Where Did "420" Really Come From? The Holiday's True Origins Depend On Who You Ask

The true historical origins of 420 is the greatest unsolved modern mystery of the cannabis community. Every seasoned stoner intuitively, subconsciously, and even telepathically knows that the numbers four, two, and zero — spoken together as “four twenty” — symbolize getting high with your friends and having a good time. But 420 is not, contrary to a once popular myth, a police code for illegal marijuana smoking in progress.

No one knows for certain how 420 became a grassroots citizen’s code that symbolizes trust, friendship, community, and safety for the millions of marijuana users who continue to endure persecution, violence, incarceration, and social marginalization year after year in this country. But according to popular lore, a clique of friends known as the Waldos from San Rafael High School in Marin County, California claim that 4:20 p.m. was the time that they would meet up to smoke and go on unusual adventures, and that 420 quickly became their code for talking about marijuana in front of hostile peers, parents, teachers, and other authorities. The phrase caught on with more students at San Rafael High, who continued the tradition of smoking on April 20.

The Waldos also claim that the Grateful Dead picked up 420 from them. Steve Bloom, a highly influential ganja journalist, discovered a flyer for an April 20th smokeout at a Grateful Dead show and showed it to Steve Hagar from the High Times, who made 4:20pm a sacred time for stoners at the High Times office and the Cannabis Cup he founded. However, another clique of San Rafael High School stoners known as the Bebes claimed that the Waldos came up with 420 first — and that the Bebes were, and still are, even bigger stoners than the Waldos.

To find out the truth, representatives of Honest Marijuana Company contacted and interviewed a key witness from Celeb Stoner and The High Times to unravel the grassroots ganja history of how 420 became every bit as synonymous with cannabis culture as pot leaves themselves. While most of the historical facts about 420 have gone up in smoke, at least we can enjoy the highly entertaining yet incredibly dubious testimonies from the Waldos and the Bebes. You can decide "the truth" for yourself.

The First 420 Fieldtrip

According to Celeb Stoner and The High Times, the world of the Waldos revolved around a wall in the courtyard of San Rafael High (hence why they chose to call themselves the Waldos). The Waldos were a well-liked clique of smart, athletic, and creative young men with long hair, fros, vests covered in patches, bellbottoms, and hippie bandannas. They would meet at their wall before classes and during their lunch breaks to do impersonations, tell funny stories, and crack jokes about anyone and everyone they knew, including each other. They would also dream up ideas for wacky, weekly adventures they called "Waldo Safaris".

They say a generous coast guard who also grew some ganja was worried about getting kicked out of the U.S. Coast Guard, so he drew a map to his patch of pot plants in Pt. Reyes, California and gave it to his brother who gave it to his friend Waldo Steve. The Waldos agreed to meet at a school statue of the chemist Louis Pasteur at 4:20 p.m. to begin their stoned search for the secret patch of pot. The Waldo’s were so excited to begin their safari that they couldn’t resist smiling and saying “420 Louie” to each other in the hallways in between classes.

They met at the statue, got high, climbed into Steve’s ‘66 Chevy Impala, and cranked classic rock bands on their killer 8-track stereo system while they smoked more weed on their way to Pt. Reyes in search for even more pot, which they never managed to find. However, the Waldo’s still had a blast looking for the weed week after week throughout the fall. They dropped the “Louie” part and began joyfully saluting each other with “420” to get stoked for the weekly search and for other subsequent safaris. The Waldo’s kept saying 420 because of how useful the phrase was. Waldo Steve described how he and his friends could telepathically ask each other “hey do you wanna go smoke some?” “Do you have any weed?,” or “are you stoned right now?” in front of completely clueless teachers, coaches, and parents just by saying “420” to one another.

Plenty of San Rafael students caught onto the new pot reference however. Steve Hagar says that the Waldos began hosting a big pot party every April 20th for a ceremonial toke of weed at 4:20 p.m. Younger students at San Rafael High began using the code to safely get high and to continue organizing ceremonial smokeouts at 4:20 p.m. every year on April 20, at Mount Tamalpais with a sunset view of the Pacific ocean. Many of the people who were new to the 420 festivities assumed it had been created by police as opposed to the Waldos, according to Steve Hagar.

