Green Report: 420’s origin story

There are many theories as to where the term “420” came from. This now synonymous number for marijuana has its own date celebrating all things marijuana coming up this month. Though, not many people know why it’s that number. Only recently has the real story been known by a wider range of the public.

420 (Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons)

One of the more popular theories was that it was police code for “smoking in progress!” Nope. 420 in police code is for a homicide, apparently, CSI got it right.


The term 420 actually originated in California by a group of high schoolers. They called themselves “The Waldos”.

Coming from San Rafael, California, in 1971, these high school kids heard about some abandoned marijuana crops nearby and would tell each other “4:20 Louis” because they were going to meet near a Louis Pasteur statue, get high, and look for the plants.

Louis Pasteur statue at San Rafael High School (Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons)

They called themselves “The Waldos”, because they liked to stand by a wall and smoke, as many stoners like to do.

Eventually, “4:20 Louis” was just shortened to “420” for convenience. Sadly, the plants were never found, but the crew stayed together and even met with the Grateful Dead. It was this encounter and friendship, thanks to an older brother of one of the Waldos, that turned the phrase worldwide.

The kids would go to the Dead’s local shows and practices and were roadies of sorts at first of the Dead. And Phil Lesh can confirm that he knew the Waldos and that they were good friends. He couldn’t remember if he first heard “420” from the Waldos (as he was an avid consumer of other illicit drugs as the Dead were known for), but said that it was likely.

The Grateful Dead, with front man Jerry Garcia front and center and Phil Lesh on the far right (Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons)

The term then became well known in the Grateful Dead community, and soon High Times picked up the phrase and plastered it everywhere and made celebrations around it.

Besides just a great story, the Waldos even have the earliest known physical proof of the use of 420, with a 1971 newspaper clipping that stated that one of the Waldos just wished to inform his graduating class was “420”.

Collegian Blogger Dylan Simonson can be reached online at or on Twitter @DylanSimonson0