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The History of 420

The History of 420: How a group of teens from Marin County started an international holiday which led to a collaboration with one of our favorite brands, Chemistry.

Each year on April 20 people around the world celebrate the gift of cannabis. The 4/20 holiday, which has become synonymous with lighting up a joint, has been taking place for more than 40 years, but the origins of the celebration have mostly remained mysterious. Where did the term “420” come from?

Many people wonder about the history of 420. Some people mention a Bob Dylan song, while others believe it’s a police code indicating someone in possession of cannabis. However, the true story behind 4/20 starts out much like many epic storylines of the last century. A group of friends decides to set out an awesome adventure to find a hidden treasure.

The Waldos – Mark Gravich, Jeff Noel, Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, and Larry Schwartz, also known as the Waldos,
coined a term while attending high school in San Rafael, Cali. that would later become the international code of
cannabis. (Photo provided by Chemistry)

That group of Marin County friends dubbed themselves “the Waldos” and in 1971 they made it their mission to find an abandoned pot grow allegedly located somewhere up the coast from San Francisco. The group of high school buddies, Mark Gravich, Jeff Noel, Steve Capper, Dave Reddix, and Larry Schwartz, were known as pranksters and goof-offs in their hometown of San Rafael, California.

“We use to sit on campus and do impressions of people walking by,” Waldo Dave (Reddix) said. The hippies would often hang out together sitting on a wall outside their school, thus becoming “the Waldos.”

A map was given to Waldo Steve (Capper) by a friend whose brother was in the U.S. Coast Guard. The map allegedly led to a crop of abandoned cannabis plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station.

An After-School Adventure

After school the Waldos would meet at 4:20 p.m. near a statue out front of their San Rafael High School, to get high and go on a safari to find the cannabis plot. Unfortunately, after weeks of searching, the weed grow was never found, but the 4/20 code became slang between the Waldos for “let’s go smoke some weed.”

420 Statue – In 1971 the Waldos would meet in front of this statue of chemist
Louis Pasteur at San Rafael High School at 4:20 p.m. to hash out their plan
and get high together.  
(Copyright 2019 Waldos LLC all rights reserved)

The 4/20 code got out to the masses through a  connection like no other. It came in the form of an influential rock band with a devoted fan base, the Grateful Dead. Waldo Dave (Reddix) had an older brother who was friends with Phil Lesh, Grateful Dead’s bassist. In the 1970s, Reddix’s brother managed Lesh’s side bands and offered Reddix a chance to work the shows.

During this time, Reddix shared the slang with other roadies, band members and Grateful Dead fans known as Deadheads. The 4/20 code spread like seeds across the country during the 1970s and ‘80s. As time moved on into the 1990s, theories began to swirl about where the 4/20 code came from.

The True History of 420

After hearing a wild assortment of theories, the Waldos decided it was time to dismiss the rumors and other false claims. A 1997 interview with the Waldos featured in High Times magazine officially set the record straight on where 4/20 originated and boosted the Waldos story even further into cannabis culture. The article was the first ever published about the group. It wasn’t until that year that the Waldos started seeing that the code had reached mainstream American youth.  

“We started seeing it on signs and painted on benches,” Reddix said.

Today “420” is a household word. There are countless celebrations, big and small, all over the globe on April 20, as well as products and websites with 4/20 references. A Google search leads to 1.9 billion results and it all began with five friends sitting on a wall in San Rafael.

Not too much has changed between the group of friends in 40 years. Waldo Steve (Capper) said the Waldos are still always up for an adventure.

“Everywhere we go it’s still the same fun vibe,” he said. “It’s our nature.”

They even have their own website documenting their adventures and sharing their story, visit it here. 

A Special 420 Collaboration with Chemistry

The Waldos consider themselves, “happy stoned ambassadors” and in that spirit, they have collaborated with Chemistry, an Oakland-based cannabis extract company, for a second year to unleash a new vape cartridge.

The Waldos said this year’s cartridge is old school, based on some of the strongest weed found in the 1970s, Panama Red.

Trevar Mazza, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Chemistry, said the company hunted down the old-school classic and it’s unlike anything they’ve created before.

“The micro batch of whole flower we processed was grown by Babylon Farms up in Mendocino. They sourced the seeds from a company that specializes in land race and heritage strains,” Mazza said. “It has a refreshingly crisp sweetness with a bit of pine on the backend, pretty uplifting on the front end with a pleasant tingling sensation around the third eye. It’s a bit of a creeper though, surprisingly strong given the lower THC percentage.”

The 1971 Panama Red vape is extremely unique thanks to that 1:1 balanced CBD to THC ratio. You can find the limited 1971 Panama Red cartridge from Chemistry at Solful, as a special release on 4/20!

Visit Solful on 4/20 for your chance to take home one of the limited release Waldo cartridges, plus one of the 420 Gift Bags filled with some of your favorite cannabis products!

Written By: E.I. Hillin

E.I. Hillin is a freelance journalist with a passion for storytelling and cannabis. 

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