What Does “420” Mean?

Every April, self-identified “stoners” across the globe and United State 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 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 when it comes to 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 highschoolers. 

Meeting at “4:20 Louis”

In the early seventies, a group of five young highschool 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 at the time for the High Times 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 the Waldo’s intentions, 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 and 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 of this are featured in both 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. 

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A Content Writer for our Digital Marketing team, Jocelyn Bermudez is involved in almost every aspect of writing for Recovery Unplugged’s website and web presence. Working in conjunction with the Social Media team and Production department, she provides much of the copy used in scripts, captions,...
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