The myth was born in 1971 at San Rafael High School in California
In the United States, April 20 is the 'national day' of marijuana, celebrated by all cannabis lovers with obviously illegal parties, where hundreds of people gather to smoke. The most famous is the one organized in Boulder, on the campus of the University of Colorado, where there are more than 10,000 people every year despite the local police trying in every way to prevent it from taking place.
But why exactly on April 20th? The number 4/20 (and more briefly 420) in American popular culture has been a codename for cannabis for years. For example, it often happens to find the word "420 friendly" in the classifieds of rooms on Craigslist, a now little implicit way to declare one's passion for grass. From that number, 420, the party was born: 4-20, April 20th, April 20th.
The legend of 420, however, has roots decades distant. In the fall of 1971, five boys from San Rafael High School, California, learned of the existence of an abandoned marijuana plantation near Point Reyes, an hour's drive from school. Fascinated by the idea of discovering their hidden treasure, the boys, who called each other Waldos, decided to meet at the exit of school, at 4:20, to set off in search of the plantation. The search was a hole in the water, the treasure never came to light, perhaps because it never existed, but the boys continued to meet every day at 4 and 20, leaving towards Point Reyes aboard an old 1966 Chevrolet Impala and smoking obviously marijuana for the whole trip. The number became their code, which they also passed on to schoolmates and gradually spread throughout San Rafael.
The national success of 420 came, however, thanks to the rock group of Grateful Dead, hippie champions since the late sixties, who have now become icons. The Waldos actually showed up at the Californian parties of the musicians using their code every time they smoked, received or talked about weed. The band liked the idea of the number, which spread it during its US and world tours throughout the seventies and eighties, creating a myth that still lasts today, and which led to the creation of a national grass day.
420, 4:20, or 4/20 is a term that refers to annual cannabis use and, by extension, to a way of identifying with the cannabis culture. Other observations regarding the number 420 include the activity of smoking cannabis around 4:20 in the afternoon, as well as smoking and celebrating cannabis on April 20.
The legends concerning April 20 — or how this date is written in the United States, 4.20 — are endless. One thing is for sure: today a lot of people will be completely made.
On April 20, what Oktoberfest is for beer lovers has become for marijuana smokers: a secular party dedicated to the consumption of drugs.
But why has this date become a party day for weed smokers around the world? Where does this tradition come from? And how is it possible that the bricks can manage to remember a number long enough to turn it into a tradition?
Investigating the origin of the myth of 4.20 is not, in fact, a very simple task.
According to several newspapers - including the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times - it all began in the 1970s with a group of teenagers, known as Waldos, from Marin County in California.
They were called Waldos because they used to spend time near a wall of the San Rafael high school.
Mark Gravitch, Dave Reddix and Steve Capper, some of the Waldos, have attempted to hide their identity to protect their careers.
The three used to use codenames like Waldo Dave, Waldo Steve and Waldo Mark. Today, however, they enjoy the role they played in the history of grass.
To demonstrate their involvement in the birth of the legend, they would have recovered and shown to their fellow raiders a flag bearing the number 420 they used, together with some stamped letters; the number was used by them as a code to indicate marijuana.
But why did the Waldos have to prove they were the creators of the 420 legend? Simple, because over the years the most bizarre theories about the origin of the number have been invented.
These, for example, are some of the false legends about the number 420 circulated over the years:
- It is not true that 420 is a code used by the police to identify crimes related to the use of marijuana;
- It is not true that 420 is the number of active chemical components contained in marijuana (in reality, they are 315);
- It is not true that 420 is Adolf Hitler's birthday, but this has nothing to do with this tradition.
- It is not true that 420 is the number obtained by multiplying 12 and 35, the numbers present in the title of Bob Dylan's song "Rainy Day Woman # 12 & 35".
- It is true that the refrain of the song says "everyone should be done", but this is not the reason why 420 has become the favorite number of each stoner.
The true origin of the number is another: 4:20 was the time when the five Waldos met every day to go in search of a mythological hidden marijuana field near the Point Reyes Coast Guard station.
In 1971 the Waldos were typical college students, and therefore grass lovers. They had heard that a Coast Guard guy had been forced to abandon a plot of land planted with marijuana, and so they started looking for him.
They met at 4:20 near the statue of Louis Pasteur and then, after smoking a cane, they wandered around the fields of Point Reyes.
After weeks of vain research, the Waldos gave up. However, they had now coined a code that they could use to hide their habit from parents and teachers.
In all likelihood the legend of 420 would have died in the bud — except that Waldo Dave's older brother was friends with Phil Lesh, the bassist of Grateful Dead, a world-famous rock band.
After learning the code from the Waldos, Leash and the Grateful Dead appropriated it; thus, they spent the next 35 years traveling the world, smoking weed and spreading the link between the number 420 and marijuana use.
After spreading in smoking communities, which have always loved to coin semi-secret methods to communicate their love for grass, the number 420 appeared in unthinkable places.
In Pulp Fiction, for example, all clocks show 4 and 20, while a California law decree on the use of medical marijuana is called "State Bill 420".
Evan Goding, who looks a lot like Scooby Doo's Shaggy, had his 14 minutes and 20 seconds of celebrity when, participating as a competitor in "Ok, the Price is Right", he continued undauntedly to bet 420 or 1420 dollars on each of the objects of the broadcast - almost managing to grab a karaoke set, then blown to him by another competitor who offered an extra dollar.
The mile marker 420 of the highway to Denver has been stolen so many times that, a few years ago, it was replaced by a new one - exceptionally, bearing the number 419.99.
The popularity of the 420 number exploded when the advent of the internet drastically reduced communication times. And this, together with the growing decriminalization of marijuana, has helped create this new myth.
Today, the number 420 has now become a code to recognize yourself: on the Craigslist, "420-friendly" roommate ads, as well as 4.20 events have spread to several American cities - from Denver to Atlanta to New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
It took almost half a century, but 420 ended its long journey, from a wall in Marin County to the empyrean of the world of smokers.
If only its creators could find that damned marijuana field in Point Reyes ...