The Backstory of the “420” Phrase

4:20 -- A Timeless Tale

The term 4:20 has been associated with marijuana culture for as long as I can remember. Now that April 20th has evolved into an unofficial international holiday, have you ever wondered where this iconic term comes from?

Not surprisingly, the phrase grew from a simple beginning and flowered into a worldwide cultural phenomenon.

The Hunt for a Secret Marijuana Garden

In the early 1970s in San Rafael, California, a group of high school students dubbed themselves the “Waldos.” Legend has it that these five friends were given a map that led to a hidden outdoor marijuana crop near the Point Reyes Coast Guard Station. 

The friends made a plan to find the treasure and agreed to meet after class at their school’s Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 pm. As they embarked on their quest for the secret garden, they’d use the phrase “4:20 Louis” as code for their treasure hunt.

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Jam Bands and Magazines Catch On

Although the Waldos never found the elusive crop, their phrase evolved into simply “4:20” as a way to discreetly discuss smoking marijuana in public without turning unapproving heads. The term spread beyond the group’s social circle, partly due to one of the Waldos having connections to the band, the Grateful Dead. As the band gained popularity and toured the country, the 4:20 phrase traveled with them, becoming embedded in marijuana culture.

In 1991, the use of the term 4:20 became even more mainstream when High Times magazine editor, Steve Hager, published an article highlighting its origins. As the magazine’s readership grew, so did the awareness of 4:20, transforming it into a universal symbol for marijuana enthusiasts.

April 20th is an (unofficial) International Holiday

Today, April 20th (4/20) has become an unofficial holiday for cannabis lovers, with people around the world lighting up at 4:20 PM to celebrate their shared passion. The Waldos’ simple code has grown into a much-loved cultural icon. Reminiscent of the flower to which it pays homage, it shows how some of the most enduring and culturally shifting phenomena are born from the humblest of beginnings. Happy 420!!

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