The Legends of 4/20
The history revolving around 4/20 is often confused with legend. Like the tales of Paul Bunyan that were shared between lumberjacks around campfires, the stories of 4/20 have been told, changed and evolved in the same way. only the trees involved were a little different.
The Police Scanner
Personally, the first legend I ever heard was that 420 as the code used between police for marijuana possession. As appealing as this bit of poetic justice sounds, neither the NYPD or LAPD use a code 420. Besides, it wouldn’t be much of a code if the police already knew what we were talking about.
“They’ll stone you when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll stone you when you are young and able
They’ll stone you when you’re tryin’ to make a buck
Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll say “good luck”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned…”
The Lyric’s from Bob Dylan’s Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 is the source of our next legend. Dylan uses the term “stoned” in reference to an old form of capitol punishment, but wouldn’t it be in true stoner fashion to take a song about being oppressed by others, and use as a way to break “The Man’s” oppression, and smoke some Jazz Cabbage.
Nowhere in the song, does Dylan mention 420 though. So, where does it come from? It may be a bit of a stretch, but 12 x 35 is, in fact, 420. Bob Dylan has never confirmed or commented on this. So, we will chalk this up to another legend.
The California Penal Code
Similar to the legend of the police scanner. I have heard through many-a-smoke-sesh that the California Penal Code 420 is used to punish those, like myself, who distribute marijuana. In reality, Code 420 is used for a “Juvenile Disturbance.”
Well, so much for that theory.
You may or may not be surprised to hear that 4/20 started out as a code amongst friends so they could coordinate when to smoke without fear of being caught.
A group of friends, who called themselves “The Waldos,” who went to school at San Rafael High School in Marin County, California a credited with coining the stoner’s term of 4/20. The Waldos were a group of athletes that would meet up to smoke after practice. for the Waldo’s the time 4:20 fell in a sweet spot after they got out of practice, and before their parents got home from work. This small window of freedom was perfect for the Waldos to meet up and get high. Originally, their code started out as 4:20-Louie because the group would always meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20PM, but the Louis eventually was dropped from the term.
How does a term go from an inside joke amongst a few high school students to international fame? Remember, this was before cell phones, and before people were using the internet. Things weren’t able to jettison into the limelight overnight. Who do we need to be Grateful to? The Dead. Multiple members of the Waldos had access to members of The Grateful Dead. One member of the Waldos’ older brother new the Dead’s Bassist Phil Lesh, and another Member’s father managed real estate for the Band. So, the Waldos would be running around backstage, hanging out with the band, smoking weed, and using their lingo. It was only a matter of time before the band started referring to smoking as 420, and the rest is history.
Today, we salute the Waldo’s, the Grateful Dead, and Stoners everywhere every April 20th, and every time you wait that extra couple of minutes to spark up at 4:20.