420: The Origin Story


Just like the original story about the Albany Kids surrounding how Sour Diesel came to be, to the tale of OG genetics coming from a bag seed from a Grateful Dead concert in Colorado--cannabis culture can be shrouded in mystery. As awareness spreads, myths become a thing of the past--but here's one interesting legend: the origin story of 420.

Though most of us know and partake in it, 420 is a reference to cannabis friendly persons, things and ideas--more so it's code for, "let's get high." It has lead to an international cannabis holiday on April 20th. (Pretty fitting for a month that gives back respect to mother Earth!) There are festivals and celebrations, and those that might not partake on a regular basis, definitely feel the green vibe.

Where does it come from, who started this trend? Is it really a call sign for the 5-0 to bust marijuana consumption? The answer is no. It all starts with some San Rafael students and a map to a secret garden, in the fall of 1971.

Small Beginnings

The roots of 420 started with a group of students known as the Waldos in San Rafael. In the fall of 1971, one of the Waldos had a friend who's brother was a coast guard cadet near Point Reyes Lighthouse. This cadet had been growing some weed in secret, in a hidden location.

Due to paranoia and risk, the cadet had abandoned harvesting the plants. Eventually a map was drawn and given (with blessings) to the Waldos to go out and claim this treasure. They would meet after class at 4:20, smoke one and head out on what became known as a 'Waldo Safari.' Though they never found the treasure garden, the phrase "420" would reference getting together for a session, and doing adventurous things while high. (One of my favorite pastimes.)

Grateful Abundance

So how did the phrase "420" become a worldwide reference to smoke reefer? After the Waldos pioneered the term, their connections with the inner circle of the Grateful Dead spread around the the phrase into our language. One Waldo’s father helped the Dead with real estate, another Waldo brother was tight with Phil Lesh, and all of the Waldos had all-access passes to the Dead’s rehearsals, shows, and after parties, where the term was put to good use during the 1970s and 1980s.

Leafly reports it perfectly, "With the Grateful Dead touring incessantly to large crowds over the next two decades, the seeds of 420 scattered far and wide, and then began to take root and spread. Not through the mainstream media (which didn’t know and wouldn’t care) or social media (which didn’t yet exist), but via a peer-to-peer network known as the smoke sesh. Getting high at 4:20 (AM or PM) was a true grassroots movement back when that meant something. A meme before the internet."

420 Gets Big

As the phrase got passed around in the music and art scenes for a clandestine way for fellow aficionados to self identify in a time repression, it became big. So big in fact that Debby Goldsberry of Magnolia Oakland, a dispensary in the Bay Area, once found a flyer in a parking lot for a show, during her time with Jack Herer's Hemp Tour in 1988.

Eventually she helped form a new organization, Cannabis Action Network, which spent the early 1990s handing out fliers promoting the medical utility of cannabis and the industrial utility of hemp to roughly five million concertgoers, back in a pre-internet era when such information was still hard to find. Eventually the Cannabis Action Network threw their own festivals and possibly had the first publicly promoted 420 event at Maritime Hall on April 20th. After this, 420 gained traction as a reference to not only get together and smoke, but also for civil disobedience out of respect for the plant and the lifestyle associated with it.

Some legendary smoke-out locations like Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, in front of Parliament in Ontario, Canada, and on the campuses of the University of Colorado Boulder and University of California Santa Cruz all came about from the 420 movement.

The rest is history.

Information sourced from Hight Times and Leafly.

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