origin story / culture

What the Guys Who Coined '420' Think About Their Place in Marijuana History

And how the term came to be code for pot-smoking in the first place.
By now, you don't have to be a smoker to know that April 20 is considered by many to be a sort of national holiday for cannabis culture. Some have suggested that the date comes from "420" being a code among police officers for "marijuana-smoking in progress," while others say that there's a connection to 4/20 being Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's birthday. But the most credible story about the origins of the illicit observance involves neither of those ideas.

Instead, it involves five high school students who, back in 1971, would get together at 4:20 p.m. to smoke marijuana by a statue of chemist Louis Pasteur at San Rafael High School in Marin County, Calif. Known as the "Waldos" — Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich — they would say "420" to each other at some point during the school day as code to meet for a smoke.

Reddix's brother helped him get a job as a roadie for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, and the term "420" caught on in that Deadhead circle. The legend goes that on Dec. 28, 1990, Deadheads in Oakland handed out flyers inviting people to smoke "420" on April 20 at 4:20 p.m — and one got in the hands of Steve Bloom, a former reporter for High Times magazine. The publication published the flyer in 1991 and continued to reference the number, and before long those digits became known globally for their association with marijuana. In 1998, the outlet recognized the "Waldos" as the "inventors" of 420.
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