Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the cannabis-culture phenomenon called 420.
Four-twenty stands for April 20 (4/20). Many people worldwide celebrate this day as a holiday for cannabis enthusiasts. The phrase has even become a reference to the use of marijuana in general, but how did it start?
Some people think it began somewhere in California, where the police used it as a code for marijuana. However, the phenomenon probably did not start as a police code or a date but rather as a time.
Its origins may have been in 1971 in California, where a group of San Rafael High School teens, known as the Waldos, routinely gathered after school at 4:20 p.m. to smoke weed.
The story goes that one day in the fall of 1971 – the harvest season – the Waldos received news about an unattended plot of marijuana plants. As they thought they knew where to find it, they decided to go and get the weed. The Waldos agreed to meet up near the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20 to begin hunting. To keep their plan quiet, they referred to it as operation “Louis 420”.
Although they never found the weed (After several attempts to find the marijuana field, the group gave up), the term 420 would forever stay associated with marijuana.
Now, of course, one crucial question remains: How did 420 spread from a small group of adventurous students in California to the rest of the world?
The Waldos had a direct connection to Grateful Dead. The rock band had a rehearsal room in the area, offering the Waldos access to parties and rehearsals: “They used to use the phrase ‘Hey, 420’ to go to smoke, so it started spreading through that community.” Grateful Dead toured the world through the 1970s and 1980s, playing hundreds of shows a year, so the term spread through them.
The boom came when High Times magazine editor and Cannabis Cup founder Steve Hager started incorporating it into many he was doing, such as organizing events under that name.
In 1997, the Waldos decided to make things clear and contacted the editor of the High Times, arguing that the term 420 did not exist in the California police, and it was true. Hager flew to San Rafael and met the Waldos. He examined his evidence, spoke to others in the city, and concluded that they were telling the truth.
Over the years, 420 became a phenomenon, and April 20 became a date when people celebrate the cannabis plant and protest against marijuana bans.