Every year on April 20th, thousands of people around the world gather to celebrate 420, a number that has become synonymous with marijuana culture. For many, this day is a chance to enjoy some cannabis and partake in the unique sense of community that the tradition has created. But have you ever stopped to wonder where this iconic number came from and how it became so deeply associated with marijuana? In this post, we’ll explore the history behind the 420 tradition and how it evolved into the global phenomenon it is today.
The Waldos and the Treasure Map:
The story of 420 begins in the early 1970s in San Rafael, California, with a group of five high school friends who called themselves the “Waldos.” The group adopted the moniker “Waldos” because they often hung out by a wall near their school, San Rafael High School. In the fall of 1971, the Waldos received an intriguing treasure map from a friend. The map allegedly led to a secret cannabis patch planted by a Coast Guard member who could no longer tend to it.
Fascinated by the prospect of discovering this hidden treasure, the Waldos agreed to meet every day after school at 4:20 PM by the statue of Louis Pasteur on their school campus. They would then embark on their quest to find the mysterious cannabis plants. This daily ritual became known as the “4:20 Louis” meeting, and eventually, the number 420 became synonymous with marijuana use among the group.
Spreading the 420 Tradition:
The Waldos’ treasure hunts for the elusive cannabis patch continued throughout the fall of 1971, but they never found the plants. However, their use of the number 420 as a code for marijuana use began to spread beyond the original group. The Waldos had connections to the popular band the Grateful Dead, as one member’s father managed the Dead’s real estate and another’s older brother was friends with the band’s bassist, Phil Lesh. Through these connections, the term 420 was introduced to the Grateful Dead community, and the band members themselves began using it.
As the Grateful Dead toured and their fan base grew, so too did the reach of the 420 term. Deadheads, as the band’s fans were called, spread the term throughout the United States as they attended concerts and followed the band on tour. By the early 1990s, the use of the number 420 as a symbol for marijuana was well-established in cannabis culture.
High Times and the Mainstream:
In December 1990, Steve Bloom, a reporter for the cannabis-focused magazine High Times, attended a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California. While there, he was handed a flyer that detailed the history of the 420 term, encouraging people to smoke marijuana at 4:20 PM on April 20th. Intrigued, Bloom brought the flyer back to the High Times office, and in 1991, the magazine published the story of 420 and the Waldos.
The publication of the 420 story in High Times catapulted the term into the mainstream. As marijuana culture became more widespread and accepted, the number 420 continued to gain significance as both a symbol of cannabis and a rallying cry for the marijuana legalization movement. The magazine even went on to purchase the domain 420.com, further cementing its place in cannabis culture.
A Global Phenomenon:
Over the years, the 420 traditions has grown far beyond its humble beginnings in San Rafael. Today, April 20th is celebrated by cannabis enthusiasts all over the world, with events taking place in cities from Amsterdam to Vancouver.