What is 420?

What is 420? What does 420 mean? Who Started it? There are varying theories on the origin of 420. Some say that 420 originated from a police code that announces marijuana use is taking place. Yet another story is that a group of guys (Waldo’s) in the 1970’s made 4:20 their official meeting time to smoke marijuana after school. Whether or not 4:20 p.m. is the best time of day for your first hit depends on your own body, your own needs. Some folks feel that waiting until 4:20 enhances ones appreciation of the herb. Of course, your mileage may vary.

In the 21st Century, 420 is firmly established as a code among tokers, a time of day and even sort of a toker’s New Year’s Day. It’s in our culture now and only time will tell where it ends up.

October 2012 Update: Well, it’s possible the true beginning of 420 has been discovered. Rob Griffen over at 420 Magazine was contacted by a guy in California who said he knew the true meaning of 420. After some research it appears this could be it.

On a Saturday afternoon back in October 1970, a stoner by the name Brad Bann (AKA “The Bebe”) uttered the words , “It’s 4:20, time for bong loads.” After that, he began to throw “420” around in a slew of comical ways and it eventually stuck being used as a “neighborhood code” for use in front of parents and non-smokers.

If you would like to learn more: The True Meaning of 420?

April 20th (4/20) is another usage, meaning that it is time for to plant before the summer.

Whatever the real story is, 420 has been an important part of the marijuana culture since the 1970’s. The significance of 420 has been kept underground and is mostly known only among marijuana smokers. Many non-smokers aren’t aware of the symbolism when they see someone wearing a T-shirt or baseball cap that says 420 across the front.

When the 420 icon is somehow discreetly worked into a mainstream product like a film, marijuana users take notice. The film Pulp Fiction is rumored to have had all clocks throughout the movie set to 4:20.

While some marijuana smokers are using 420 as a code that enables them to openly speak about marijuana in front of parents or teachers, 420 is too many, a sacred symbol representing 30 years of underground cannibis culture.

Today, April 20th events are international, and 4:20 pm has become sort of a world wide “burn time”.

Known 420 Myths

  • Police dispatch code for smoking pot is 420.
  • The number 420 is not police radio code for anything, anywhere. (Checks of criminal codes suggest that the origin is neither Californian nor federal. For instance, California Penal Code 420 defines as a misdemeanor the hindrance of use of public lands.)
  • There are approximately 420 active chemicals in marijuana. (Actually, there are approximately 315 active chemicals in marijuana. This number goes up and down depending on which plant is used)
  • April 20th is National Pot Smokers Day. (Well, it is now :) ; but that wasn’t the origin.)
  • April 20th is Hitler’s birthday. (Yes, it is his birthday. But, as 420 started out as a time, not a date, his birthday had nothing to do with it.)
  • The date of the Columbine school shootings. (This happened after the term was already in use.)
  • 4:20 is tea time for pot-smokers in Holland. (Tea time in Holland is at 5:30 pm, or is it 2:30 pm? Seems no one is quite sure when the wonderful people of Holland drink their tea.)


Last but not least… It’s only 4:20 twice a day! If you’re using a whole lot more and you’re burn time is starting to feel like it’s burning you out, you may want to look into drug treatment to help you slow your pace!

8 Responses to “What is 420?”

  1. yea that is the fact so 4:19 u got a min.

  2. Funny factoid. I graduated from a Washington high school in 1974. Dated a friend’s cousin who was living with her for the summer. He told me the “code” of saying 420 in reference to meeting his friends by some landmark (statue?) near his high school.
    I went to college, used this term with my friends – we all graduated in 1978, and I moved to Eugene, where I spread the term among my friends, as did my circle of friends from college who moved to Nevada, New York, California and Nevada. Nearly 15 years after moving to Eugene the term exploded. Because I was a closet pot head, I’ve not talked very publicly about this. I do, however have photos of the metal 4 2 0 sign from my dorm room in 1975. Nobody but the original group of California guys predates me on this term.
    It was a shock when the term went “viral”. as it had been a secret code for two decades.
    It was started as a time of day, not a day in April.

