The History of 420

The term 420 has become synonymous with marijuana. Both cannabis users and non-users around the world consider 4/20 to be an unofficial holiday for cannabis culture, but few know the story about how this number became associated with it.


Why Does 420 Mean Marijuana?

Some might tell you that 420 is connected with cannabis because it is the police code for “marijuana smoking in progress”. Others say it is to commemorate the passing of Bob Marley, but he died on May 11th.

There are others who might give you a story about a connection to the Grateful Dead, and they might be right. But the origins of the term do not start with the band. This story traces 420 back to five students in Marin County, California during the early 1970s.

This group of friends – Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich – became known as the “Waldos” because they would always be seen hanging out next to a wall on campus.

It is said that five students at San Rafael High School would regularly meet at the Statue of Louis Pasteur on campus at 4:20pm for a smoke session. It’s believed they chose 4:20 because all five were student athletes and all extracurricular activities had usually wrapped up by then.


How Did 420 Start?

According to the story, Steve received a copy of a map to an abandoned crop of cannabis plants from a friend whose brother was in the Coast Guard. As the legend goes, a U.S Coast Guard service member had planted the crop in a forest close to the Point Reyes lighthouse north of San Francisco. But after getting nervous that he might get caught,  he later abandoned it.1

Armed with a copy of the map, the Waldos would meet at the statue at 4:20 to smoke marijuana and head out to look for the abandoned crop at least once a week. So this is when the Waldos would use the term “ 4:20 Louis” in school to remind each other to meet at the Louis Pasteur statue for their cannabis treasure hunt. Eventually, “Louis” was dropped and it just became “4:20”.

Besides using the term 4:20 to refer to their afterschool exploits, the Waldos would also use “4:20” as a way to discreetly refer to their favorite plant and activities involving this plant in front of teachers and parents.


When Did 420 Become Famous?

The use of the term had remained within the Waldos group until the term was introduced to the Grateful Dead. The band was based in Marin County and the father of one of the Waldos (Mark Gravich) managed real estate for the band. And the brother of another Waldo (Dave Reddix) was also good friends with Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh.

Dave’s brother managed a Grateful Dead side band and helped Dave get a job as a roadie. The band would practice at a rehearsal hall in San Rafael, where the Waldos would often go to get high and listen to their rehearsals.2

This is when the term 420 was introduced to the band and became part of their vernacular when referring to marijuana. By the end of the 1970s the band had helped spread the use of the term across the country.

Then in December of 1990, a group of Deadheads in Oakland, California were handing out flyers inviting people to get together to smoke 420 on 4/20 at 4:20. This seems to be the first time 4:20 was associated with the date 4/20, but the flyer attributed the origins of 420 to a police code for “marijuana smoking in progress.”3


A copy of this flyer made its way back to the New York office of High Times magazine. And, in 1991, High Times published a story that would introduce the world to the term 420. Although the article correctly attributed the roots of the term to San Rafael, it incorrectly claimed that the origin of the term was from a police code.    

In 1998, High Times Magazine debunked the theory that 420 came from a police code and acknowledged that the Waldos were indeed the “inventors” of 420. From there on the magazine continued to use the term as a reference to cannabis – and  420 became known worldwide.4

What is the 420 Holiday?

The Unofficial Cannabis Appreciation Holiday

Not only has the term 4/20 come to represent a holiday when people around the world get together to celebrate cannabis culture, but it has also become a day to commemorate the work that still needs to be done to make cannabis available to all who could benefit from its therapeutic power. 

To help you celebrate 420, Bloom Medicinals is offering special deals, including up to 30% off cannabis flower and accessories.


Click below to browse our 420 specials near you. 

Another way to commemorate 420 is to learn more about the different strains of medical cannabis and their potential benefits to your health and lifestyle.