Monday, April 21, 2014

History of 420

Yesterday we wrote about where Easter traditions came from.  This year Easter fell on April 20, a non-official subculture holiday celebrating marijuana.  But why is 420 special to pot smokers?  In popular culture the number is used as a time, date, or 'code.' everywhere, but what does it mean?  Some people think it was the police code for marijuana smoking in progress.  Other claim it's a reference to the number of chemicals in weed.  We did some digging and found out where the association between weed and 420 began.

Picture it.  California’s bay coast.  1971.  The peace and love of San Francisco’s hippie counterculture has turned into a dark gutter of speed freaks using other hard drugs.  Experimenting with pot and LSD had been replaced with crime and addiction.  The Grateful Dead, who provided a musical backdrop to psychedelic Haight-Ashbury, like many residents, scattered out of the city and moved up the bay to San Rafael.  

The Waldos were a group of five friends in San Rafael who took their name after the wall they hung out by outside their high school.  It was fall, harvest time, and one  of the guys came into possession of a map that was drawn by a Coast Guard member who had abandoned his pot field in fear of getting caught, thus leaving  it to be found, like a treasure.  The guys agreed to meet by the wall once school and their sports practices were over, at 4:20, in front of the statue of Louis Pastuer.  When they would pass each other in the hallway they would remind each other, saying “4:20, Louis,” and eventually dropped the Louis.  

For weeks the boys would meet, load into a car, smoke a lot of marijuana, and go search for the pot field.  Although they never found it, they continued to say 4:20 when they were talking about smoking pot.  Waldo Dave’s older brother, Patrick, was the manager of a band that opened up for the Grateful Dead.  Dave and all his Waldo friends were always around gigs and practice sessions, hanging out backstage and, of course, smoking weed.  The band and other people hanging out heard them saying 420 and it caught on.  

Deadheads were soon wearing 420 shirts to concerts, and flyers made alluding to the secret code. Steve Bloom, a writer for High Times magazine came across one of these old flyers in 1991 and showed it to his editor, who encouraged him to publish it.  He did, and brought 420 to the world stage.  He liked it so much he even held his staff meetings at 4:20 pm. 

The stoner-culture uses the number to denote a specific time, and/or date to stop and have a toke and in the overall celebration of marijuana.  Festivals and competitions are held all over the world on April 20 each year.  With some states beginning to legalize marijuana here in the US, celebrations are becoming much larger, bringing a lot of money to local economies.  

420 a a time, date, graffiti, etc. is everywhere in popular culture.  In Pulp Fiction, all the clocks are set to 4:20.  Sofia Coppola paid homage to this in Lost in Translation.  The code pops up in Craigslist ads for roommates who are ‘420 friendly.’ Anywhere you see 420 you can bet there’s a stoner behind it.  So now that you know where this tradition comes form, what time is it…?

Where’s the Waldos now?  Waldo Dave is now a credit analyst, and works for Waldo Steve, who says running a business doesn’t leave him time to smoke pot these days.  A third Waldo is the head of marketing for a wine company in Napa Valley, one is in graphic design, and the other works for a roofing and guttering company.

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