“They’ve outlawed the No. 1 vegetable on the planet.”
— Timothy Leary
In the fall of 1971, a group of boys who called themselves the Waldos (because their preferred hangout spot was a wall outside of San Rafael High School) received a very exclusive tip from a friend.
The Waldos caught wind that a Coast Guard member by the name of Gary Newman could no longer tend to his marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. And he needed them gone.
Abuzz about the prospect, the Waldos — which included Steve Capper, Mark Gravitch, Dave Reddix and a couple of other guys — all agreed to meet at the Louis Pasteur statue outside of the school at the mutually convenient time of 4:20 p.m.
“We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ‘66 Chevy Impala,” Capper told HuffPo, “and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Point Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week. We never actually found the patch.”
Although they never found Newman’s up-for-grabs weed, they did discover amongst themselves a useful code word.
“I could say to one of my friends, I’d go, ‘420,’ and it was telepathic,” said Capper. “He would know if I was saying, ‘Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?’ Or, ‘Do you have any?’ Or, ‘Are you stoned right now?’ It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it. Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”
From small town code to global buzzword
Meanwhile, San Francisco’s hippie utopia, The Haight, was falling to con artists and speed freaks. As a result, the Grateful Dead packed up and headed for greener pastures. This time, to the hills of Marin County — only a few blocks from San Rafael High.
This decision by the Dead to move to the Marin, as it happened, gave the Waldos nearly unfettered access to the band. More importantly, it gave them an inroad to the subsequent counterculture which fluttered around them — the so-called Deadheads.
Their first “in” was when Mark Gravitch’s father took care of the band’s real estate upon their arrival. And then Dave Reddix’s older brother became good friends with Dead bassist Phil Lesh.
The Waldos started showing up to Dead rehearsals and then to the parties. And in smoke circle after smoke circle, the Dead community became more and more familiar with the Waldo code word — eventually to take it on themselves, finding it quite useful in the “default world.”
It didn’t take long, then, for the 420 meme to infect the whole Dead community. And, naturally, Steve Hager, then editor of High Times, eventually became plugged into the phrase.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I started incorporating it into everything we were doing,” Hager told HuffPo back in 2009. “I started doing all these big events — the World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and the Cannabis Cup — and we built everything around 420. The publicity that High Times gave it is what made it an international thing. Until then, it was relatively confined to the Grateful Dead subculture. But we blew it out into an international phenomenon.”
And there you have it.
Despite common myths on the subject, 420 didn’t start as a police dispatch code. California’s penal code isn’t 420, either. Nor are there 420 compounds in the cannabis plant.
The term 420 began with a group of high school kids who simply wanted to be able to talk about weed in front of their teachers and parents.
New code words for marijuana’s history books
The marijuana industry has come a long way since the Waldo days.
What was once an entirely black market operation is now mainstreaming — with a whole new set of code words being murmured amongst marijuana’s cultural elites.
This time, though, these codes are spread not by a small group of high schoolers and Deadheads, but instead by America’s burgeoning new class of “marijuana millionaires.”
Indeed, these new “codes” are more than just a way to keep the uninitiated in the dark. Rather, they point to tiny, publicly traded companies most set to explode as marijuana becomes a mainstream above-ground commodity.
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today
P.S. Tread carefully if you find yourself in Wyoming, MN today. Word on the street is the coppers are on the prowl — and they’re pulling out the entire bag of tricks.
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