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Just How Did 420 Become Code for Marijuana Smoking Anyway?

Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images
Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images

Happy 420 to everyone who partakes and those who should partake so they can calm the hell down. As people across the globe prepare to smoke a bowl of their favorite kush or roll a blunt with their favorite sativa, let us take a moment to remember when 420 became the bat-weed signal for potheads everywhere.


As Time magazine notes, both marijuana smokers and nonsmokers alike recognize 420 as code for weed smoking, but there are varying theories as to how that came to be.

From Time:

Some say “420” is code among police officers for “marijuana smoking in progress.” Some note 4/20 is also Adolf Hitler’s birthday. And some go as far as to cite Bob Dylan’s song “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” because 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420.

But, to put it bluntly, those rumors are false.

How punny.

According to Time, in 1971, Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz and Mark Gravich, all students at San Rafael High School in Marin County, Calif., would get together at 4:20 by a campus statue of Louis Pasteur to smoke weed. They chose that particular time because campus extracurricular activities usually ended by then. The group, who would become known as the “Waldos,” would say “420” to one another as code for marijuana.


The term managed to make its way to both the band the Grateful Dead as well as High Times magazine, both of whom introduced the reference into the mainstream culture. In 1990 a group of Deadheads in Oakland, Calif., passed out flyers inviting people to smoke “420” on 4/20 at 4:20, and in 1991, High Times reprinted the flyer, continued to reference the number and popularized it in the mainstream.

Steve Bloom, a former reporter for High Times who is now publisher of the site Celebstoner, has credited the people who created the original flyer in 1990 for the date representing an annual gathering of people smoking weed.

“They wanted people all over the world to get together on one day each year and collectively smoke pot at the same time,” Bloom wrote in 2015. “They birthed the idea of a stoner holiday, which April 20 has become.”


Read more at Time magazine.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.

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Here’s the detail of the story that always made me think, yup this is true.

“I was sittin’ on our hangout spot - the wall - at San Rafael High School,” Capper told host Phoebe Judge. Capper says a friend told him that his brother, a Coast Guard officer, was growing marijuana.

The friend said that his brother was afraid of getting caught by his commanding officer, so he abandoned the stash in the forest by the Point Reyes Coast Guard Station. Capper’s friend drew him a map, which he brought to the rest of The Waldos.

“We were teenage boys, and that was free weed,” Reddix remembers. “Are you kidding?”

Reddix says the boys decided to meet by a statue of Louis Pasteur on their high school campus at 4:20 p.m. to start searching for the marijuana.”