Clearing the air on the origins of 420, the unofficial national marijuana holiday

The origins of the holiday are a bit fuzzy.

April 19, 2019, 5:00 AM

The origins of the so-called pot holiday "420" are — fittingly — fuzzy.

Some people will say that the holiday's name traces back to a police code. Others, meanwhile, believe that something happened on April 20 many years ago. The near-universal consensus, however, is that "420" is a reference to the time of day.

Weed lore dictates that in the early 1970s, a group of teens attending San Rafael High School, about 19 miles north of San Francisco, would as a code word of sorts to indicate a smoke session after school.

The group of teens, who reportedly dubbed themselves "the Waldos," would whisper "420 Louis" to one another in the halls as a way to spread word that they'd be meeting at 4:20 p.m. near the school's statue of Louis Pasteur.

"Back then, we spent every day of our lives worrying about getting busted. Going to buy was a really secret thing," Waldo member Steve Capper told The San Francisco Chronicle.

PHOTO: A woman smokes marijuana in this undated stock photo.
A woman smokes marijuana in this undated stock photo.
STOCK/Getty Images

While it started as something of an inside joke, "420" has stuck. It is still used to this day as a code among people who are marijuana friendly.

Dan Skye, a longtime editor at High Times magazine, told ABC News in 2011 that while the number's relationship to marijuana began in San Rafael, it's gone well past that.

"It's basically just a celebration of cannabis. It's mushroomed into our unofficial national holiday," Skye said at the time.

Now that marijuana has been legalized in a number of states and decriminalized in many others, the secretive — and sometimes paranoid — allure of a huddled smoke may be fading. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 66% of Americans now support marijuana legalization, an increase from 60% in 2016 and 31% in 2000.

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