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The first time I ran into the term “420” as a reference to marijuana smoking was last year when I was writing my magazine piece about pot legalization. Why did it take until I was age 50 to hear about this? Because I’m practically Mormon in my personal habits and for some reason the term has never really gotten a lot of play in mass culture. But just for fun, here’s Ryan Grim explaining where it came from:

A group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos — by virtue of their chosen hang-out spot, a wall outside the school — coined the term in 1971. The Huffington Post spoke with Waldo Steve, Waldo Dave and Dave’s older brother, Patrick, and confirmed their full names and identities, which they asked to keep secret for professional reasons. (Pot is still, after all, illegal.)

….One day in the Fall of 1971 — harvest time — the Waldos got word of a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. A treasure map in hand, the Waldos decided to pluck some of this free bud.

The Waldos were all athletes and agreed to meet at the statue of Loius Pasteur outside the school at 4:20, after practice, to begin the hunt. “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,” Waldo Steve tells the Huffington Post.

The first forays out were unsuccessful, but the group kept looking for the hidden crop. “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,” says Steve. “We never actually found the patch.”

But they did find a useful codeword. “I could say to one of my friends, I’d go, 420, and it was telepathic. 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,” Steve says. “Our teachers didn’t know what we were talking about. Our parents didn’t know what we were talking about.”

At 4:20 today I’ll probably be…..blogging. Or reading a paper on financial reform. Or ingesting another chapter of This Time Is Different. Exciting! For the rest of you who plan to mark April 20 with a little more gusto, happy toking. Maybe soon you’ll be able to do it legally.

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