Everybody knows 4:20 is the time to smoke pot. But not many people, not even the oldest and most ardent pot smokers, knows why or how the number 420 became linked to pot smoking.
There are a few old tales which describe how this national holiday, and that special time of the day, became so iconic. Here’s everything we know about how 4/20 became more than a mid-April day.
It Started With Some High School Kids
You know who does know a thing or two about this? Larry “Ratso” Sloman, author of Reefer Madness: A History of Marijuana. The most accepted root of the high holiday starts with some high school kids in San Rafael, California, back in 1971. Sloman says the phrase started as “420 Louis,” meaning “at 4:20 [they’d] meet by the Louis Pasteur statue outside the high school” and get high.
It turns out one of these kids’ older brothers was friends with Grateful Dead’s bassist, Phil Lesh. And the group—”they called themselves ‘Waldos,’ ” Sloman says—started getting high with the Grateful Dead at their rehearsal studio in San Rafael.
Around 1990, High Times magazine senior editor Steve Bloom saw a flyer at a Dead concert that “told the story of 420, and that was news to me,” he wrote in a copy of the magazine obtained by the Huffington Post. Bloom wrote that “420” was originally California police code for smoking pot.
But it turns out the story on the flyer was horseshit. Bloom says “after about five years,” the Waldos story emerged.
“A few of these Waldos surfaced and contacted High Times to set the record straight in 1997,” Sloman says. Which is “about five years” if you’re baked. So it checks out.
April 20, or 4/20 in its calendar denotation, is a holiday celebrated by many weed-smokers both in the United States and around the globe.