    • Hey Laurene, thanks for sharing! We would love to see the pic! Are you able to scan and email it over? I would love to feature it on the site with your brief story attached. You can remain anonymous if you would like 😉

  3. Oh shit , it’s 4:19 getting my bong filled and bowl loaded

  4. An Even Newer, Truer Story of 420?
    by Steven Hager

    At the end of 1990, there were three of us at an impromptu lunchtime gathering: Steve Bloom (then HT’s part-time news editor), an anonymous Deadhead passing through town, and me. I provided the joint and, as we passed it around in a circle, Bloom handed me a flyer he’d picked up at a Grateful Dead show in Oakland a few days earlier. The flyer was designed to pull people from the East Bay over to the top of Mount Tam to get stoned on April 20 at 4:20 pm—an event that was still months away. “The grand master of all holidays … you must get the day off work or school,” commanded the flyer.
    Bloom thought the whole thing was hilarious and somewhat absurd, but I had a different opinion. See, I was investigating the ceremonial history of cannabis at the time, as well as its use as a religious sacrament.
    “This is obviously a manifestation of the spiritual powers of cannabis,” I said in a hushed tone. That’s because I’d been to the Bay Area at the height of the counterculture, and I knew Mount Tam was the equivalent of Mount Fuji or Mount Sinai. And the fact that people were planning to meet there to worship cannabis at a certain time was proof the counterculture was a gestating spirituality that I felt had not yet been fully birthed, mostly due to political oppression. “I’m organizing all my future events around 420,” I continued, thinking mostly about the Cannabis Cup at that moment—although, in fact, I held my first official 420 ceremony later that day, and would continue to do so for most of my years at High Times.
    A few months later, Bloom printed selections from that flyer in the news section—a small, insignificant item dominated by a goofy stoner face with a giant joint in his mouth, a cartoon provided by HT’s art director, Frank Max. I was pretty disappointed, since I’d been hoping Bloom would quote me about the spiritual and numerological implications, as well as the fact that all High Times events would now be organized with 420 as a central theme. Instead, it seemed my eureka moment had been awarded zero credibility.
    Around six years later, I got an email from Mike Esterson, the Cup’s producer, concerning a group in San Francisco claiming to have originated 420. The thing I liked most about that initial email was the group’s assurance they weren’t looking to extort money, but only wanted 420 Tours and the Cannabis Cup to know how the whole 420 code had started. At that time, 420 Tours had the biggest website using 420, which is why the Waldos had reached out to them. After six years, the Cannabis Cup had become the center of energy on 420—and because it was a global event, the holiday had been spreading around the world like a virus.
    I spent a few days with the Waldos, retracing their steps and examining their evidence, which was considerable and included postmarked letters and other material that could be dated conclusively to the early 1970s. When I returned to the office, I showed highlights from the video I shot and began working on an article detailing why the Waldos were the true creators of 420.
    Meanwhile—wouldn’t you know it?—Bloom had started a campaign to kill my story, claiming the Waldos were fakes! So imagine my surprise when, a few years back, Bloom was quoted in a Huffington Post declaring that the Waldos were, in fact, the true originators of 420. At the same time, he also insisted that the code had been spread primarily through the Grateful Dead and that High Times had little to do with it.
    Unfortunately, that concession didn’t last long, since in the fall of 2012, Bloom wrote a new account of the origin of 420, claiming that the Waldos stole the term from a fellow student at San Rafael High School, a person who supposedly took a bong hit one day in 1970 and then uttered the words, “Four score and twenty years ago …. ”
    Only one problem: This new person claiming to have been there at the birth of 420 has not one shred of evidence to back up his story. It’s hilarious how Bloom and I have become so entwined in the history of 420, constantly bickering over the details and never agreeing on much of anything. Not too long ago, a graffiti artist from Florida visited me and said (with great conviction) that he’d originated the tag “Stay High 149”—the most famous tag in graffiti history. This artist was so convincing and so self-assured that I actually gave him the benefit of the doubt for a while. But before long, I came to my senses and realized that the dude didn’t have an iota of proof to back up his claim. And this is the territory Bloom finds himself in today as the anniversary of our stoner holiday rolls around.

  5. 420 Marijuana Term Waldo Originators Debunk New 420 Claim

    More than a decade ago, a group of fellows called the Waldos from Marin County, California came forward to explain how they created the term “420” as a euphemism for marijuana back in the early 1970’s. Multiple pieces of evidence proving their story were examined by legitimate press and reported by credible news organizations such as The Los Angeles Times, Reuters News, High Times Magazine, ABC News, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and, most extensively, here in The Huffington Post.

    In October of last year, a web-based marijuana stoners website, 420 Magazine, launched a story about some nebulous and scattered fellows calling themselves the “Bebes”, claiming that they (the Bebes) created 420. The 420 Magazine story is based 100 percent on hearsay, with not one shred of evidence or proof to back anything up, and is filled with numerous absolute, outright lies about the Waldos. The Waldos even hold physical evidence, examined by legitimate press, that helps prove that the Bebes are lying.

