“The best part of 420 is it happens twice a day!” - The Waldo’s
420 is not code among police officers for marijuana smoking in progress. There are not 420 chemical compounds found in cannabis (there are more than 500). 420 is not the anniversary of Bob Marley’s death and the truth regarding how 420 became a symbol in culture is more adventurous than you’d imagine.
The slang didn’t evolve from a group of couch-lock stoners. Instead it was formed by a group of young adventurous teens who liked to have fun and explore after school.
When I first began my ascent into cannabis culture, I associated 420 slang with negative stereotypes surrounding cannabis. In my mind stoners were lazy, unintelligent, lacking drive, and mostly used by individuals seeking to escape “reality.” My view was narrow. As I began using the plant more frequently, I realized I preferred smoking weed and then doing something active. I was surprised the plant left me more adventurous than it did stoned.
The Waldo’s (nicknamed Waldo's because they used to hang out together by a wall near their school) are the originators of 420 slang and what makes their story more fascinating is how it started in our local community (San Rafael). They recently spoke on a panel at Sweetwater Music Hall after a screening of “Weed the People,” which was the cannabis film Nice Guys Delivery sponsored during the Mill Valley Film Festival.
For the Waldo’s in 1971, 4:20 was the time of day when the 5 of them met at the Louis Pasteur statue. Located outside of San Rafael High School they’d get high and begin a clandestine adventure to find "weed" with a treasure map! They played sports and had other after school activities, so they had to wait until 4:20 to begin. Their primary reason for meeting was because they received a map from a friend whose brother was in the U.S. Coast Guard. The map was supposed to lead them to a patch of cannabis growing somewhere in the Point Reyes Peninsula but there was fear that if someone else found it, it would be destroyed, so the boys went hunting!
They began by saying “420 Louie” to remind one another of their after-school adventures, quickly realizing they could drop the “Louie” and continue talking about cannabis without anyone other than themselves knowing what it was they were discussing. The boys continued using 420 to talk about cannabis but it wasn’t until years later when they realized it had become a cultural symbol for smoking weed. When the guys were asked how it spread across the world, they mentioned their relationship with the Grateful Dead as probably being the biggest influence, but even they weren't sure.
Meeting them after the event helped show their down to earth nature. They live and work in Marin and Sonoma counties. One of them is parenting two girls who attend the same high school they went to in 1971, which is pretty neat. But overall we enjoyed the event because it helped show a truer picture of cannabis-users, which isn’t the kind of stoners society paints cannabis smokers out to be!