The Origins of 4/20: How the Pot Holiday Came to Be


The Origins of 4/20: Join the celebration of marijuana culture’s high holiday on 4/20. Discover the origins of this iconic date and the term “420” as we delve into the fascinating history behind it. From a group of high school buddies in California to the widespread adoption of the term through the connections of the Grateful Dead, this article explores the evolution and significance of 4/20 in the cannabis community. Despite the progress in legalizing recreational marijuana in various states, the federal government’s stance on cannabis remains complex. As activists continue to advocate for change, let’s take a moment to reflect on the journey of 4/20 and the ongoing fight for marijuana reform.

The Origins of 4/20: How the Pot Holiday Came to Be
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The Origins of 4/20

Why 4/20

The origins of the date, and the term “420” generally, were long murky. Some claimed it referred to a police code for marijuana possession or that it arose from Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35,” with its refrain of “Everybody must get stoned” — 420 being the product of 12 times 35. But a consensus has emerged that it started with a group of bell-bottomed buddies from San Rafael High School in California, who called themselves “the Waldos.” A friend’s brother was afraid of getting busted for a patch of cannabis he was growing in the woods at Point Reyes, so he drew a map and gave the teens permission to harvest the crop, the story goes.

During fall 1971, at 4:20 p.m., just after classes and football practice, the group would meet up at the school’s statue of chemist Louis Pasteur, smoke a joint, and head out to search for the weed patch. They never did find it, but their private lexicon — “420 Louie” and later just “420” — would take on a life of its own. The Waldos saved postmarked letters and other artifacts from the 1970s referencing “420,” which they later kept in a bank vault, and when the Oxford English Dictionary added the term in 2017, it cited some of those documents as the entry’s earliest recorded uses.

How did ‘420’ spread?

A brother of one of the Waldos was a close friend of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, as Lesh once confirmed in an interview with the Huffington Post. The Waldos began hanging out in the band’s circle, and the slang spread. Fast-forward to the early 1990s: Steve Bloom, a reporter for the cannabis magazine High Times, was at a Dead show when he was handed a flier urging people to “meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” High Times published it.

“It’s a phenomenon,” one of the Waldos, Steve Capper, once reflected. “Most things die within a couple of years, but this just goes on and on. It’s not like someday somebody’s going to say, ‘OK, Cannabis New Year’s is on June 23rd now.'” Capper went on to become a chief executive at a payroll financing company in San Francisco. Bloom, who became editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf Magazine, noted in a 2017 interview that while the Waldos came up with the term, the people who made the flier — and effectively turned 4/20 into a holiday — remain unknown.

The Waldos and Their Role

The Group of Bell-Bottomed Buddies

The Waldos, a group of bell-bottomed buddies from San Rafael High School in California, played a significant role in the origin of 4/20. They were a close-knit group of friends who shared a love for cannabis. Their name, the “Waldos,” was derived from their usual hangout spot, a wall outside the school where they met. They were known for their adventurous spirit and willingness to try new things.

The Search for the Weed Patch

One day, a friend’s brother who was growing cannabis in the woods at Point Reyes feared getting caught. To prevent this, he drew a map and gave the Waldos permission to harvest the crop. Excited by the prospect of finding the hidden weed patch, the Waldos started meeting after school at 4:20 p.m., near the statue of chemist Louis Pasteur at their high school. This was the time when their school day and football practice ended. They would gather, smoke a joint, and embark on their search for the elusive weed patch.

Despite their efforts, the Waldos never found the hidden stash. However, their tradition of meeting at 4:20 p.m. quickly turned into a ritual, and the term “420” became synonymous with their pursuit of cannabis. The Waldos collected letters and other artifacts referencing “420” from the 1970s, preserving the early history of the term.

The Slang Spreads

The Connection to Grateful Dead

One of the Waldos had a brother who was a close friend of Phil Lesh, the bassist of the iconic rock band Grateful Dead. Through this connection, the Waldos started socializing with the band and their entourage. The slang term “420” quickly spread within the Grateful Dead community and became associated with cannabis culture.

The Role of Steve Bloom

In the early 1990s, Steve Bloom, a reporter for High Times magazine, attended a Grateful Dead show where he received a flier advertising a gathering on 4/20 in Marin County. Intrigued by the date and the significance attached to it, Bloom decided to write about it in High Times, popularizing the term “420” beyond the boundaries of the Grateful Dead community. Bloom’s article helped solidify the association of 4/20 with cannabis culture and turned it into a widely recognized day of celebration.

How 4/20 is Celebrated

Various Celebrations and Activities

4/20 has become a day of celebration for cannabis enthusiasts around the world. People gather at events, festivals, and parties to smoke, share stories, and celebrate the plant. Some of the largest celebrations take place at iconic locations like Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which attracts thousands of attendees.

Discounts in Pot Shops

In states where recreational marijuana is legal, pot shops offer special discounts and promotions on 4/20. These deals often attract large crowds of customers who take advantage of the reduced prices to stock up on their favorite cannabis products.

Music Festivals and Movie Screenings

Many music festivals and movie theaters organize special events on 4/20. These events often feature live performances by popular artists or screenings of classic stoner films. It’s a chance for like-minded individuals to come together and enjoy music, movies, and the shared love of cannabis.

Special Beers and Pottery Parties

In the spirit of celebrating 4/20, some breweries create special “420-themed” beers. These unique brews often incorporate cannabis-inspired flavors or packaging designs. Additionally, creative events like pottery parties provide participants with the opportunity to make their own cannabis-themed pottery, adding a hands-on and artistic element to the celebrations.

The Politics of Marijuana

Proliferation of Legal Marijuana Measures

The past decade has seen a significant increase in the number of states legalizing marijuana for both recreational and medicinal use. Starting with Washington and Colorado in 2012, a total of 21 states have now approved recreational marijuana, while 38 states have approved its medicinal use. This proliferation of legal marijuana measures reflects a growing public acceptance of cannabis and its potential benefits.

Slow Progress at the Federal Level

Despite the progress made at the state level, the federal government has been slower to address marijuana policy reform. Congress has struggled to reach consensus on important issues, such as allowing state-licensed cannabis businesses to claim tax deductions and easing banking restrictions that disproportionately affect the industry. These challenges have hindered the growth and stability of the legal marijuana market.

President Joe Biden’s Actions

In 2021, President Joe Biden granted full pardons for prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession. This move demonstrated an acknowledgment of the changing attitudes towards marijuana and an effort to rectify some of the injustices created by the war on drugs. The Justice Department also announced a review of federal pot policy under Attorney General Merrick Garland, aiming to align it with the priorities outlined in the 2013 Cole Memorandum.

Activists’ Calls for Reform

Despite the positive steps taken, activists continue to push for further changes to federal marijuana policy. Many advocate for removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and addressing the systemic issues caused by the war on drugs. They also urge the government to stop using state marijuana convictions to deny federal benefits or trigger deportation. The ongoing efforts of activists play a crucial role in shaping the future of marijuana policy in the United States.

The Origins of 4/20: How the Pot Holiday Came to Be

In conclusion, the origins of 4/20 can be traced back to a group of high school friends known as the Waldos. Through their associations with Grateful Dead and the publication of an article in High Times, the term “420” gained widespread recognition and became synonymous with the celebration of cannabis culture. Today, 4/20 is celebrated through various activities, including music festivals, movie screenings, and discounts at pot shops. Although progress has been made in legalizing marijuana at the state level, federal reforms remain slow. Activists continue to advocate for change, calling for the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and addressing the injustices caused by the war on drugs. As the political landscape evolves, the celebration and advocacy of 4/20 will continue to shape the future of marijuana policy.



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