the history of 420

The History of Smoking Culture

The History of 420

When it comes to the history of 420, the story depends on who you’re asking. It’s no secret that the 20th of April is every smoker’s favorite day of the year. Since we recognize 420 as a nationally celebrated holiday for smoking culture, it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t view the number as either sacred or taboo.

We all know the know and celebrate the day, but where does the number 420 originate? And what does the number mean?

Debunking Common 420 Myths

If you ask a handful of people about the history of 420, you’ll probably receive a handful of different answers. Several theories and myths surround the number and its origins.

The easiest myth to debunk is that April 20th was Hitler’s birthday. I’m pleased to tell you if you haven’t already guessed, that the date has absolutely nothing to do with the figure. And it certainly does not commemorate genocide. Columbine also occurred on April 20, but the term was coined decades before 1999.

Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” is an interesting coincidence, but a myth nonetheless. People have discovered that 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420. In the song, Dylan even sings, “Everybody must get stoned!” The math is correct, but relating the song to the origin of 420 is a stretch.

Perhaps the most famous 420 myth is that it’s a police code. This rumor has spread so much that the myth is accepted as the truth by many smokers. Although there is a 420 police code, it’s a code for murder in the Las Vegas Police Department and has nothing to do with smoking or our favorite holiday.

The Truth Behind 420

The real history of 420 is a little more complicated.

Our story begins in San Rafael, California. It started among a group of teenagers during the 1970s that called themselves “The Waldos.” The nickname originated from one of their favorite hangout spots, which was a wall next to their high school.

Rumors spread around the area that there was a mysterious illegal crop farm somewhere in the San Reyes Peninsula. Supposedly, the farmer who grew the crops could no longer control the plants, so the farm grew rampantly. The group of Waldo’s set out on a mission to find it. Before every venture, they agreed to meet at a statue of Louis Pasteur located close to their high school. They decided to meet at 4:20 p.m. shortly after class let out.

As a code to meet up, smoke, and hunt for the crops, they would use the lingo “420-Louis” to disguise what they were doing. Eventually, they dropped the Louis for its redundancy and used the term 420 to refer to anything smoking-related to avoid parents or teachers catching on.

History of 420

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The Real History of 420 – Waldo’s & Grateful Dead

The story makes a lot more sense than the myths we’ve discussed. But how did it change from a code used by a bunch of teenagers in the ‘70s to a modern, nationally used term for smoking?

The answer lies with the band Grateful Dead.

Two of the original Waldo’s family members worked for the band. Mark Gravitch’s father managed their real estate, and Dave Reddix’s brother ran a cover band and was also friends with the Grateful Dead’s bass guitarist.

The Waldo’s would frequently visit the band at rehearsals located on Front Street, only a couple blocks away from the Louis statue and their school. They would often smoke and listen to them practice.

At this point, the term had already manifested from a place to meet into a term for anything smoking related. The Waldo’s ended up using the slang so frequently that it stuck with members of Grateful Dead. From there, the band toured different cities, attended events, and threw parties where they would also use the term.

Similarly to how the Waldo’s lingo stuck, members of the Grateful Dead used it enough until it became common slang among Grateful Dead fans.

In the 1990’s, a High Times editor made the biggest impact with the term when he saw a poster advertising the sale of “420”. It was in a parking lot at one of the Grateful Dead shows, and they used 420’s terminology to advertise what they were selling subtly. The magazine ended up using the coded language as well.

In today’s world, it’s much more of a sacred number than a secret code. We can also appreciate 420 as being a celebratory date and time instead of a way to disguise our smoking habits. So now that you know the real history of 420, grab that bong, bubbler, dab rig, or rolling paper and get ready for April 20th, 2017!