What Is 420 & Where Did It Come From?

April 20 (420) is as synonymous with cannabis as the image of the iconic seven-pointed leaf. But, what is 420 and how did it come to be?
Clock showing 420

Some people believe that 420 was a police code, which meant those kids were up to no good behind the high school. Others believe that there are 420 compounds in the cannabis plant, leading to the moniker. But while both of those things may have some truth to them, they aren’t 420’s bona fide origin story. Read on for the real tale behind our favorite day of the year.

San Rafael High School: The Birthplace of 420

It all started back in 1971, in the small town (now mid-sized city) of San Rafael, across the bay from San Francisco. That year, there was a group of friends who attended San Rafael High School who referred to themselves as The Waldos, in reference to the fact that they hung out together by a specific wall at school (no joke).

Late that summer (or early fall, depending on who you ask), The Waldos learned that a local member of the Coast Guard had grown—and, fearing they would be discovered, abandoned—a cannabis field up north, at Point Reyes Station. A map was somehow procured, and The Waldos picked a time to start their treasure hunt. The most convenient time for everyone involved was 4:20 p.m., after all of their sports practices had finished, so they agreed to meet outside of their school by a poster (or statue—the internet can’t decide) of Louis Pasteur. Thus, 420-Louie, the first evolution of the phrase, was born. The phrase was quickly streamlined to 420, and San Rafael H.S. soon buzzed with the new secret code.

The Influence of The Grateful Dead

Infamous band The Grateful Dead was making their way across the San Francisco Bay just as The Waldos’s catchphrase was gathering steam in the area. Once the band caught wind of the buzzword and began using it, it became embedded in the band’s culture.

The Grateful Dead hopped from city to city in the months and years that followed, turning a high school’s secret word into a nationally recognized code for all cannabis enthusiasts. The near infinite Dead tours (682 shows to be exact) helped ensure the term 420 would see as many new places as possible. With help from The Grateful Dead, you might say that The Waldos, in a simple effort to conceal a marijuana patch (that they never found, by the way), went viral before viral was even a thing.

420 Still Going Strong

More than 40 years later, 420 is still a beloved term synonymous with cannabis culture, and society’s growing acceptance of cannabis has many optimistic about the future of this cherished plant. Its true beauty lies in the way that each person can enjoy cannabis on their own terms. Whether your migraines are mitigated, your pain eased or you just want a good giggle, cannabis assists with so many different areas of our lives. (And if you’re not sure you’re getting the most out of your cannabis? Reach out! We can help.)

So, with that in mind, here’s to 420—the day we get to celebrate the cannabis plant and all the relief and joy it brings us. And to think, it all traces back to a bunch of high school stoners on a treasure hunt.


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