Potheads, also known as stoners, continually steal the sign denoting Mile 420 on the Colorado stretch of I-70 east of Denver. And, after replacing it several times, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) resorted to counter measures: a sign that’s implanted in the ground just shy of mile four-hundred-and-twenty: Mile 419.99
Although, you can still see an image of the original Mile 420 marker if you go to Google Street View and type in “image for the 420th mile of I-70.” But, that’s all that remains.
If you were never a pothead, you might not get the significance of the term “420,” which is embraced by marijuana smokers and the cannabis counterculture that signifies anything marijuana-related, really. You can find it on T shirts, bumper stickers, even jewelry; it’s a sort of code word that pothead brethren use amongst themselves.
The origin of the term 420, which is actually recognized worldwide by pot smokers who organize gatherings from New York to New Zealand to celebrate every April 20th (4/20), has long been obscured. I have heard so many differing stories as to where the term “420” came from – it’s the number of active chemicals in marijuana, it’s police code for a marijuana-related infraction, it’s teatime in Holland, it’s somehow related to Hitler’s birthday – which is April 20th and so on.
A true-blue pothead until I got clean, I always thought the police code theory had the most credence. However, it has nothing to do with a police code. The term 420 was coined back in 1971 in California by a group of friends who called themselves the “Waldos” – so named for their chosen hang-out spot – a wall outside the San Rafael High School, where they were students at the time.
The story goes like this: after hearing about an abandoned cannabis crop in a Point Reyes, California forest, the Waldos agreed to meet at the statue of Louis Pasteur outside the school at 4:20, after practice, to begin the search. The Waldos would remind one another when they passed in the halls by saying the phrase “4:20 Louis.”
“We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis and we eventually dropped the Louis [part],” Waldo Steve tells the Huffington Post.
“We’d meet at 4:20 and get in my old ’66 Chevy Impala and, of course, we’d smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Pt. Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week, [but] we never actually found the patch.”
The Waldos never thought that pot smokers all over the world would be celebrating annually on 4/20 as a result of their excursions into that California forest in search of green gold; today, it has managed to become something of an international holiday, even in places, such as the U.S. where marijuana is still illegal.
The code term 420 is still widely used today and even pops up in pop culture and mainstream culture. For example, in the movie Pulp Fiction, all of the clocks are set to 4:20 and in 2003, the California legislature named the voter-approved medical marijuana bill SB420.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.