Essence Blog

The history of 420

The History of 420: How Three Numbers Came to Represent All Things Cannabis

No, it’s not the police radio code for cannabis.

No, it’s not the date that Bob Marley passed away.

And, nope, it’s not because if you multiply 12 and 35 (from Bob Dylan’s song
“Rainy Day Women #12 & #35”), you get 420.

(Okay, yeah, the math does actually work out on that one.)

But still! NOTHING to do with 420.

As Las Vegas prepares for its first 4/20 celebration since recreational cannabis became available in July, we figure these theories, and more like them, will be getting a lot of attention.

But wouldn’t you rather know the truth about how 420 became 420?

Well, we know the truth – thanks to Google and top-notch reporting by The Huffington Post.

Gather around, everyone. We’ll tell you the tale of 420 — a tale that has been passed down from generation to generation…sorta.

The Origin Story of 420

Once upon a time, in the fall of 1971, there were five teenage boys who lived in San Rafael, California.

The boys attended San Rafael High School, and they all went by the nickname “The Waldos.” Why? Because their main hangout spot was a wall outside of their school.

Now…the Waldos happened to love cannabis.

They also happened to hear a rumor of a Coast Guard service member who had abandoned a whole plot of cannabis plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station.

The Waldos were psyched. Imagine! A whole plot of cannabis just waiting to be harvested by whoever happened to come across it!

DISCLAIMER: we do not endorse the underage use of cannabis. We’re only reporting history here!

Anyways, these boys decided to meet up after school and go on a Goonies-style treasure hunt in search of their cannabis field of dreams.

The time they picked to meet was 4:20 pm.

Week after week, the Waldos would meet at 4:20, smoke cannabis, and go searching.

They never did find that plot.

But what they did discover was a convenient, secret code for cannabis.

All they had to do was say “420” to each other, and instantly they would know what was meant.

If that had been the end of the story, the code would have just been an inside joke between the five of them.

But history had other plans.

How “420” Went Mainstream

It turns out a brother of one of the Waldos was a friend of Phil Lesh, the bassist of the Grateful Dead.

This brother smoked with Lesh more than a few times. To this day, he isn’t sure if he ever used the code “420” around Lesh, but he thinks he might have.

Also, the Waldos had access to the band’s parties and rehearsals. The theory goes that, somehow, the term passed from the Waldos to the Grateful Dead, who adopted it for themselves.

From there, the usage of “420” spread from the band to their fanbase.

Later, High Times learned about the code and started organizing events around it such as the World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and the Cannabis Cup.

In the early 90s, High Times bought the domain name “”

And what was once a code used by five teenagers became an international phenomenon.

That’s the truth. And we’re sticking to it.

What’s the weirdest 420 origin theory you’ve ever come across? Share the craziest ones you’ve heard on our Facebook page!

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