Oakland, CA, 1990. Steven Bloom, a reporter for High Times magazine, is handed a yellow flier as he strolls through the parking lot before a Grateful Dead concert. “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,” the flier said. Being a reporter, Bloom had to find out what this “420” thing was all about. His findings appeared in an article in the May 1991 issue of the magazine.
And so, as the tale is told in an article by the Huffington Post, the flier was the first celebration for the event now affectionately known as 420.
The term 420 can be found in many places. For example, there’s an urban legend that all of the clocks in the movie Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20. The police code for marijuana smoking is 420. And in 2003, Senate Bill (SB) 420 was the number the California legislature used to codify into law the medical marijuana law approved by voters.
Although 420 has been credited as being named after the police code for marijuana smoking, that’s just a smoke screen. The true story goes that the term 420—and all that it means—originated in 1971 by a San Rafael high school group named the Waldos. According to the story told to the Huffington Post by original Waldo members, they had gotten wind of an untended marijuana crop located somewhere near Point Reyes. Being that it was fall and harvest time, the group—a bunch of athletes—decided to meet after practice outside the school at, you guessed it, 4:20. For weeks they searched, but they never found the field.
They did, however, coin a new term—420—that caught on as the code for smoking marijuana.
So how did this local high school code go worldwide? The Grateful Dead played a part. When the Haight, the Dead’s original hangout became too sketchy, they moved to Marin County and practiced at a rehearsal hall in San Rafael, just blocks away from the same high school attended by the Waldos. One of the Waldo’s fathers was friendly with the group, and, according to Steve, a Waldo member, “we’d always be backstage running around or onstage and, of course, we’re using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, [they would say] ‘Hey, 420.’” The term got picked up and spread through the Dead underground during the hundreds of concerts the Dead played during a world tour in the 1970s and 80s. And it stuck.
You might say it was passed on by contact.
Every year, the illegal-turned-legal non-official holiday (in California and a few other states anyway), is celebrated by fairs and large, in-person group smoke-ins—except for this year. Fears of dispensaries closing caused a panic. When the first shelter-in-place order in California was announced on March 16 for six Bay Area counties, adult use cannabis sales spiked 56% higher than the trailing four Mondays, and edibles purchases jumped 107%.
But cannabis users, medical and adult-use, needn’t worry. On March 19, the Bureau of Cannabis Control issued a press release informing the public that licensed cannabis dispensaries have been declared essential businesses and will remain open during the shelter-in-place mandates.
And now you know the tale.