We have all heard the myths on how our favorite holiday was conceived. Some say that it’s police code for marijuana smoking in progress. Some say that it’s penal code for possession of marijuana. Some go as far as to say it was the time when the first hit of acid was taken. Still others say it’s the day famous musicians like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died. These are all, unfortunately, not true.
There is one slight exception to the list, though. The urban legend about when the first hit of acid was taken does, in fact, boast some truth. As it turns out, Albert Hoffman (the scientist who took the first hit of LSD) had 4:20 pm written down in his notes as the drop time. That, however, is still not the reason why we celebrate 420 today. So it is also incorrect.
The truth is 420 is the creation of a group of friends from San Rafael, California. They were known as the Waldos because they always hung out near a wall outside their high school. The Waldos have papers and letters dated all the way back to the 70s with 420 all over them. More importantly than that, they have a direct link to the Grateful Dead. Their story goes a little something like this…
One day in the fall of 1971, the Waldos were informed by a friend that there was a coast guard member who could no longer look over his crop of Marijuana. With the soldier away, the plants were going to be left unattended, and therefore it would make a great score for anyone who could find them. Armed with a homemade treasure map, the Waldos would set out into the woods to find some free grass.
The Waldos, all being athletes, decided the best time to start would be after practice. So they all agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20.
“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,” Waldo Steve tells the Huffington Post.
The first forays out were unsuccessful, but the group kept looking for the hidden crop. “We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ’66 Chevy Impala, and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Pt. Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week,” says Steve. “We never actually found the patch.”
But they did find a secret code word. “I could say to one of my friends, I’d go, 420, and it was telepathic. He would know if I was saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?’ Or, ‘Do you have any?’ Or, ‘Are you stoned right now?’ It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it,” Steve says. “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”
The Waldos succeeded in creating a worldwide code word for the marijuana friendly. First it moved through the Grateful Dead counter-culture via Mark Waldos’ dad, who took care of real estate for the Dead, not to mention Patrick, his brother, was often on tour with Phil Lesh. After the Dead picked up the counterculture code word, it didn’t take long for it to go mainstream. A short time later, High Times Magazine took over the 42o reins and turned it into the international phenomenon it is today. Currently, 420 is celebrated around the world and is the date of the annual the High Times Cannabis Cup, the super bowl of pot smoking.