Today’s Sesh with Jon | 4.20.2021 | The Origins of 420

Above: Jon with a pile of his just published novel, April 2018.

I first heard about this thing called “420” back in the early 1990’s while reading an article in High Times magazine. I don’t remember anything about the article other than suddenly this cool insider’s code for pot smoking existed. I embraced the term 420 and immediately put it to use. This was deep in the prohibition days, and 420 was our stoner secret. Practically nobody outside the pot-smoking circles knew about the secret numbers.

There was a common misconception back then that “420” was a police code for pot smoking. This was wrong, but I had this told to me several times by various pothead friends. Back then I used the code to ask my buddy who sometimes got herb for me on his pager if he had picked up – remember pagers? And, of course, I started the habit of smoking at 4:20 whenever I could. April 20 was a secret holiday that only stoners knew about…

Fast forward to today. 420 is mainstream news. The term is so deeply linked with pot smoking in the public’s mind that it’s completely lost the secret quality that it used to have, but those of us that lived through the prohibition years remember. It’s pretty amazing to me that 420 has gotten so huge – international – when it was born just 50 years ago, in the fall of 1971.

We can thank the Waldos for the magical numbers. I had a phone conversation with Waldo Steve, one of the five guys that invented the term 420, a few years back. He wanted people to remember there is nothing particularly deep about 420, it’s just a joke, an inside joke that grew world-wide. So I’m passing that along for him. Several times during the conversation he said, “Try and say 420 without smiling.”

I wrote a marijuana-centric novel a few years back called Moving At The Speed Of Time which was dedicated to the Waldos. In chapter six of the novel I tell the story of 420, and the gift the Waldos have given the world. On this 420, I have a video for your entertainment where I read that chapter… so let’s roll the film!

Have a great 420! I hope you have all the herb you need today, and that your highs are fantastic – and take you where you want to go!

Until later, best of health.

PS. Here’s the chapter, in its entirety…


Chapter 6 – The Waldos


Time for a smoke break, the first of many smoke breaks ahead. I just lit up a joint of Girl Scout Cookies. In a moment we’ll continue with our story, but first let me tell you about the Waldos.

In the laid back town of San Rafael, California, in the early 1970s there were a group of five laid-back guys that hung out on a low wall at their high school. They were called the Waldos. The Waldos were a good-natured bunch of guys, football players and cross-country runners. They liked to goof around, do imitations of people they knew and make funny noises like “Eyot” and “Ffftzoit”, which should be said after taking a hit off of a joint.

One day they were given a map to a secret pot garden on Pt. Reyes Peninsula. The owners of the map, a group U.S. Coast Guards, had grown the marijuana but now they were afraid their commanding officer was on to them, so they abandoned the garden just when it was ready to be harvested. One of the Coast Guards had given the map to his younger brother Bill, who gave the map to the Waldos.

The Waldos decided to meet after school by the statue of Louis Pasteur at 4:20 to go search for the secret garden. All day long, as the Waldos passed each other in the halls, they would say “Louis 420.” It was their inside code.

After school, at 4:20, they got high by the Louis Pasteur statue, piled into a 1966 Chevy Safari and went off on their quest. They didn’t find the garden that day but they continued their search for months. After a little while “Louis” was dropped from the saying and the secret greeting of “420” continued.

The Waldos got to know the Grateful Dead through both Waldo Dave’s older brother and Waldo Mark’s father, who rented rehearsal space to the band. The Grateful Dead and their friends picked up the 420 code and passed it on. 420 is now an international code word for pot smoking and April 20th has become an international holiday for pot smokers. Every day pot smokers around the world light up when it’s 4:20 in the afternoon, in solidarity.

Good job Waldos.

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