High Holiday: A Brief History of 420 and How To Celebrate
studio linear star logo

Studio Linear

High Holiday: A Brief History of 420 and How To Celebrate

Associated with marijuana, April 20 (4/20), every year—known as "420"—has become something of an unofficial holiday. Many cannabis users mark the day by smoking weed. But what is the history behind this celebratory day for marijuana lovers and its 420 moniker?

There are a few old tales that describe how this national holiday, and that special time of the day, became so iconic. Here's everything we know about how 4/20 became more than a mid-April day.

The origins of the term "420" date back to 1971 when a group of five students at San Rafael High School heard a story from a friend about a patch of weed being grown by a U.S. Coast Guard member near the coastal town of Point Reyes. The Coast Guard member was too scared to harvest it, so the teens decided to go on a treasure hunt for the marijuana patch. They met at a Louis Pasteur statue near campus at 4:20 p.m. to accommodate their school sports schedules, before heading off in search of the green gold.

The Waldos met at least once a week at the Louis Pasteur statue outside their school to scour the Point Reyes Forest nearby using a treasure map that some say was provided by the plant owner himself.

Steve Capper, one of the Waldos, said: "We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis and we eventually dropped the Louis.

"We'd meet at 4:20 and get in my old '66 Chevy Impala and, of course, we'd smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Pt. Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week," Capper said, adding "We never actually found the patch."

4/20 becomes a code word

While they weren't successful in finding the hidden cannabis plant, the Waldos managed to introduce a new lasting code word for weed smokers.

Capper said "I could say to one of my friends, I'd go, 420, and it was telepathic. He would know if I was saying, 'Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?' Or, 'Do you have any?' Or, 'Are you stoned right now?' It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it."

"Our teachers didn't know what we were talking about. Our parents didn't know what we were talking about," he added.

The use of the term spread further thanks to the group's connection to The Grateful Dead. The legendary rock band was based in the Marin County hills at the time, just blocks from the high school that the Waldos attended.

The father of Mark Gravitch (one of the Waldos) managed real estate for the band, while the brother of Dave Reddix (another Waldos member) managed a Grateful Dead sideband. The brother was also good friends with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh.

The Grateful Dead practiced at a rehearsal hall in San Rafael, California: "So we used to go hang out and listen to them play music and get high while they're practicing for gigs," Reddix said.

"But I think it's possible my brother Patrick might have spread it through Phil Lesh. And me, too, because I was hanging out with Lesh and his band [as a roadie] when they were doing a summer tour my brother was managing," he added.

Capper said: "We'd go with [Gravitch's] dad, who was a hip dad from the '60s. There was a place called Winterland and we'd always be backstage running around or onstage and, of course, we're using those phrases.

Gradually, their terminology spread through the Grateful Dead community into the wider stoner culture, Bloom said. 

Wider cultural trend

On Dec. 28, 1990, a group of Deadheads in Oakland handed out flyers that invited people to smoke “420” on April 20 at 4:20 p.m. One ended up with Steve Bloom, a former reporter for High Times magazine, an authority on cannabis culture. The magazine printed the flyer in 1991 and continued to reference the number. Soon, it became known worldwide as code for marijuana. In 1998, the outlet acknowledged that the “Waldos” were the “inventors” of 420.

Bloom, now the publisher of Celebstoner.com, has credited the people who wrote the flyer for the date’s reputation as an annual gathering of pot smokers. “They wanted people all over the world to get together on one day each year and collectively smoke pot at the same time,” he wrote in 2015. “They birthed the idea of a stoner holiday, which April 20 has become.” 

Ways to celebrate

Watch a weed documentary

Take a deep dive into the history of cannabis by watching a marijuana documentary, such as The Grass is Greener, The Culture High and The Legend of 420.

Geek out on a marijuana podcast

Explore more topics around cannabis in the podcast Brave New Weed, which offers "high-minded conversations for the post-prohibition era," according to its website.

Try some cannabis recipes

Try a recipe or two from the book Bong Appétit: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Weed, which is "for a new generation interested in making serious, sophisticated food—with weed," according to its description on Amazon.

Learn about pot etiquette

From how to bring pot to a dinner party and "respectfully use it as a guest" to giving it as a gift and "how to behave at a dispensary," learn all about the social etiquettes around cannabis from the book Higher Etiquette: A Guide to the World of Cannabis from Dispensaries to Dinner Parties.

Related Posts

studio linear star logo


Experiential Interior Design: Why Your Design Matters

studio linear star logo


Crafting Success: Unleashing the Magic of Branding, Packaging, and Marketing in the Boozy World!

studio linear star logo


Busting the Summer Slump: Strategies to Keep Your Business Thriving

studio linear star logo


Navigating a Recession: Marketing Strategies for New Businesses

Interested in working with us? Let’s go on a journey together.Feel free to book a Discovery Call so that we can start discussing the details of your project today!

Book Call NOW