“420” is a core staple of marijuana culture. However, its origins were not verifiable until a marijuana-focused reporter received a flyer from a stranger. The resulting investigations led to what may be the most solid answer to how “420” originated and became synonymous with marijuana.
The Grateful Dead and the Waldos
Although it cannot be confirmed with 100% certainty that the Grateful Dead originated the link between 420 and marijuana, the band certainly promoted the link. At a concert in late December 1990, Steven Bloom – an author covering marijuana-related topics — received a flyer from a fan. The flyer read:
We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais. 420 started somewhere in San Rafael, California in the late ‘70s. It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call, they started using the expression 420 when referring to herb – Let’s Go 420, dude!
High Times confirmed the existence of the note for a follow-up blog post in 2010.
Further investigation revealed both the note’s authors and a crucial error. The authors are an anonymous group calling themselves “The Waldos.” In 1971, the five members of “The Waldos” were high-school students. When interviewed in 2010, three members of “The Waldos” were honestly surprised that their marijuana ritual had gained such fame and notoriety. The interviewed members presented evidence – including a flag, letters, and postmarks with “420” – to back their recollections of how they used the “420” trend to avoid detection from authority figures. Currently, there is no verifiable evidence that the “420” trend had origins prior to 1971.
The mistake is that “420” is not a California police code that corresponds to marijuana usage.
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