    Anybody anywhere can make anything up at any time, especially about things that happened forty plus years ago. We have seen many other groups around the country try to claim and make up things about 420, but nobody anywhere has any proof with scientifically verifiable evidence except us. Nothing the opposing Bebe group says about the Bebes 420 origination claim can be accurately verified. And when the Bebes suggest that there might be evidence to support their stories, the writer of the 420 Magazine article himself discovers (supported by the Bebes own admissions) and unveils that it was all “lost, stolen, and has mysteriously disappeared.” The primary recurring theme throughout the entire 420 Magazine article is that Bebes are notorious pranksters, casting serious doubt on their story and intentions. The vast breadth and depth of detailed, physical-evidence proof supporting the Waldos stories speak for itself as to the true story of origination of the 420 phenomena.

    The Waldos have always told the truth about their adventures, and do have multiple pieces (and growing) of objective, verifiable, physical evidence-proof to help back up their story that they were using the term 420 as a weed reference before anybody else in the world.  These items are all preserved in a bank vault, have been examined by legitimate respectable journalists, and continue to be available for inspection by official Press.

    The Waldos have heard many dozens of theories and stories about 420 from all over America.  We have heard stories from our hometown, from people who knew us from way back when, and local residents who did not know us.  New stories always emerge, and many of the old ones we have heard continually mutate with the addition of time, drugs, dreams and old-fashioned storytelling.  And there is never any evidence or proof to back up these false claims.  More recently we have heard of a group up in Minnesota that claimed they started 420 in the late 60’s, and of another group in San Jose, CA, that claims they used to meet at a Round Table Pizza Parlor at 4:20 in 1969.  The bottom line is anybody can make up any story about anything and put it at any period of time, especially when it was many decades ago.  But you need proof.  That’s like someone saying, “Hey everybody, I was a golf caddy for England’s WWII leader Winston Churchill in the year of 1969!”….  “It’s true because I just said it!”  

    The Waldos stand by our true story of 420 origination about meeting at the Louis Pasteur statue at San Rafael High at 4:20PM during the 1971 school year to smoke and go to Pt. Reyes.  Every question and doubt that has ever been raised by a Mr. Guy Perry (aka Bone Boy) and Bebes about these experiences has been answered.

    For decades, our Waldo story of 420 origination was the only one we ever knew or heard of.  All of the Waldos knew the Bebe earlier in 1970 and none of them ever heard the Bebe say or write the phrase 420 then. The Waldos never used the term 420 before the Louis Pasteur statue meetings and weed hunting journeys. Five of us Waldos NEVER heard Bebes, or anyone else, use the number 420 as a marijuana reference before the Waldos started using it. Brad Bann (aka Bebe) never met with the Waldos at the statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 in the fall of 71–he wasn’t on any of the Pt. Reyes weed hunts and did not give the term to the Waldos. As a matter of fact, there is verifiable evidence that Bebe wasn’t even living in San Rafael, CA, and was not going to San Rafael High School during the Fall 71-72 school year when the Waldos first started using the term 420. His parents got divorced and he went off to live with his father in another city.  You won’t see Brad Bann’s name listed in the San Rafael fall 71-72 graduating class list/yearbook.

    The Waldos met at 4:20 for exactly all of the reasons we have discussed in the past:
    The time we got out of school, approximately 3PM.
    Some had after school sports activities that lasted until after 4PM.
    There was just enough time to get back to the statue of Louis Pasteur.
    To smoke and look for the pot fields drawn in a treasure map.

    Mr. Perry’s (aka Bone Boy) “420 Letter from Bone Boy” and his other writings have always made a big deal that the Waldos were leaving for Pt. Reyes Peninsula at 4:20PM, trying to establish some kind of doubt about it.  Everything the Waldos did was not implausible, and is a true story.  Yes, it was a late hour but there was still enough light to look for the pot for some period of time.  Yes, eventually the sunset did interfere with our ability to see.  Yes, we were driving home in the dark.  Yes, some guys did wait around after school was dismissed to return to the statue to meet the guys who were finishing up sports practice.  Yes, the Waldos did have homework and got it done, however, it was a lot less homework in 1971 than teens have these days.  Every one of Mr. Perry’s feeble attempts to establish a lack of credibility falls flat and can be answered.

