By Lucas De Vries

April 18, 2019
Reading Time: 3 minutes

While investigating the history of the 420 code, many
testimonies from community members show that few of them do not know where it
comes from. The majority defines it as a secret “anti-police” code
for smoking cannabis.

was this code created to mislead the police? What is its true origin?

To explain it, we have to go back to 1971 in San
Rafael, California. San Rafael is a city located near San Francisco. The story
begins with a group of 5 young high school students nicknamed the
“Waldos” because they always hung out together near a wall,  outside their high school.

One day in 1971, the Waldos heard about a member of the Point Reyes Coast Guard (a coast west of San Rafael about an hour’s drive away) who could no longer take care of his marijuana plants. So,they obtain the “treasure map”, to find these plants, directly from the owner’s hands.

The Waldos being all athletes, decided to meet near the statue of Louis Pasteur at 16:20 (4:20 pm) outside the school, after their training, in order to start the hunt.

The first hunts were unsuccessful, but despite this,
the group continued to search for the hidden culture. Week after week, the
Waldos don’t give up. And this determination led to the use of a first code
“420 Louis” (Louis to designate the statue and meeting place) so that
the word could be spread more quickly on the days when they had to meet to go
hunting. Over the days, this code has been shortened again to 420 only,
completely forgetting the “Louis”.

Finally, they will never find the plants but they decide to keep this code that they consider useful to talk about the subject. So the Waldos continue to use it to tell their friends that they were going to smoke 420, and that could mean they were going to smoke and wanted to know if they would be interested or to ask them if they had cannabis on them, or if they were high right now. All this with a single code and the intonation used, so every fan knew exactly what the message was.

How did this code spread worldwide?

The rest of the story brings in a rock band from the 1960s hippie scene called The Grateful Dead, from Palo Alto, California, not far from San Francisco. At the end of the hippie movement of the 1960s, the group moved and settled not far from the high school of our Waldos in San Rafael. Basically, the father of one of the Waldos finds himself managing the real estate for the band, and one of the Waldos’ members finds himself getting close to the bass player. So they end up hanging out and smoking often all together. The code is then transmitted to the Grateful Dead.

At the same time, the group, which was widely
recognized at the time, toured the world throughout the 1970s and 1980s, playing
more than a hundred concerts a year. They thus spread this term in their world
and to their entourage behind the scenes, which heralds the beginning of the
internationalization of this code.

But until then 420 is only known to members of the
group’s underground culture. It was not until the 1990s that High Times
magazine heard about this code and gave it its current reputation.

Steve Bloom, the editor for the magazine, receives a flyer from a fan during a concert of the band. On it is written “We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 on 4/20 for 420-ing”…” or we will gather at 4:20 pm on April 20 to smoke. Therefore, in May 1991, he published an article presenting this flyer and the code.

Steven Hager, the editor for the magazine, later wrote an article called “Stoner Smart or Stoner Stupid? (Smart high or stupid high?). Also, he explains that 4:20 pm (16h20) is the socially acceptable time to use cannabis.

He also decided to incorporate this code into all the
events that High Times magazine organizes around the world, such as the World
Hemp Expo Extravaganza in Oregon in 1997 or the Cannabis Cup. This is what
makes this code famous to the community.

Since then, April 20 has since become the national day
in the world of cannabis and its cultivation, where people gather to celebrate
and consume. But this day is not only a day of celebration, but it is also an
opportunity for many activists in favor of the legalization of cannabis to
protest against current policies through an act of civil disobedience by
lighting a joint around 4:20 pm.

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