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The Waldos and the Birth of 4/20: How a Secret Code Became a Global Phenomenon

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The Waldos and the Birth of 4/20: How a Secret Code Became a Global Phenomenon

The Waldos and the Birth of 4/20: How a Secret Code Became a Global Phenomenon

The story of 4/20 and its origins with the Waldos is one that has captured the imagination of cannabis enthusiasts around the world. What started as a joke between five high schoolers has now become a worldwide phenomenon associated with cannabis use and activism.

It all began in the fall of 1971 when five high school students in San Rafael, California, known as the Waldos, hatched a plan to search for a rumoured abandoned cannabis crop. The Waldos agreed to meet at 4:20 pm every day to search for the elusive stash, using the code phrase "420 Louis" to remind each other of their daily rendezvous.

Although the Waldos never found the fabled crop, their secret code phrase and meeting time took on a life of its own, eventually evolving into the cultural phenomenon we now know as 4/20. Today, the legacy of the Waldos lives on through the millions of people around the world who celebrate 4/20 as a day to come together and celebrate the culture surrounding cannabis.

From small gatherings of friends to massive festivals and events, 4/20 has become a global celebration of all things cannabis.


420 Louis: The secret code that became a cultural phenomenon

Louis Pasteur statue at San Rafael

The members of the Waldos, Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, Jeffrey Noel, Larry Schwartz, and Mark Gravich called themselves "The Waldos" because they sat atop a wall in the middle of their school's campus cracking jokes, speaking in their own secret language and creating their own code words.

A friend of the Waldos brought them a hand-drawn map purported to lead them to a Coast Guard's abandoned garden of cannabis near Point Reyes— situated on the coast of Northern California. So, every day, the Waldos agreed to meet at the Louis Pasteur statue in front of their school at 4:20 pm, which they referred to as “420 Louis”, to search for the lost crop.

Eventually, Louis was dropped from the phrase, and the Waldos adopted 4/20 as a universal code for cannabis use. Though the Waldos never found the abandoned cannabis crop, their secret code made its way through San Rafael-area high schools and beyond. This grassroots movement began to take shape, and the term slowly spread to other parts of California in the 70s and 80s.


Rock and roll high: The Grateful Dead's legacy with 4/20

The spread of 4/20 was given a major boost by the Grateful Dead, a legendary psychedelic rock band from Palo Alto, California. The Dead were known to be big proponents of cannabis use and had a loyal following of dedicated fans.

Dave Reddix, one of the Waldos, was a friend of the band and the Waldos would sometimes spend time with them backstage at their shows. It was here that the phrase "420" spread to members of the band, who then shared it with fans across the country.

On December 28, 1990, a Deadhead handed out flyers at a concert inviting people to get together and smoke "420" at 4:20 pm on April 20th. This flyer is considered to be the first official announcement of 4/20 and acted as a call to arms for cannabis users across the country.

One of the flyers ended up in the hands of a writer for High Times magazine, who ran an article in 1991 about the flyer and referenced 420 as the police code for cannabis smoking in progress. Although this police code was incorrect, the High Times article helped to spread the phrase and cement 4/20 as an iconic celebration of cannabis culture.

By the late 90s and early 2000s, 4/20 had become an established phrase in cannabis culture and began to spread around the world. Today it's celebrated as a global holiday honouring cannabis use and activism.

Original Deadhead 4/20 flyer


4/20 goes mainstream: Celebrating cannabis culture in Canada

For Canadians, the legalization of cannabis for recreational use in 2018 brought a new dimension to the celebration of 4/20. Though the renegade days of public smoking are in the past, the holiday is still an important event for cannabis enthusiasts and activists.

Thousands of people attend 4/20 events around the country to celebrate their love of cannabis with like-minded individuals. From Vancouver's iconic 4/20 rally at Sunset Beach to events in cities and towns across the country, Canadians are using 4/20 as an opportunity to come together and commemorate the culture of cannabis.

This year, Herbal Dispatch will be celebrating at the 4/20 Block Party, hosted by the Book Club and Burb. The event promises to be a joyous gathering, complete with music, art, food and of course, cannabis. If you’re in Vancouver looking for a way to enjoy 4/20 this year, join in on what promises to be an unforgettable celebration!

No matter where you are in the country, it is truly a time to come together and commemorate how far we’ve come in the cannabis revolution. 4/20 is a chance to look back at the history of cannabis use and activism while looking forward to a future in which cannabis is fully accepted and appreciated.


A puff of history: The legacy of 4/20 lives on

From a small group of high school students in San Rafael to a global phenomenon celebrated by millions, the story of 4/20 is a testament to the enduring power of cannabis culture. It's a day to come together, share our love of cannabis, and reflect on the journey that has led us here.

Whether you're attending a festival, gathering with friends, or simply enjoying some quality time with your favourite strains, take a moment to appreciate the community that has grown around cannabis and the role it plays in our lives.

So, let's raise a joint to 4/20 and the history of cannabis culture that has brought us together. Here's to the future of cannabis and all that lies ahead! Happy 4/20!


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