first person / culture

The History of 420, in Three Acts

There are many theories about the origin of 420, but five guys named Waldo started it all.
In 1971, Steve Waldo was given a treasure map to an abandoned patch of cannabis on Point Reyes that had been planted by a member of the Coast Guard who wanted some fellow stoners to have the patch—and everybody at San Rafael High knew the Waldos were the biggest stoners in town.

“Surely this is the ultimate safari,” thought Steve. “No more adventurous nor nobler quest could be devised by the mind of man.” The Waldos prophetically agreed to meet at 4:20 p.m. at the Louis Pasteur statue to get high, then drive out to Point Reyes to search for the secret weed patch.

From then on, whenever the Waldos passed each other in the halls, they spontaneously erupted in a salute with the words, “Four Twenty, Louie!” Little did they know how far this ritual would eventually travel, though “Louie” got lost along the way.

For the next 10 years, the Waldos went on many amazing safaris and had many magical adventures, though sadly they never found the patch. But each year they always sponsored a big pot party on April 20, where a ceremonial toke would take place at 4:20 p.m. Eventually, they got married, started families and put down their pot pipes. However, they kept up the safaris.

As soon as the Waldos retired from staging 420 ceremonies, however, the younger classmen of San Rafael High picked up on the magic of numerology and began using the code as a way to evade detection, and some of them started a ritual of congregating at the  top of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County on April 20 in order to get high at exactly 4:20 p.m. as a way to honor the spirit of cannabis. This ritual began with only a few souls, but soon grew to dozens. And that’s when someone got the idea of making a flyer inviting stoners from all over the Bay Area to the ceremony. Nobody outside Marin knew that 420 signified pot. Even those gathered at the top of Mount Tam didn’t have any idea how it started—they thought 420 had something to do with the police code for “marijuana smoking in progress."
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