Cannabis History: The Real Story of 420

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the international cannabis holiday known simply as “420,” our friends at O.pen are sharing the real story behind 420, including the history of cannabis in the United States. We’ve explored how marijuana even came to America, some notable activists, and how marijuana has influenced politics and pop culture. Today, on the official 50th anniversary of 420, we answer the following questions:

●    What does ‘420’ mean?
●    How did ‘420’ become associated with weed?
●    How did April 20th become a cannabis lover’s holiday?
●    What are some popular myths about 420?

If you want to learn even more about the history of cannabis in the United States, check out O.pen’s blog The History of 420 to follow the ‘highs’ and lows of marijuana’s history, as well some fun ways you can celebrate 420 at home this year. 

The Real Story Behind 420: Meet ‘The Waldos’

The story of 420 begins with five teens in San Rafael, California who often hung out by the wall outside their school, earning them the nickname ‘The Waldos.’ In autumn 1971, the Waldos were given a treasure map that was purported to reveal the location of a patch of orphaned cannabis plants. The owner was a Coast Guard member who could no longer tend his hidden crop, and it’s rumored that he himself provided the group the treasure map.

The Waldos began meeting at least once a week to attempt to decipher the map and find their cannabis treasure. The designated meeting spot? A Louis Pasteur statue outside their highschool. The designated time? 4:20 PM, a convenient time after practice since all the Waldos were athletes. Originally, the Waldos used the phrase “4:20 Louis” as a school hallway code to meet for the treasure hunt, but eventually the phrase was shortened to simply “4:20.”

One member, Steve Capper, says in an interview with the Huffington Post: “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 Point Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week.”

While the Waldos never did find their ‘pot’ of gold, they did find the freedom to discreetly discuss marijuana without the knowledge of parents and teachers as the term ‘420’ took on a more general meaning. But how did a little secret between highschoolers grow into an international phenomenon?

Myths About 420’s Origins

●    Police code for ‘weed-smoking in progress.’
●    Connected to Hitler’s birthday.
●    Bob Dylan’s refrain in the song “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” (12 multiplied by 35 equal 420).
●    There’s 420 chemical compounds in cannabis. While scientists have identified “over 400,” they’ve never claimed a specific number such as 420. 
●    4/20 was the day Bob Marley died (actual date May 11th).
●    The term originated from H.P. Lovecraft’s story, In the Walls of Eryx, in which the character encounters what seems to be a cannabis plant, then looks at his watch and finds the time to be 4:20 PM.

The Grateful Dead’s Role in 420’s History

The Waldo’s were well connected to the band. One’s (Mark Gravitch) father managed the Dead’s real estate, and another’s (Dave Reddix) was buddies with the Dead’s bassist Phil Leash, even managing a Grateful Dead sideband. The Waldos were often hanging out with the band and crew. “We’d always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, were using those phrases,” says Capper. “When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So it started spreading through that community.”

High Times reporter Steven Bloom first heard the phrase during a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, California, Christmas week 1990. One of the many ‘dead head’ hippies handed him a flyer that 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.” The flyer briefly explained the meaning and history of the phrase. Bloom sent the flyer and story to High Times, and 420 was soon launched into a cannabis culture canon.

Celebrating 420

Now that you know the real story of 420, get ready to celebrate! Check out Open’s blog for a step-by-step guide to a fun and safe cannabis holiday. 

Whatever your plans this 420, O.pen wishes you a happy and safe holiday, and be sure you get a limited edition O.pen 4.20 vape battery!