Apr 20, 2023

What is 420 and where did it come from?


We spent some time reading up on the various theories about how 420 came to be and its lasting significance. Time travel with us while we explore the most common theory. We highly recommend taking a toke or two before embarking on this journey.  

The year is 1975.  

A band is packing up their equipment amid the lingering sounds of an audience still enjoying the after-effects of a cosmic musical performance. Members of the band mingle with fans backstage, eventually congregating in a familiar circle.  

“Who’s got a light?” someone asks, and seconds later the smell of a freshly lit joint wafts through. Everyone inhales deeply, grateful for the smoke sesh.  

“Gotta love 420,” young roadie Dave Reddix says aloud to no one in particular as he carefully places a guitar in its case  

“What did you just say?” someone asks. Perhaps it was Phil Lesh, bassist for the Grateful Dead? Or was it psychedelic musician Terry Haggerty who inquired? 

Dave feels all eyes locked on him, so he begins to tell a story from his high school days. A story involving a secret map, chemist Louis Pasteur, and a very elusive marijuana plant. The group listens intently, and members of the band continue to murmur the phrase “420” for months. It is passed around like a communal joint among friends, bandmates, and Dead fans before drifting into mainstream culture and effectively carving a place in stoner history for decades.  

Well…. That’s how we imagined it.  

If you have ever heard the term “420”, you either knew what it meant immediately, slipped into the bathroom to google it in private, or took a mental note to find its significance later. Maybe you asked right then and there and got a few different answers. There are varying stories involving the origins of the phrase, and the exact details of its rise to the cannabis hall of fame is as hazy as the fresh fumes off a bong hit.  

While we don’t know who said it first, we know that one version of the story involves a roadie and members of the Grateful Dead. That roadie (Dave Reddix) and several of his friends were regularly using the phrase in 1975 and had been since high school.  

But why were Dave and his friends using ‘420’ in the first place?  

The story really began in 1971 when a group of high schoolers calling themselves the “Waldos” caught wind of abandoned treasure. This wasn’t just any treasure. This was a marijuana plant, secretly grown somewhere outside of Point Reyes Peninsula by a Coast Guard who supposedly left it unattended after fearing the repercussions of being discovered with it. Keep in mind this was the 70’s, and there were major legal consequences involving growing, transporting, and consuming these magical plants. An uninformed, fear-based societal stigma had governed the ideas behind cannabis in America thus far, however by the late 60’s and early 70’s a counterculture of free-thinkers, creatives, and activists was emerging. Musicians, poets, and artists paved the way for a new generation of young adults seeking answers in unexpected places, all in the name of mind-expanding exploration. This young generation was tired of a stifling conservative agenda and was intent on challenging the status quo.  

Enter Dave Reddix and four other young students at San Rafael High School. They were eager for adventure and perpetually fighting boredom. There was no Tik Tok, no way to Netflix and chill, and the # symbol was still considered a musical sign. They did not have cell phones or streaming services, but what they did have was a map. A map that could supposedly lead them to the exact spot where the plant was growing.  

Every day, the Waldos congregated at the Louis Pasteur statue on their school campus before embarking on the quest to find the abandoned plant. Like all good quests for mysterious marijuana plants, the Waldos would begin their search with a little toke at 4:20. We get it, in order to find the secret plant, you must become the secret plant….or something like that anyway. And while we do not condone the underage consumption of cannabis by the Waldos, we do admire their creativity. You can imagine the cannabis-induced laughs and subsequent munchies that ensued while on the hunt.  

Wait, did the Waldos ever find the secret plant?  

The Waldos never actually found the treasure they were hoping for, but they did discover that using the term “420 Louis” to reference their other favorite pastime kept it a secret from nosy authority figures. It was later shortened to “420” and teachers and parents were none the wiser.  

Fast forward to a few years later (1975) and Dave’s older brother lands him a summer job touring with a band whose members include Phil Lesh, Terry Haggerty, Dave Crosby and several other influential musicians. At some point, the inevitable pass around of a fresh joint prompted Dave to murmur the now-infamous phrase. Its use became even more common in the early 90’s, when a flier for a Grateful Dead show included an invitation to “Meet us to celebrate 4:20 on April 20.” The flier was noticed by a writer for High Times, who began using the phrase regularly in articles. 

This story was recently confirmed in a 2022 LA Times interview with the real Dave Reddix and Steve Capper (another member of the Waldos). With the growing legalization and acceptance of cannabis across the country, they decided to tell their story and debunk some of the myths. It Is important to note that there are several additional theories on how and where 420 came to be. No matter how or when it first appeared, exploring the various histories behind 420 continues to offer a glimpse into the history of marijuana – as well as its future.  

So, what is the significance of 420 today?  

The landscape of cannabis and the subsequent industry that has evolved is vastly different than the world Dave and his friends experienced. Creating a code word for marijuana was not just an inside joke between friends, it was a way to partake and enjoy a plant that offers so much to people yet was deeply misunderstood in mainstream society. 420 is a reminder of how far cannabis has come. And while it is important to celebrate its growing acceptance, there are also lingering stigmas. Many states still have strict laws regarding cannabis use and a portion of the global population remains uneducated on its incredible properties and benefits. In some ways, the phrase 420 serves as a reminder that we still have a long way to go.  

420 events across the world continue to promote and celebrate how extraordinary cannabis truly is. For many, 420 gatherings are a platform to engage and inform the public, as well as advocate for those who have been incarcerated for cannabis related charges despite its legalization. In Michigan, events like Hash Bash also serve to educate and celebrate.  

The usage of 420 may not be so discreet anymore – but it still has the power to unite cannabis lovers everywhere. The phrase evolved from a secretive code word shared by friends to a commonly used phrase uttered by stoners around the world – not to mention the annual global celebrations every April 20th. It is an evolution that mirrors the growing acceptance of the plant itself.   

However you choose to celebrate 420, we hope you remember its humble origins and the adventurous influence of a few best buds (pun intended) the next time you enjoy a little weed.  We will personally be celebrating with a SKYMINT Pre-roll at 4:20 PM, on April 20th with a special toke in honor of the plant that was never found, and the history made while searching for it.  


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