There are a few popular stories and myths told about the origin of 420 and how this date came to be the most significant day in the world of cannabis. And while some still think the origin of 420 came from police codes, many credible sources online actually point to a different truth.
Myth: The ‘420’ Police Codes
Many people believe that the number ‘420’ is coined from the California Criminal Codes used to punish the use or distribution of marijuana. But if you actually take a closer look at the state’s 420 code, it applies to obstructing entry on public land.
Another common misconception is that ‘420’ is the police code used in major cities in California and New York to report the use of marijuana. However, further research shows that neither LAPD nor NYPD even have a code ‘420’, and the only ‘420’ remotely close is with the San Francisco Police, however their code is used to report a “juvenile disturbance.”
The History of the Waldos and 4:20pm
According to source Chris Conrad, curator of the Oaksterdam Cannabis Museum in Oakland, California, 420 started as a secret code among high schoolers in the early 1970s. A group of friends at San Rafael High School in Marin County, California, who called themselves “the Waldos,” would often meet at 4:20 p.m. to get high. For them, it was an ideal time: They were out of school but their parents still weren’t home, giving them a window of unsupervised freedom.
As further explained on the groups’ website, 420Waldos.com, 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. (source: 420Waldos)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. (source: 420Waldos)
The 4:20 time became a code for them to use in front of their unsuspecting parents, and 420 gradually spread from there — possibly via Grateful Dead followers — across California and beyond. It’s even the number of a California Senate bill that established the state’s medial marijuana program.