420: The Origin Story of the Cannabis Culture Holiday

Everybody who smokes the cannabis plant or not knows about the fact the 20th of April or 4/20 is considered to be the national holiday for all of the people in the cannabis culture. The thing is that even though everybody knows about 420 and what it represents, nobody is really sure about why or how the term came into being. There are rumors about it for sure but then that’s all they are and nothing more. People have mostly just accepted it like how they have accepted that we use paper but we don’t know who invented it.

Well, this here history lesson is aimed to enlighten you about how the date actually got chosen for the national cannabis culture holiday known as 420 which is celebrated on 4/20.

False Rumors

Plenty of speculation came into being about how “420” is actually police code for people consuming cannabis while some went as far as saying that it actually happens to be so because it was Adolf Hitler’s birthday. It gets even better. Some people went overboard with the theorizing and associated the holiday in reference to Bob Dylan’s song Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 since 12 times 35 is 420.

All of the rumors mentioned above are simply untrue.

The Waldos

The story that has any shred of credibility can actually be dated back to the 70s. Five high school buddies from San Rafael High School would make it a point to meet each other at 4:20 pm by a statue on their campus of the chemist Louis Pasteur. The reason why they chose to convene at that time was that all the extracurricular activities at their high school would conclude by that time and they had the perfect window of opportunity to gather there and smoke a toke o’ cannabis.

The group of friends consisted of Dave Reddix, Jeffery Noel, Larry Schwartz, Steve Capper and Mark Gravich. These guys started to be called the Waldos. Why? Well, because they actually met up at a wall. 420 became their code for each other when they wanted to smoke cannabis.

 The Spread

While 420 was just a thing that some high school kids came up with and used, the story didn’t end there. Dave Reddix’s brother helped the guy get some work with the bassist in the band Grateful Dead and he was on the road with the band because of the bassist Phil Lesh. Turns out that the band also loved smoking cannabis AND they took a liking to the term. They started using it themselves when referring to smoking cannabis and they started to popularize it.

The 90s saw the real spread of 420. December 28th, 1990, a few Deadheads went about distributing flyers all around Oakland telling everybody to smoke 420 on the 20th of April at 4:20 pm. This flyer happened to end up with Steve Bloom, who happened to be an editor at the High Times back then.


The High times was regarded as an authoritative voice on all matters related to cannabis and their magazine printed that flyer in ‘91.  From that point on, the term went global and everybody knew about 420 being the time to smoke cannabis. The High Times magazine even made it a point to reference the Waldos as being the inventors of 420 in their issue in ’98.

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