Where Did the Term 420 Came From
Many believe the term “420” originated from a police code that meant “Marijuana Smoking in Progress,” but as we stumble our way through the hazy past for the true origins of this iconic phrase, one blunt truth emerges—“420” did not originate with law enforcement, but with a group of high school students in 1970s California.
Many “420” revelers don’t know the origins of the word, but have vague recollections of once-heard tales about its origins. Some believe it’s the number of active chemicals in marijuana, others that it’s based on teatime in Holland. Some reference the birthday of Adolf Hitler (April 20, 1889), and others Bob Dylan’s legendary “Everybody must get stoned” refrain from his hit “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” (12 multiplied by 35 does equal 420).
But in reality, it can all be traced back to a group of five California teens who used to hang out by a wall outside their San Rafael school—a meeting spot that inspired their nickname, “the Waldos.”
In the fall of 1971, the Waldos learned of a Coast Guard member who had planted a cannabis plant and could no longer tend to the crop. Provided with a treasure map (some say by the plant’s owner himself) supposedly leading to the abandoned product, the group would meet at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their high school at least once a week conduct a search. Their meeting time? 4:20 p.m, after practice (they were all athletes). The Waldos would pile into a car, smoke some pot and scour the nearby Point Reyes Forest for the elusive, free herb. One of the original members of the Waldos, Steve Capper, told the Huffington Post, “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.”
They never did score the free bud, but perhaps they stumbled on to something more lasting? The term 420 was coined, allowing the high schoolers to discuss smoking pot without their parents or teachers knowing.
But how did this ragtag team of treasure-seekers at a high school in California manage to spread their secret phrase internationally? For that, we turn to the Grateful Dead.
How did it get to the Grateful Dead? Read the original story here on the History Channel!