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Devin Culham

So Where Does 420 Really Come From?

For counter-culture, ‘420’ has a major association with marijuana. Many theories have been floating around for decades in regard to the origin of the term. Here’s a list of several myths and theories regarding the terms original introduction.

Myth #1 - Police Radio Code

A highly popularized theory is that ‘420’ is the criminal radio code for public consumption of marijuana in San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, no such police code exists…at least not in the context of marijuana.


Myth #2 - Length of the High

Some users speculate that 420’s origin is based on the length of the high. However, as many stoners will attest, the length of the high is subjective to a person’s tolerance and method of consumption. Even back in the term’s grassroots hey-day, that seems like an unlikely story.


Myth #3 - Things Just Got A Lot More Trippy

Several Deadheads have suggested that the meaning behind 420 has nothing to do with marijuana at all, but is in fact related to LSD. According Dr. Albert Hofmann – the Swiss researcher and original psychedelic pioneer – 4:20 pm was the time in which Hofmann first ingested d-lysergic acid diethyl-amid on on April 19th, 1943.

Myth #4 - Hydroponics

Some have suggested that 420 may actually be a reference to water. As 4 is the abbreviation for H on a calculator, 420 could refer to the chemical composition of water. As hydroponics is commonly used in the cultivation in marijuana it is an interesting theory but was a fairly uncommon method when the term was first being used.

The Truth?

According to High Times, the origin of the term date backs to 1971 in Marin County, California with The Waldos. The Waldos were a group of high school students at San Rafael High School in Northern California. With documented evidence, including written letters and early ‘420 flags’, The Waldos are the only individuals to have been investigated and accredited by journalistic news organizations.

(The Waldos - Proof that stoners can become cool dads)

According to The Waldos’ website,

"In the fall of ’71 Waldo Steve was given a treasure map to a patch of weed on the Point Reyes Peninsula. The map was given to him by a friend whose brother was in the U.S. Coast Guard and was growing cannabis. The coastguardsman was paranoid he would get busted so he granted permission to harvest. The Waldos all agreed to meet at 4:20 p.m. at the statue of chemist Louis Pasteur on the campus of San Rafael High. They met, got high, and drove out to search for the patch.

In the ensuing school days the Waldos would use the term ‘420 Louie™’ to remind each other of their after school quest. They eventually dropped the ‘Louie’ part and just said ‘420’ to refer to cannabis. Originally ‘420’ was nothing more than the Waldos’ secret slang–their own private joke–, however, it was picked up by others and spread from generation to generation, city to city, country to country, across decades, and throughout all media around the globe."

With both medical and recreational legalization creeping its way across the country, we want to say Happy 420 to all of the stoners our there! Check out the 420 themed playlist below for some sick jams that will help you cruise through the rest of this smoke-filled holidaze.


Cover Photo: Romulan Berry

Sources: Phish.net, High Times, The Waldos

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Tags 420 marijuana
Devin Culham Staff Writer

Cut my teeth with the Detroit techno scene before moving to Denver to see what the mountains have to offer.

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