Where’s Waldo?-The Real History and Origination of “420”

November 29, 2022

Who’s Waldo and what is REALLY the history and origination of 420? Amber Saba, our COO dives in and takes us to the real story of how 420 really began…

Where were you the first time you heard the phrase “420”? What was the story you were told as to why cannabis was related to “420”? Perhaps it was, “it commemorates the death of Bob Marley”, or “it’s Adolf Hitler’s birthday.” Or, “it’s the number of chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, “it’s a police radio code for marijuana smoking in progress”. Wait! Definitely this one, “the Grateful Dead started it at a concert!” Although each of these stories are interesting, sadly that’s all they are…stories!

If all these stories are just myths, then what’s the truth?

The origins of 420 lie with five California teens who all shared a passion for cannabis. The teens all attended high school at San Rafael together, and convened at their daily meeting location, a wall. Nothing fancy, but this meeting spot earned them the nickname of “the Waldos”. In 1971, the teens heard a tale of a Coast Guard member who planted a cannabis plant that they could no longer care for, which started a treasure hunt of sorts. The Waldos began meeting each week to look for the rumored cannabis plant and would remind each other of their meeting time while passing in the halls between classes. The meeting time…you guessed it, 4:20 (they were athletes after all). They would get together, pile in a car, smoke some pot, and search for the cannabi-treasure.

This, however, doesn’t explain how their secret phrase that was used to talk about smoking pot in front of teachers, peers and parents without them knowing about it, was introduced to the Grateful Dead, and the rest of the world for that matter. Brynn Holland explained in an article that one Waldo’s member, Mark Gravitch, had connections to the legendary band because his father managed the Dead’s real estate. Another Waldo’s member, David Reddix’s older brother knew the Grateful Dead’s bassist Phil Lesh. The Waldos were often found backstage at the legendary Dead concerts using their secret 420 language when joints were being passed around.

420 quickly began to spread throughout the Grateful Dead community, but it wasn’t until Steven Bloom, a reporter for “High Times”, attended a Grateful Dead concert during the week of Christmas in 1990 that the secret really got out. Bloom stated that during the concert a “Deadhead” handing him a flyer that said, “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.” Bloom not only shared the flyer with his own “High Times”, but also Huffington Post, and just like that the phrase went global.

So how do we know this is the real story, you ask??? The Waldos actually have proof they coined the phrase back in the 70’s. In a San Francisco vault, they have tucked away their original 420 tie-dyed flag, a newspaper clipping stating that one of the members wanted to simply say “420” for his graduation speech, and letters filled with 420 references.

So there you have it fellow 420-ers!

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