Where Did “420” Come From?

The Original Author’s of 420, the Waldos.

Believe it or not 420 started with 5 Teens

Back in the 1970s in California, five teens hung out by a wall outside their San Rafael school. This meeting spot inspired the groups nickname—the Waldos. While their story has been somewhat of a myth, their code word has become a legend. As “420’s” celebrity status grew, two of the original five preferred to remain anonymous for a long time. However, the original members have come together and created a website dedicated to their story. But you can get the summary about it here.

In the fall of 1971, the Waldos discovered a cannabis plant planted by a Coast Guard member. When the unnamed Coast Guard member could no longer tend to the crop, legend has it he or she provided the Waldos with a treasure map. A treasure map to none other than a crop of weed, aka 420.

Where’s Waldo’s 420 Treasure

The Waldos planned one a week to meet at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their high school. During their meeting, they would search for the illustrious treasure. Their meeting time was (as you guessed) 4:20 p.m. Why 4:20? They were all athletes, scholars, and busy teens. 4:20 was after practice and activities. 

The Waldos piled into a car, smoked a little 420 (probably for inspiration), and scoured the nearby Point Reyes Forest for the elusive, free herb. Steve Capper (one of the original Waldos) said “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.” Unfortunately, they never did find the treasure, but nonetheless, the term 420 stuck. High school students and kids across America had a code word for smoking pot. 

International 420 Recognition

Mark Gravitch’s father managed the Grateful Dead’s real estate, and Dave Reddix’s older brother was friends with Dead bassist, Phil Lesh. Capper said, “There was a place called Winterland, and we’d always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, we’re using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So, it started spreading through that community.” It is important to note, however, the Waldo’s were not “Deadheads.”

A reporter for “High Times,” Steven Bloom, heard the phrase “420” during a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California (December 1990). Bloom was wandering through the congregation of hippies that would gather before Dead concerts, and a “Deadhead” handed him a flyer that said, “We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” Once the magazine, “High Times,” latched on to the story, 420 went global. 

April 20th

The unofficial holiday with the unofficial name was born and is now celebrated worldwide. Forty years later, in 2009, officials at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of California in Santa Cruz tried to stifle the marijuana festivities on April 20th. Seeing as Colorado and California in 2021 boast the largest Hemp acceptance, it’s clear their efforts were a flat out FAIL! While many legends arise around the origins of 420, the Waldos have proof they used the word back in the 70s. Like treasure, the Waldos stored remnants of their coined phrase in a vault in a San Francisco bank. 

  • their original 420 tie-dyed flag
  • a cut newspaper article about one of the Waldo members wanting to say “420” for his high school graduation speech 
  • and several postmarked letters between the group flooded with 420 references

To learn more about the Waldo’s story, click here, or watch this below.

Leave a Reply