As is the case with many things that were once illegal, the history is often a little hazy and often depends on who you ask. But where does the term 420 come from? And what does 420 even mean?
You might hear it references a birthdate that happens to fall on this day of sacred herbs, or a song saluting the number, but, to put it bluntly, that’s not the case. So, like previous cannabis convictions that have now been overturned, let’s set the record straight.
The correct answer, and possibly Occam’s razor, is that the term 420 originated in California in the early 1970s. Specifically, a group of five teens with a specific meeting spot – and time – outside their school wall that would give them their nickname, “the Waldos.”
According to history.com, the group caught wind of a cannabis plant that could no longer be taken care of by its planter. Like any determined stoner looking to smoke for free, the crew came up with a plan: armed with a treasure map supposedly leading to the plant’s hidden location, the Waldos would meet after school and after practice, pile into a car and commence the search. Oh yeah, and the meeting time was 4:20 p.m.
While the Waldos reportedly never found their elusive treasure, they created a term that will outlast any amount of herb they could’ve found.
Passing each other in the hallway, they’d give each other the “dude-nod” and say “420-Louis,” – referencing the Louis Pasteur statue where they’d gather. Eventually it was shortened to just “420.” The group now had a way to discuss anything to do with cannabis, not just their treasure hunt, without teachers or parents knowing what they meant.
The leap into the international lexicon came from word of mouth in the stoner community, and, given the time and place, possibly Occam’s Razor once again, The Grateful Dead.
Members of the Waldos just so happened to have connections with the band – one member’s father managed the Dead’s real estate, for example, and another’s older brother was buddies with Dead bassist Phil Lesh.
Waldos member Steve Capper told the Huffington Post, “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.”
From that point the popular cannabis magazine High Times got wind of the term and the rest is history. Literally!
These days 420 largely refers to 4/20, April 20, which has become the unofficial day of cannabis. The day will be filled with “smoke-out” displays being held all over to celebrate, protest, and/ or raise awareness of cannabis, depending where exactly on the legalization-timeline your country finds itself.
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