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What is the story behind 4/20 celebrations aka Weed Day?

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The pandemic might have taken some fun off April 20, aka the Stoner’s Christmas, this year. But, we do have a story behind the 4/20 celebrations — one, that we can talk about while smoking some pot within our bubbles. After all, just like any other festival, the history of 4/20 needs to be kept alive.

The phrase, ‘420 friendly’ in a rental ad description might bring a smile to a pot user looking for a home. This well-known and frequently used codeword within the cannabis community was used for the first time in 1971. ‘420’ meant marijuana — an illegal drug back then. It remains illegal in most places today as well.

Around five decades ago, four high school students invented the term ‘420’ in San Rafael, a city 18 miles from San Francisco in Marin County, California State. No wonder, the medical marijuana bill of 2003 was named SB420 by the California Senate. Even though the term has no logical connection to cannabis, it has one with the smoking time.

story 4/20
Louis Pasteur’s statue at San Rafael High School. (Credit: Sapphic)

A group of young high school boys, also known as the Waldos —apparently, their hangout spot was a wall outside school — planned to meet up at 4:20 PM outside school, in front of the statue of Louis Pasteur. According to Huffington Post, their meeting code was ‘420-Louis’. They were to travel in search of marijuana plants grown by a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. They used to smoke some pot and start their search every day at 4:20 PM with the help of a treasure map. Unfortunately, they found no success even after many days. Eventually, ‘Louis’ was dropped off the code. ‘420’ became a hit and stayed forever among pot users.

The Waldos then started using the term 420 for ‘Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?’ Or, ‘Do you have any?’ Or, ‘Are you stoned right now?’. This is what Steve Waldos, an original Waldos member told Huffington Post. It was telepathic enough to understand ‘anything weed’ with different gestures and intonations and no one else could guess.

The Waldo’s literally saved so many young smokers from being caught by family and teachers until 420 became a universally known code, especially in the West. Now, parents and teachers might pretend that they don’t know what 420 is, in fact they know! But how did this uncanny code spread all across?

Thanks to the High Times magazine, it seems. A flyer that read, “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,” was found by Steven Bloom, a reporter at the magazine. Bloom shared it with Huffington Post. In 1990, Bloom was given the flyer was a Deadhead at a Grateful Dead concert. This explains the widespread use within California. But, High Magazine made the code famous even beyond, by publishing a story on it.

That’s really some story about 4/20. Explaining the history of 420 is as complex as the properties and effects of 420, one would say.

Looking for other ways to get into the spirit of 4/20 this year? Check out our 420 Wordsearch!





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