4/20 4:20? What does it mean?

The ’80s & the ’90s were filled with its own unique slang, expressions like Phat, Dope, and
Gnarly. Although it started long before, in the early 1970s, one expression I remember growing like wildfire in the 1980s and 1990s was the use of the code word “420”. This expression was everywhere and seemed to invade all aspects of our growing American culture. It was referenced in all of the Dueling Decades Categories! Our music was filled with 420 references whether it was Hip-Hop or even classics like Dylan who years before gave us “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” (12 multiplied by 35 does equal 420). On television contestants on “The Price is Right” would always bid $420 and then we heard it again in mainstream movies like “Pulp Fiction”. But where did it come from? This always puzzled me as a youth. What does it mean, and why does it mean that?

The origins of the term are linked back to five California teenagers who used to hang outside their San Rafael school near a wall. This helped them coin their first term, a name for the group “The Waldos”. In the Fall of 1971, the five Waldos would learn of a U.S. Coast Guard member who had planted some Marijuana plants and could no longer tend to them. So, like we all would have done in our youth, they packed up and headed out to search for the cannabis crop. Each day after school the Waldos would meet up at a new spot and new time. 4:20 (after practice as all five of them were athletes). The new spot was a statue of Louis Pasteur. As the teens would pass each other in the hall throughout the day they would remind each other of the time and place for the meet up to once again search for the lost leafy green. “4:20 Louis” they would call out, eventually dropping the Louis part. As the expression grew amongst their circle of friends and beyond it began to reach popular culture as members of the Grateful Dead and other popular California based bands would hear the term used by fans & friends and just organically pick up on it.

Louis Pasteur statue at San Rafael High School in California. (Credit: Sapphic)

Although it incorrectly states the origins of “420” as an police code. Here is the first public publication of an article where 420 is openly talked about.

High Times, May 1991. Credit: Huffington Post


“Four-twenty started in San Rafael, CA in’ the late ’70s. It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in
Progress. After local heads heard of the police call, they started using the expression ‘420’ when referring to the
herb–‘Let’s go 420, dude!’ After awhile something magical started to happen. People began getting stoned at 4:20 am and/or pm. There’s something fantastic about getting ripped at 4:20, when you know your brothers and sisters all over the country and even the planet are lighting up and tokin’ up right along with you. Now, there’s something even more grand than getting baked at 4:20. We’re talking about the day of celebration, the real time to get high, the grand master of all holidays: 4/20, or April 20th. This is when you must get the day off work or school. We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpias. Just go to downtown Mill Valley, find a stoner and ask where Bolinas Ridge is. If you make it to Marin, you will definitely find it.

HELPFUL HINTS: Take extra care that nothing is going to go wrong within that minute. No heavy winds, no cops,
no messed-up lighters. Get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore. ”

So to celebrate the High Holy Day here is a playlist of some of our favorite 420 inspired songs from the ’80s & ’90s for your listening pleasure.