The Waldos claim that the Grateful Dead then picked up 420 from them — and not the other way around. The Waldo’s certainly had plenty of opportunities to get high and share the phrase with them at rehearsals and backstage events. Waldo Dave’s older brother was a close friend and manager for Grateful Dead Bassist Phil Lesh who said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Waldos had coined 420. Waldo Mark’s father was a real estate broker who found homes for Grateful Dead members throughout Marin County. The Waldos claim that they would take care of the homes and pets of the Grateful Dead while they were on tour.

High Times For 420

Freedom Leaf editor Steve “Celeb Stoner” Bloom certainly didn’t create the phrase 420, however, he is credited with discovering it from the depths of DeadHead stoner obscurity and passing it to High Times while he was working as news editor for the magazine.

Bloom was handed a 420 flyer at a 1990 New Year’s Grateful Dead show at the Oakland Coliseum, where he also heard the myth of 420 as a police code. Steve printed the flyer in the May 1991 issue of High Times and started seeing 420 appear on shirts, other stoner apparel, and hearing 420 references from High Times readers. The Waldos, however, didn’t reach out to High Times to set the record straight until 1997.

Bloom told Honest Marijuana that he wished he had checked the Marin County Police codes before publishing the flyer. Even though Steve doesn’t entirely believe the Waldo story about creating 420, he does credit them with debunking the police code myth.

Steven Hagar, founder of the High Times Cannabis Cup wrote that he had been reading the Hindu Rig Vedas searching for a ceremonial framework for his events and that the call to smoke weed at 4:20pm on April 20th assumed biblical proportions in his mind when Steve Bloom showed him the 420 Flyer for the first time in 1991. Hagar says that he started incorporating 420 into everything he was doing at the High Times and with the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, thereby making 420 an international phenomenon. Bloom told Honest Marijuana how Hagar always looked forward to getting high and brainstorming new “highdeas” for the magazine with his co-workers every day at 4:20pm. Hagar met with the Waldos after they reached out to High Times in 1997 to investigate their claims and accepted their story as true based on postmarked letters that the Waldos showed Hagar as the earliest known evidence of their story.

... Or It Could Be Another Story Entirely

On October 15, 2012 Editor in Chief of 420 Magazine Rob Griffin published his doubts about the Waldo’s claims. “OK, some of the Waldos had sports after class but why would they choose 4:20pm to meet after school specifically?” Griffin also published a letter from another San Rafael High Stoner named "Bone Boy" who claimed that Brad Benn aka “The Bebe,” leader of another San Rafael stoner circle of athletes notorious for prank phone calls, is the real Thomas Edison of 420. The Bebe claims that he ordained Waldo Steve as the first Waldo because he was goofy, not because he hung out on a wall, and that the Bebes and the Waldos are still good friends to this day despite how fiercely they competed with each other to make up unusual words.

The Bebes claim that 420 was created at exactly 4:20 p.m. during a big Saturday afternoon bong session on the first or second weekend of October in 1970 when Brad Benn randomly blurted out “It’s 4:20, time for bong loads!” The leader of the Bebes then started recording a voice impression of Abraham Lincoln and said “four score and twenty years ago” while everyone was high and 420 became their new Bebe code for getting high.

Bone Boy asserts that 420 is an accidental anomaly with no deeper meaning, in spite of how pervasive the term has become in the global cannabis community. However, none of the Bebes saved their audio recordings of the birth of 420.

Where Are The Waldos Now?

Three of the Waldos still occasionally smoke, however Waldos Steve and Dave own and work for a specialty lending service that lost lots of money in the Bernie Madoff scandal and they rarely get high anymore. Waldo Steve once said,"I've got to run a business. I've got to stay sharp. Seems like everybody I know who smokes daily, or many times in a week, it seems like there's always something going wrong with their life, professionally, or in their relationships, or financially or something”.

Zamneisia magazine reports that all of the Bebes, now in their mid to late 50s, are still living and smoking regularly together in San Rafael.

... So What Are The True Origins of 420?

Rob Griffin says that he has tried to explain the meaning of 420 no less than 420 million times, and he now summarizes it as “anything you want it to be.” Steve Bloom says that explaining the myth of 420 as a police code is typically how most seasoned stoners attempt to explain 420 to people who are green to pot. Consider yourself a full-fledged member of the global 420 family if you can tell your friends stories about San Rafael High School, the Waldos, the Bebes, the Grateful Dead, Steve Bloom, and Steve Hagar at 4:20 p.m. on April 20th.

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