    When a bunch of teenage Waldo boys are presented with a treasure map of free pot fields to pick grown by U.S. Coast Guard members, it is fully plausible, and was the true reality, that they would want to go and pick it.  It is plausible, and was the reality, that it would be witnessed in the moment as special/remarkable and would be remembered.

    Now lets look at the Bebes’ defining moment of inception.  These Bebe kids were smoking out numerous times a day, and there was nothing at all extraordinary or exceptionally unique about the day or time associated with their supposed inception.  It was just another time,… 3:20 is the same as 4:20 as is the same as 5:20.  There is absolutely no reason to witness it in the moment as a significant event or defining moment of inception.  Nothing odd happening; just another time on the clock when someone says only “it’s 4:20, lets take another bong.”  It is highly implausible that the moment would be remembered then or 40 years later.
    Lets look even closer at all the lies, falsehoods, and untruths in the Bebes unbalanced article.  The flawed article gives a lot of attention and focus to the naming of the Waldos. Contrary to what the article says, the Bebe did NOT name the Waldos and did NOT ordain the Waldos…those are outright absolute lies.  The Waldos were self named because they used to hang out on a “wall” at the San Rafael High School campus.  Thus, “Wall-dos”.  There is physical proof….the wall still exists today and it has been toured and filmed with journalists who do not just rely totally on phony hearsay.
    The article falsely tries to establish that the Bebe created the term Waldo as a euphemism for somebody who is an odd, awkward, goofy and out-of-place person.  Unfortunately for the Bebes, these deceptive statements, and focus, point right to even more existing physical evidence proving that the Bebe’s claims are untrue.  The term “A Waldo” as an odd person came from Comedian Buddy Hackett who was around long before all of us punks.  A few of us can remember Hackett on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (in Buddy’s funny voice) saying “You’re A Waldo, Shecky”.  He was telling a story referring to legendary Las Vegas comedian Shecky Green, another old timer of an earlier hipster generation.   One of the Waldos wrote a personal letter to comedian Shecky Green living in the Palm Springs area at the time, asking him to elaborate.  Shecky wrote back a letter explaining that Buddy would call him “A Waldo”, as an odd and goofy person, and that Buddy got that from the cartoon series Mr. Magoo.  Mr. Magoo’s odd and awkward nephew was Waldo.  (Look it up for yourselves!)  The personal letter from Shecky is in the Waldo’s safe deposit vault and is available for inspection by official Press.  The letter is not only signed and postmarked with the proper addresses, the entire letter is written out in Shecky’s own personal handwriting.  Conversely, the Bebes have absolutely no proof whatsoever of any of their statements and claims.  Buddy Hackett and Shecky Green surely did not get the term “A Waldo” from Bebe.

    The wider public is familiar with the usage of “Waldo” in the same context in the Where’s  Waldo books, which denoted an odd and out-of-place person.  The object was to find the odd Waldo amongst a sea of normal people.

    Furthermore, as the article very falsely suggests, the Waldos were not “uncoordinated” and “non athletic”; hundreds of people who knew them would be able to confirm that.  The Waldos were good athletes.   They were not the stars or captains of the teams, but they were certainly not the slow ones.  Even today, many of the Waldos are extremely fit, running or mountain biking up Marin County’s large mountains weekly.

    Over and over again, a common theme in the article– and in the Bebe group’s member’s very own words– is that the Bebe was a major “prankster.”  Students, friends, roommates, co-workers, girlfriends, and neighbors would NOT deny that he is the ultimate bullshitter of all bullshitters.  Even a teacher that was interviewed for the Bebes article admitted that Bebe was a prankster-bullshitter causing staff meetings.  With any strangers the bull is especially fierce and fast.  Most importantly though, nobody can ever know whether anything coming out his mouth is fact or fiction, which is not a trustworthy or reliable circumstance for any credible journalistic interviewer.  The credibility trail ends instantly and there is never any sure proof of anything.
    Some readers here may not be aware of earlier articles detailing multiple pieces of evidence that the Waldos have to support their stories.  This includes multiple pieces of early 70’s U.S. Postmarked dated mail between the Waldos which refers to “Waldo(s)” and “420” in marijuana context.  Some of the mail is international.  Nobody on earth can produce any solid proof of any earlier usage of 420, including the Bebes. One letter refers to the Waldo’s connection to the Grateful Dead, which was confirmed directly by the Huffington Post with Dead bassist Phil Lesh.  The Waldos have a batik tie-die style 420 flag which was produced by a friend Patty in her San Rafael High School arts and crafts class in the 71-72 school year.  There are official 1971-1972 San Rafael High School School Record Transcripts that have been obtained as support for the Waldos which marks the class where she created the 420 flag.  The flag can be approximately dated by forensic labs or auction houses.  This is in addition to Patty’s postmarked early 70’s letters with references to the flag.  There is even an original 1970’s San Rafael High School Red and White School Newspaper with student reference to 420.

