discussing what was still a taboo topic, even in laid-back California. Since then, April 20 and 4:20 p.m. have become synonymous with marijuana use.

The bottom line is that it really doesn't matter how 4/20 came to be. What matters is that everyone can participate. For one day out of the year, cannabis reigns supreme. It receives the honor to which many claim it is rightfully due. How you choose to celebrate is your choice. The main thing is to enjoy!