The True Story And Derivation of 4-20
Since its April 20th we thought we would do some extensive research on the derivation of the stoner code word 420. Much as we thought 420 wasn’t a police code or Bob Marley’s birthday or any other baked interpretation that we’ve all heard at jam band shows and just about any ski town in America. It was derived from a group of kids, not far from where the Grateful Dead were formed in San Rafael. A group of kids, with a treasure map. Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Huffington Post in 2013, which seems credible to us.
— from The Huffington Post —
One day in the fall of 1971 — harvest time — the Waldos (group of San Rafael High School kids) got word of a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. A treasure map in hand, the Waldos decided to pluck some of the free bud.
The Waldos, who were all athletes, [its important for Huff Post to say they were athletes] agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20 p.m., after practice, to begin the hunt.
“We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis, and we eventually dropped the Louis,” Capper, 57, says.
The first forays were unsuccessful, but the group kept looking for the hidden crop. “We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ’66 Chevy Impala, and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Point Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week,” says Capper. “We never actually found the patch.”
But they did find a useful codeword. “I could say to one of my friends, I’d go, ‘420,’ and it was telepathic. He would know if I was saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?’ Or, ‘Do you have any?’ Or, ‘Are you stoned right now?’ It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it,” Capper says. “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”
As fortune would have it, the collapse of San Francisco’s hippie utopia in the late ‘60s set the stage. As speed freaks, thugs and con artists took over The Haight, the Grateful Dead packed up and moved to the Marin County hills, just blocks from San Rafael High School.
“Marin County was kind of ground zero for the counterculture,” says Capper.
The Waldos had more than a geographic connection to the Dead. Mark Gravitch’s father took care of real estate for the Dead. And Dave Reddix’s older brother, Patrick, managed a Dead sideband and was good friends with bassist Phil Lesh. Patrick Reddix tells HuffPost that he smoked with Lesh on numerous occasions. He couldn’t recall if he used the term 420 around Lesh, but guessed that he must have.
The Dead, recalls Dave Reddix, 57, “had this rehearsal hall on Front Street, San Rafael, California, and they used to practice there. So we used to go hang out and listen to them play music and get high while they’re practicing for gigs. But I think it’s possible my brother Patrick might have spread it through Phil Lesh. And me, too, because I was hanging out with Lesh and his band [as a roadie] when they were doing a summer tour my brother was managing.”
The bands that Patrick managed for Lesh were called Too Loose to Truck and Sea Stones; they featured not only Lesh but rock legend David Crosby and acclaimed guitarist Terry Haggerty.
The Waldos also had open access to Dead parties and rehearsals. “We’d go with [Mark’s] dad, who was a hip dad from the ‘60s,” says Capper. “There was a place called Winterland, and we’d always be backstage running around or on stage and, of course, we’re using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, ‘Hey, 420.’ So it started spreading through that community.”
There you have it … Smoke Up Johnny!