What Does “420” Mean?

Marijuana Addiction Treatment
Amanda Stevens

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Every April, self-identified “stoners” across the globe and the United States gear up for “420.” The term has infiltrated popular culture for decades and has become synonymous with smoking marijuana. While everyone has heard of the term “420,” what exactly does 420 mean?

A well-known countercultural holiday, 420 has become the official unofficial day of celebration for smokers nationwide. With the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use spreading across the United States, more people are celebrating 420.

Some people believe that it was the police code initially used to report marijuana use. Others believe that it’s the number of chemicals in marijuana. Even more, they believe that it originated from a Bob Dylan song, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” as a result of multiplying the numbers.

There are numerous theories and false origins regarding the beginnings of the “420” movement. The amount of theories is overwhelming, and some are so outlandish that they’re not even worth going into in-depth.

However, there’s only one story that traces the roots of this high holiday all the way back to the beginning. In the end, it all began with a group of high schoolers.

Meeting at “4:20 Louis”

In the early seventies, a group of five young high school students began meeting regularly to smoke pot together. The five boys from San Rafael High School were named Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich. Eventually, the five of them became known as “the Waldos” because they would meet by the same wall outside of school.

Sometime during the fall of 1971, the Waldos caught wind of an abandoned plot of marijuana plants. An unknown Coast Guard service member was no longer able to care for his cannabis, and the Waldos took advantage of this situation.

Because this habit became a regular fixture for these boys, they began creating code words for smoking together. Eventually, they decided that they wanted to meet after extracurriculars by a statue of Louis Pasteur that stood outside of the high school.

As a result, the Waldos decided that 4:20pm would be the best time to meet by the statue of Louis Pasteur. Thus, “4:20 Louis” became the code word for meeting up to smoke together, and persisted into their adult years.

420 Spreads With The Grateful Dead

Eventually, Reddix’s brother was able to get him a position working with the Grateful Dead, specifically with bassist Phil Lesh. Eventually, the Waldos began getting high with the band. As a result, the term “420” began catching on in Deadhead circles.

On the 28th of December in 1990, Steve Bloom, a reporter for the High Times at the time, was handed a flyer at a concert. The flyer came with a description of the origins and background of the 420 movement. It also gave the time and date for a 420 event on the 20th of April, 1991.

Although it wasn’t Waldo’s intention, the Deadhead community wanted to unite pot smokers around the globe by celebrating on the same day at the same time. In the end, it was the Deadheads that took “420” and turned it into what it is today. As a result, the 420 code was converted into the official unofficial stoner holiday.

The Lasting Legacy of 420

Nobody, especially the five Waldos, could ever have imagined that such a widespread movement would sprout from their after-school pastime. Although they never intended to give voice to the marijuana movement, the Waldoes are happy with their legacy. Without even meaning to, they secured their place in marijuana history as unwitting leaders of a movement.

Even so, the Waldos enjoy seeing what was once their code word become an open secret and “private” joke. The term has evolved into both a stoner holiday and a pop culture phenomenon, much to their enjoyment.

Examples are featured in small daily references and larger, more prominent ones. For instance, all of the clocks in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction are purposefully set to 4:20. In fact, the 420 phenomenon has gone far enough that the California bill legalizing medical marijuana was codified as SB420.

We take our music-focused treatment for addiction very seriously, so we are going to hold our content to the same precision standards. Recovery Unplugged’s editorial process involves our editing safeguard and our ideals. Read our Editorial Process.

Amanda Stevens

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work.

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