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Origin of 420: How It Became the Celebrated Cannabis Holiday

While enjoying the day, take a moment to enjoy the origin of 420 on 420, a day for celebrating and appreciating cannabis.

San Rafael High School Students

In 1971, after the cannabis culture had proliferated after the ’60s, a few high school students in San Rafael in the Bay Area in Northern California began spending time together. They used to meet after school at 4:20 pm at a statue of famed chemist Louis Pasteur to smoke. The guys were athletes who had practice after school and would meet afterward. The group became known as the “Waldos”.

In the origin of 420, calling it “420” was a convenient way to discuss cannabis in front of figures who would not support their use of cannabis. Initially, they said “420 Louis” to remind each and as an in-joke and remind them of their trip taken after. Then they simply shortened it to “420”.

It was proven that this group had indeed originated the term when it was discovered they made a 420 flag art in class and wrote it in yearbooks.

According to “Great Moments in Weed History,” the Waldos came across a treasure map pointing to the garden. Initially, they were looking for a garden patch grown by a member of the Coast Guard. He was the brother of a friend who no longer wanted to tend it for fear of reprisal. Finding the garden became known as “Waldo Safaris.”

The Waldos Launch 420 Among Deadheads

When discussing the origin of 420, Bienenstock said that it’s used by people akin to the way “Smurf” is said in the eponymous show.

The Coast Guardsman was stationed at the Point Reyes lighthouse and was growing the crop on nearby federal land. He became paranoid about getting caught. So, he drew a map marking the location of his garden.

In part, they received the map because they were not close that if caught, they could not track it back to him. Unfortunately, they never actually found the cannabis garden.

They later became followers of the Grateful Dead whom they had personal connections.

The Waldos did not think of themselves at the time as “Cheech and Chong types.” Rather they felt they were motivated, creative, intelligent, and driven.

Group member Waldo Dave said they had a rehearsal hall in San Rafael. So, they used to watch them practice and their early shows. So as the Dead became more popular, it spread. They each put Waldo in front of their names.

Through the Deadheads, the 420 connection to cannabis was subsequently spread through hippie culture and the larger underground cannabis culture. However, they never considered themselves “Deadheads.”

Thus, due to the time 4:20, the date April 20th became a day to celebrate cannabis use. It has become a day for celebrating and protesting for cannabis legalization.

The Waldos remained friends for years afterward.

The Origin of 420 Acknowledged

In 1990, Former High Times Editor Steve Bloom uncovered the origin while reporting for the magazine. It was subsequently spread throughout the cannabis community.

Some corporate brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Burger King are starting to market themselves on 420 as munchies.

A popular misconception of the origin of 420 is it’s actually the police code for possession.

Another theory was that it came from Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Woman 12 & 35” because multiplied together, they come to 420.

It is celebrated in spite of also being Hitler’s birthday, that. Thankfully, that is not the origin of 420.

Some used to think it was the birthday of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia who was born in August.

This story, including more history of cannabis and the nature of the growing industry and the medicine helping millions and more, will be in my upcoming book “Cannabis 101” on sale as an e-book next month!

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