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The Real History of 420

The celebrated history of 420

April 2020 – aka 4/20 – marks the only time this century when 420, cannabis culture’s favorite holiday, will last an entire month.

While the origins of the term “420” are often debated, people around the world honor the number by using it to celebrate all things cannabis. Whether it’s smoking a joint at 4:20 pm or attending a cannabis festival on April 20th, 420 is now synonymous with marijuana.

Back in 1971, a group of friends in Northern California, who called themselves the Waldos, would congregate around San Rafael High School’s statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 pm, every day, to smoke pot.

One day another friend showed up at the statue with a treasure map to his brother’s secret pot patch, which supposedly grew somewhere on Point Reyes Peninsula. The Waldos decided to meet after school and drive to Point Reyes, but since school got out at 3:10 pm, and some of the Waldos had after-school activities lasting an hour, they chose to meet at precisely 4:20 pm at the Louis Pasteur statue.

On the day of the treasure hunt, the Waldos continued to remind one another about the meeting throughout the day by saluting each other in the halls and saying “420 Louie.” After school, they would try to find the patch. It eluded them, but after tossing around the phrase 420 all day, the number permanently entered their lexicon, and they began using it in everyday speech to covertly discuss getting high without tipping off parents or teachers.

But at the time, 420 was still relegated to a small group of people in a single location. It took, of all things, The Grateful Dead to broadcast it to the world. The Waldo’s were big fans of the band, and a few years after their first 420 meeting at the Pasteur statue, one of the Waldo’s managed to get a job as a roadie for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. The expression caught on in the Deadhead community and word spread until December 28, 1990, when a group of Oakland Deadheads distributed flyers inviting people to smoke “420” on April 20 at 4:20 pm.

And there you have it. What began as five teenagers with a pot treasure map has blossomed into an international celebration of and a rallying cry for legalization.

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