    What do the Bebes have? Nothing, nothing and more nothing to substantiate anything.  Not one shred of proof.  In interviews, the Bebes keep referring to reel to reel tapes suggesting that they would prove 420 usage that would predate the Waldos.  The 420 Magazine journalist interviewing Bebes states in the writer’s own exact words, “When asked if anyone possibly had any of the reel to reel prank calls and/or random audio recordings of the Bebe with 420; Bebe lost all of his, Wild Du’s were stolen and Bone Boy’s mysteriously disappeared.”  Anybody today could make a new reel to reel tape and say it was created at any time in the past.

    The various interviews with Bebes include some true things about the Bebes and their adventures, but they also include some blatantly false statements about the Waldos. Two of the Dixon brothers said that the “Waldos have admitted that the Bebes coined 420″.  These statements are 100% total and absolute LIES.  The Waldos have never ever said any such thing at any time.
    In another Bebes interview, Thorgy or Thorgersen claims that “Waldo Steve Capper is an opportunist.” That Thorgy statement is certainly another lie with no merit; Capper has not received any money for anything having to do with 420 in over 41 years.  Forty one years speaks for itself.  If he were an an opportunist, he would have done so by now.  The only reason his name is in the press is because he has an office in the city downtown district where Waldos are able to coordinate with press asking for information or those press asking to view the pieces of evidence proof.  Never did Capper seek any individual credit.  All of the Waldos have homes and/or are financially stable; there are no pressing or financial-opportunistic needs.  They have had physical evidence proof of 420 and contacts with media news organizations for decades and could have taken advantage of it more extensively.

    The reverse is more likely– that some Bebes are in need and that these sudden lies are economically motivated.  The news stories about the Waldos have already been in the news for fourteen years and the Bebes have been well aware of them.  The Waldos have been researched and covered by credible news organizations with high journalistic standards, such as Los Angeles Times, NY Times, Playboy, Reuters News Service, Esquire, Sacramento Bee, Huffington Post, Wired Magazine, and High Times.  That the Bebes are fully aware of it for fourteen years, and just now come out with stories rife with their memories of convenience when it comes to 420 origination, raises red flags about the timing.  The Waldos certainly have sympathy and compassion for anybody that might be having hard times or economic difficulty, but telling outright lies about the Waldos is not a spirited or easy way out.

    Much of the Bebes article discusses the many other phrases, nicknames and sounds that the Bebe made up.  That isn’t any proof of 420 inception, or that the Bebes were any more apt to make up 420 than the Waldos.  The article never discusses that the Waldos group itself was extremely prolific since the early 70’s, and continues to be, with hundreds of original funny and unique catch phrases, nicknames, odd noises, antics, slang terms, etc..  420 was only the tip of the iceberg of the entire Waldo culture. A few years ago, the Waldos put together an entire Waldo dictionary of the hundreds of these vocal varieties.  They already had a Waldo420 website up since the late 1990’s with some of these phrases– fourteen years before the Bebes article.

    Lastly, a basic principle of journalistic integrity is missing in the Bebes story; in a hasty rush to print, 420 Magazine printed nothing but total hearsay about the Waldos and never talked with the Waldos themselves.  The Waldos can accept that the Bebes article may have been more of a fun attempt at playful sensationalism.   The Bebes article mentioned that all the Bebes interviewed told the same story.  They failed to mention that they interviewed Bebes, including a fellow Bebe in Southern California named Craig (aka Saundyman), that could not verify or confirm Bebes 420 invention claim or earlier usage than the Waldo’s.  Craig did NOT tell the exact same story.  They conveniently left those interview matters out.  Again, the Waldos understand all the fun for 420 Magazine that goes along with being playfully sensationalistic, if not accurate.  In good spirit, The Waldos wish Rob Griffin and 420 Magazine nothing but the best of luck and remain open to cordial dialogue

  6. The first I ever heard the term 420 was in High School in 1970 A bunch of us who had detention got out at 420 after most students had left,so we would go behind the FFA barn and light up .We needed a code because back then you could go to jail for 2 to 5 years for a matchbox of weed

  7. school out at 3.30 detention 50min =420 parking lot boys fire em doobies up