The Story of 420

As today is 4/20, I decided that I either need to write about Adolf Hitler, as today is his birthday, or marijuana. Other than being the number one, all-time most wanted target in time-travel related murders, I don’t know a whole lot about Adolf Hitler. I think I got Mein Kampf out of the library once in high school, but that was just so that I would appear to be complicated. I never read it. To this day I still assume that it is a coming of age story about a young mustachioed boy at summer camp. Sort of a German Salute Your Shorts.

Anyway, instead I’d like to talk today about marijuana and its relation to the number 420. I’ve heard the expression so many times and have never known what it means. So I decided to go to Wikipedia to do some research because I am a hard-hitting investigative journalist. Apparently the reference isn’t the police code for drug use, and doesn’t refer to the number of active chemicals in marijuana, both of which were rumors I heard in high school. To quote Wikipedia:

The earliest use of the term began among a group of teenagers in San Rafael, California in 1971.[2][3] Calling themselves the Waldos, because “their chosen hang-out spot was a wall outside the school,”[4] the group first used the term in connection to a fall 1971 plan to search for an abandoned cannabis crop that they had learned about.[5] The Waldos designated the Louis Pasteur statue on the grounds of San Rafael High School as their meeting place, and 4:20 p.m. as their meeting time.[4] The Waldos referred to this plan with the phrase “4:20 Louis”. Multiple failed attempts to find the crop eventually shortened their phrase to simply “4:20”, which ultimately evolved into a codeword the teens used to mean pot-smoking in general.[5]

Now, first of all, this is the stupidest thing I have ever read.  There was a group of kids in 1971 who called themselves the Waldos. Why? Because they hung out next to a wall. So we’re clearly dealing with some really creative and interesting kids. Here is how I think the exchange went when the kids determined their gang’s name.

“Hey bro. We all hang out a lot together. We should call ourselves something.”

“Yeah bro, but what? What is the thing that defines us all as people? What unifying object will be the beacon for our communal spirit?”

“We hang out next to this wall a lot. Maybe the Wallies?”

“No bro. The Waldos. Way cooler.”

“Hey bro? Never change.”

“Disco sucks bro. I can’t believe Nixon is gonna visit China. Let’s go to a key party.”

So anyway, they hear about a mysterious cannabis cache that has been abandoned and decide to put their wall-heads together to find it. Their meeting place is a Louis Pasteur statue and their meeting time is 4:20pm, which is the time of day you should plan to meet if you really want to attack a project head on and give it your all. They referred to the plan as “4:20 Louis,” but “[m]ultiple failed attempts to find the crop eventually shortened their phrase to simply “4:20″”. So as they tried and failed to find a cache of marijuana over and over again, they didn’t give up on the project itself but instead decided to drop those two elephantine syllables that were just weighing them down the whole time and just call it “4:20.” Seems about right. Superfluously titled plan names are always holding people back. The Marshall Plan, for example, was originally called Operation Let’s Help Europe Out After All That Stuff Happened To Them Because We Don’t Want Them All To Become Communists and Revolt Against Our American Ideologies.  And then George Marshall was all “I made this up, so let’s just name it after me.” And then Europe was totally fine you guys.

Anyway, that’s the whole story, you guys. Well, actually, not entirely. I did a little bit more research beyond Wikipedia (cuz I’m motherfucking Mike Wallace* and shit) and found this Huffington Post article which gives a bit more detail to the story, namely that they did not ever find the mythical patch of weed. THEY NEVER EVEN FOUND IT. Also, it talks about how they would smoke before looking for the weed, while en route to find the weed, and once they had gotten to where they thought the weed was. Why were they looking for weed? It sounds like they had SO MUCH WEED. That’s like eating a steak while making a reservation at Bennigan’s, stopping at McDonald’s on the way to Bennigan’s and then eating a whole pizza while in the parking lot at Bennigan’s. And Bennigan’s is a fantastic restaurant, obviously, but what’s the point in going there on a full stomach?

I’m not really sure what kind of origin story would have satisfied me. Especially for a phrase that I associate with a kid I knew in college who observed the 420 ritual each day in his dorm room which was covered with posters of tie-dyed aliens smoking weed and asking me to take them to my dealer.But I just hoped that it would be a little more interesting than this. So on this 4/20, I urge you to smoke to your heart’s content, and come up with your own 420 origin story. It can involve anything! Pirates! Sex demons! Bronson Pinchot! Just as long as it is more engaging than a bunch of morons who hung out by a wall and heard a rumor about weed and decided on an arbitrary time to meet up. I think America deserves better.


9 responses to “The Story of 420”

  1. LP says:

    Mmm, Bennigan’s. I loved that place in high school.

  2. josh k-sky says:

    This feels germane. Though it might be spoilery to say exactly why.

  3. Andrew says:

    That is glorious.

  4. LP says:

    Nobody’s commenting. What a bunch of Waldos.

  5. Andrew says:

    Eh, it’s okay, they’re probably all high as kites.

  6. LP says:

    For all the Waldos, one of my favorite movie trailers: Marihuana, Weed with Roots in Hell!

  7. LP says:

    Whoa… and while we’re at it, here’s a little PSA from the same time period warning about predatory homosexuals. Beware of people who are TOO FRIENDLY!


  8. swells says:

    Okay, so I read the same story of the Waldos in the journalistically hard-hitting campus paper this week, and thought to myself, “She doesn’t even mention that 420 is the police code for an MJ bust?”. Then when you didn’t mention it either, I googled it to find (from trusty Snopes) that that’s just an urban legend! Duuude! I was so moted! So I ate a bag of Bugles and watched the Wall again.

  9. Darla says:

    Gee, guys, I just got back from this great weenie roast! What’s happening over here?