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How Did 420 Become a Toker Tradition

Oh, the wonder of our beloved holiday! Live music, food trucks, bundle deals and freebies as far as our red eyes can see. Retailers spend months planning for the 20th day of April and for good reason. 420 is often explained as the St. Paddy’s Day for stoners (minus the car bomb shots and vomit) and brings in crowds from far and wide. The last time I worked retail on a 420, it was a slushy, nasty Michigan day, yet we still saw over 500 people. Many a midnight toker has spent their day bouncing around to the different dispensaries to collect as much free stuff as they possibly can. These goodies can range from bud to Bic lighters and bandanas, with purchase of course.

In preparation for the circus ahead of us, I had asked my staff that morning to retell the story of how the holiday got its roots, as the question would be asked over and over again throughout the day. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed to find that not one of the dozen stoners in front of me really knew, so I gathered them around for the details behind the folklore.

It is easy to get this story wrong, as there are many variations and urban legends surrounding the date and its meaning. Some believe that it is the number of active chemicals in Marijuana (NIH states 540)[1], some reference it to Hitler’s birthday (in 1889) and others credit Bob Dylan and his tune “Rainy Day Woman No. 12 & 35” for the lyrics “everybody must get stoned” because 12 multiplied by 35 does, in fact equal 420[2] And if you are a baseball fan, you should know that both Fenway and Tiger Stadium both opened on April 20th, 1912.[3]

But the reality is that the roots of the 420 legend can be traced back to 5 teenage athletes who attended San Rafael High School in California. In true stoner simplicity, they coined themselves “The Waldos” from the actual wall they would hang out at on campus. They had caught wind in the fall of 1971 that a member of the Coast Guard had planted a crop of unattended weed in the area, and it was even said that there was a “treasure” map drawn by the Coastie himself. So, the quintet began meeting at the Louis Pasteur statue outside of the school at 4:20pm at least once a week in search of the field of green. They never did find the unsecured crop, but the term 420 stuck around, as a way for teens to reference pot without the adults being any the wiser.[4] 


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