Celebrating 4/20? Thank “the Waldos”


“The Waldos” claim responsibility for the true origin of the number 420’s connection to cannabis

If your eyes glaze over at the thought of another unofficial holiday, you’re either still recovering from the damage you did to your retinas on April 14 for Look Up At The Sky Day or you’ve already started celebrating April 20, better known as “four-twenty,” better known as International Smoke Weed Day. Either way, as far as unofficial holidays go, 4/20 might just take the cake (like, literally take the cake into its car to finish it with a plastic knife).

There’s no shortage of speculation out there about the origin of the number 420’s link to cannabis.

Is it a police code used to report someone smoking pot? No.

Is it the number of a bill aimed at legalizing marijuana? No. (But sort of.)

Well then it has to be from the Bob Dylan song “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35” because the chorus says “Everybody must get stoned” and 12 multiplied by 35 equals 420, right? Sorry, no (while the math checks out, Bob Dylan reportedly once said the refrain is about the difficulties of “going against the tide,” and is not the overt encouragement to fire one up it sounds like).

Waldos Ale

So where the heck did it come from?

The answer takes us back to 1971 in San Rafael, California. Four guys known only as “the Waldos” were given a map by one of their friends showing the location of a field of marijuana that was in danger of being discovered and needed to be harvested ASAP. They made a plan to meet after school under a statue of Louis Pasteur (or “Louie” as they called him) to track down this field of dreams at… you guessed it… 4:20pm.

The rendezvous happened, they smoked a little weed, piled into a 1966 Impala to make the one-hour drive to where the X marked the spot, smoked a little more on the way, but never found what they were searching for.

Not to be deterred (as one would expect from any good teenage pot smoker who has a bead on a field of free dope), they tried several more times, repeating the entire process from the meeting time, location, and recreational activities on the way, to getting skunked in their search (no, not that kind of skunked).

This happened enough times that a shorthand phrase was spawned: “4:20 Louie?” meant, “Are we meeting today to go try again?” From there it was shortened to just “4:20?” and so on, and so on. The hunt for the field faded into memory (rather quickly, we’re assuming) and the phrase then became a code word that just referred to weed in general. The rest of their school picked up on it, then the rest of California, then the world.

The entire story is detailed by the Waldos themselves in the below video.

Fast-forward to today: The Waldos are all grown up and their friends from back in the day just so happened to found one of their state’s largest, fastest-growing, and most notoriously weed-friendly breweries, Lagunitas Brewing Company.

In 2011, Lagunitas first brewed The Waldos’ Special Ale, “the dankest and hoppiest beer ever brewed at Lagunitas,” to honor the Waldos “and all treasure hunters.” (The beer is so hoppy, in fact, that all the plant matter clogged Lagunitas’ filtration system when they brewed it last year). It was a taproom-only beer released on 4/20 for the first few years, but is being distributed more widely in kegs and six-packs of 12 oz. bottles as of late.


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