Each year, a high-profile holiday is celebrated on April 20. On this unofficial holiday, people from cities all over the world like Denver, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Montreal get together to smoke a nice joint and promote legalization if it is not already there. Over the years, many urban legends seeking to explain the origin of the holiday have been readily accepted. Vêtements La Perle Noire released a t-shirt making reference to this day, and as such it seemed important to take a closer look at the holiday’s true origins.
Let’s first look at it in Montreal’s context. It was assumed that the holiday was in reggae singer Bob Marley’s memory. A great many people suggested that because it was the anniversary of his death and that he was a fervent weed smoker, you had to smoke a big one in his honor. Elsewhere on the planet, it was said that 420 was the code to designate narcotics, that it was the amount of active chemicals in weed or, even, that it was to highlight Adolph Hitler’s birthday.
All these urban legends are little more than that. Nesta Marley, a.k.a. Bob Marley, was born on February 6 1945 and died on May 11 1981 at the age of 36. 4/20 as a code tied to narcotics does not exist, a Vice article mentions that the active ingredient count adds up to 315, and there is no concrete evidence tying the tradition and Adolph Hitler’s birthday.
You must be wondering, then, what the true origin of the date is. Vice, Time, the Huffington Post and Esquire mention that it all started in 1971 in Marin County, California, with five young students that called themselves The Waldos. The group was made up of Mark Gravitch, Dave Reddix, Steve Camper, and two others who preferred to remain anonymous. The other members were nicknamed Waldo Mark, Waldo Dave, and Waldo Steve. They named themselves so as they often loitered on walls near San Rafael High School. These kids met every afternoon at 4:20 in the shadow of the statue of French microbiologist Louis Pasteur to go on a quest to find a mythical, supposedly abandoned weed plantation, all while smoking one or two joints near the Point Reyes station. The plantation was allegedly never found.
The tradition was passed on as Waldo Dave’s older brother knew the Grateful Dead’s bass player, who for 35 years took the association of 420 with weed consumption on tour all around the world. Which explains why the tradition is so widespread. The Waldo members showed proof of their origins: a 4/20 flag from the 70s, and stamped letters with the code 4/20, from those same years.
To conclude, you now know that the 420 tradition started with a group of young Californians who would meet at 4:20 to smoke weed and engage in covert activities using the number as a code related to weed before becoming a worldwide unofficial holiday.
Translated by Juan Castro