That 420 Story You Heard May or May Not Be True

People fairly active in the marijuana community understand the number 420 perfectly. It is so interwoven into the marijuana culture that it is hard to be part of that culture and not be familiar with it. As for the origins of the number, the story you heard about it may or may not be correct.

There are lots of stories that try to explain how 420 became part of the marijuana culture’s nomenclature. Most of them are not true. A small number of them are only partially true. Thanks to a bit of investigative journalism conducted by the Huff Post, we now know exactly where the term came from.

Looking for Weed in the ’70s

Despite so many stories pointing back to the Grateful Dead and one of their 1990 concerts, the real origins of 420 date back to a group of high school friends in the 1970s. These friends called themselves the Waldos, thanks to their penchant for hanging around the wall of their school after classes.

Three of the Waldos spoke with Huff Post reporters several years back and explained that they coined the term so that they could freely discuss going in search of a lost marijuana field at Point Reyes, CA. Apparently, the group would regularly meet at 4:20 PM before heading out to the coast in search of the lost plants. Eventually, they began using the term 420 whenever they wanted to discuss anything having to do with marijuana.

As the story goes, members of the Grateful Dead somehow got involved with the Waldos. As friends, they all smoked marijuana together. The Dead began using 420 to talk about marijuana-related things even as they toured the country. That led to the now famous 1990 Dead concert in which a reporter walking through the parking lot was handed a yellow flier inviting him to join a group of 420ers looking to 420ing together. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the number is synonymous with many things within the marijuana culture. The term has become so widespread that April 20 is considered an unofficial, de facto holiday for pot smokers. They gather every April 20 at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Then they all light up at 4:20.

Even in the Medical Community

Although 420 was originally developed as a code phrase for recreational marijuana users, it has made it into the medical cannabis community as well.’s Tim Pickett, a physician assistant and Utah-certified Qualified Medical Provider (QMP) hosts a weekly podcast for medical cannabis users. He and his co-host talk about 420 events taking place throughout Utah every April.

Using the term no longer fools anyone in the law enforcement community. It is so common that there are rumors some police departments have even adopted the number for use when talking about marijuana-related crimes. Be that as it may, some medical cannabis patients may choose to use the term if they want to hide the fact that they use cannabis from family members and friends.

There are lots of stories that try to explain the origins of 420 as a catchphrase for all things marijuana related. Any of those stories that don’t go back to the Waldos and their 1970s quest for a lost patch of marijuana plants in Marin County are probably not true – at least according to the Waldos themselves.

Then again, can their hazy memories of 50 years ago be inaccurate? It is possible. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Regular marijuana users understand 420 perfectly. Where it came from really isn’t an issue.