The 420 Debate: How’d It Start?

While many non-smokers recognize 420 as weed’s annual holiday, even the most seasoned stoners tend to be unfamiliar with the day’s origins. When did April 20th become so important, and why? There are many theories (such as California’s Senate Bill 420, which made it the first state to regulate medical cannabis use in 2003), but only one right answer. And it’s kind of a funny story.

One random group of teens in the 1970s. That’s how this national holiday started.

The group of five friends was nicknamed “the Waldos,” and they all attended high school together in San Rafael, California. Legend has it that the Waldos learned that someone had planted a cannabis crop near the school and could no longer keep it growing. At the beginning of the school year in 1971, the group came across a treasure map that was supposed to lead them to the plant. Some real Goonies action. So the Waldos would meet up at a statue outside their high school at least once a week to hunt for the hidden treasure.

where did 420 start

Any guesses on their meetup time? Bingo! 4:20. They were all athletes, and this was prime time for them – just after practice, but still before dinner. The routine was to smoke some weed before hunting for the crop, which would ultimately provide them with ounces upon ounces of free herb. On treasure hunting days, the Waldos would remind each other of the “4:20” meetup time in the hallways during school.

While the group reports that they never did find the free bud (still think it’s out there?), they found something even cooler: a national holiday celebrating cannabis culture. And they couldn’t have done it without the help of the Grateful Dead.

By 1971, the California-originated band was six years into their career, and a pretty big deal. Members of the Waldos had connections to the band in more ways than one, so the group was often backstage at the shows. And what are you gonna do at a Grateful Dead show if not smoke weed? The Waldos would be passing a joint around, using their phrase “420” as a way of asking if someone wanted a hit. Eventually, it started to catch on.

how did 420 start

It wasn’t until years later though, in 1990, that it started to get attention in national media. A reporter for High Times, Steven Bloom first heard the phrase at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California. He was handed a flyer that said, “We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” It also detailed the significance of 420, making reference to the Waldos. Like any good reporter, Bloom ran with the story, and High Times Magazine helped to really mainstream the significance of the date.

Turns out that April 20th was started by a couple of stoner kids in California, and the celebrations now date back almost 50 years. No matter how you plan on celebrating, keep the Waldos in mind this year – smoke one for them, because without ‘em, we wouldn’t have 420.

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