Myths & Facts - What is The Real History of 420?


It is almost time for our favorite holiday here at DaVinci: 4/20! Whether you choose to celebrate with us or not, we thought it would be interesting to examine the roots of how this holiday came about and how it has progressed throughout the years.

The origins of the date, and the term "420" generally, have long been debated. Some claimed it referred to a police code for marijuana possession, while others said that it arose from Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35," with its refrain of "Everybody must get stoned" — 420 being the product of 12 times 35, and others still surmised that there are 420 chemicals in the plant. (That number is actually over 500, according to numbers cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.)

However, in more recent years, an agreement has surfaced on the most believable explanation: that it began with a group of bell-bottomed friends from San Rafael High School in California, who called themselves "the Waldos." The story goes that a friend's brother was fearful of getting caught for growing a patch of cannabis in the woods at Point Reyes, so he created a map and gave the teens permission to harvest the crop.

During the fall of 1971, at 4:20 p.m., just after classes and football practice, the group would meet up at the school's statue of famous chemist Louis Pasteur, smoke a joint and head out to search for the weed patch. While they never did locate it, their private lexicon — "420 Louie," later referred to as simply "420" — would take on a life of its own.

The Waldos preserved postmarked letters and other various artifacts from the 1970s that referenced "420," which they now have stored in a bank vault, and when the Oxford English Dictionary officially added the term it cited some of these documents as the entry's earliest recorded uses.

So, now that you know how 4/20 began, how exactly did it become popular? A brother of one of the Waldos was a close acquaintance of the Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, as Lesh once confirmed himself during an interview with the Huffington Post. The Waldos began hanging out in the band's circle, and that’s how the term spread.

Skip ahead to the early 1990s, and Steve Bloom, a reporter for the cannabis magazine High Times, was at a Grateful Dead show when he was handed a flier advising people to "meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais." High Times was the one who published it. “Now, there’s something even more grand than getting baked at 4:20,” the flyer read. “We’re talking about the day of celebration, the real time to get high, the grand master of all holidays: 4/20 or April 20th.”

"It's a phenomenon," said one of the Waldos, Steve Capper, now in his 60s and a chief executive at a payroll financing company in San Francisco. "Most things die within a couple years, but this just goes on and on. It's not like someday somebody's going to say, 'OK, Cannabis New Year's is on June 23rd now.'"

Bloom, now the editor in chief of Freedom Leaf Magazine, notes that while the Waldos did come up with the term, the people who actually created the flier — and successfully turned 4/20 into a holiday — continue to be unknown to this day.

You might be interested to know what some examples are for how 4/20 is celebrated. The answer is quite obvious: with weed.

Some of the celebrations are larger than others; Hippie Hill in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park typically draws thousands of attendees. In Seattle, the coordinators of the yearly Hempfest event anticipate around 250 people for their private parties. Some pot shops even offer discounts or host block parties.

College courtyards and statehouse lawns are also recognized for attracting 4/20 participants, with the University of Colorado's Boulder campus traditionally among the main assemblies — though not as frequently anymore as administrators began to close off the campus several years ago. 4/20 events in Colorado have also diminished drastically since the state legalized recreational use in 2012.

Some beer breweries make 4/20 themed beers — including SweetWater Brewing in Atlanta, whose founders attended CU-Boulder. Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, California, releases its "Waldos' Special Ale" every year on 4/20 in reverence of the term's coiners; it is billed as "the dankest and hoppiest beer ever brewed at Lagunitas."

Successful legalization campaigns have since occurred in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, joining other states such as Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington as states that allow recreational marijuana. More than half the states allow medical marijuana.

However, it still remains illegal under federal law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of marijuana policy to see how it may conflict with the President Donald Trump's crime-fighting agenda, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently called marijuana "a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs." That is a view that is actually long-held by drug warriors despite inadequate evidence for its validity.

Over Sixty percent of adults support the legalization of marijuana, according to a Gallup poll, and two-thirds of participants in a Yahoo/Marist poll said marijuana is safer than opioids.

According to Vivian McPeak, a founder of Seattle's Hempfest, “Undermining regulatory schemes in legal pot states could prompt a backlash that would hasten the end of federal prohibition. We're looking at an attorney general who wants to bring America back into the 1980s in terms of drug policy. I'm skeptical they can put the cannabis genie back into the bottle."

So, what does this mean for the future of 4/20? McPeak says 4/20 these days is "half celebration and half call to action."

For the Waldos, who remain close friends, it means above all else a good time, Capper says. "We're not political. We're jokesters," he said. "But there was a time that we can't forget, when it was secret, furtive. The energy of the time was more charged, more exciting in a certain way. I'm not saying that's all good - it's not good they were putting people in jail," he added. "You wouldn't want to go back there. Of course not."

So, however you decide you want to celebrate the holiday, make sure you do so with a DaVinci vaporizer in your hand – one of the best ways to consume marijuana! Simply load up the heating chamber and you’re good to go.

Make sure to let us know what ways you plan to celebrate 4/20 in the comments, and share with us your photos – especially if a DaVinci vaporizer is involved!

#Medical Cannabis
Back to blog