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420 LOUIE AND THE CANNIBAS COUNTER CULTURE...... The real story behind 420

Updated on May 23, 2011

The origins of the "holiday" phenomenon, known as 420, has always been clouded in a haze of Bubble Gum Kush. There have been many urban legends, half truths and tall tales given to explain, the one day of the year that marijuana smokers have accepted as their day. Many people have heard of this and many more have partaken in the ritualistic practices of the day. However, few people know the real story behind the numbers.


420 Louie and the Search For Utopia

The legend begins during the school year of 1971, in San Rafael, California. Five classmates of San Rafael High, were like any other high school boys of their day. They all played sports together. They were huge fans of music, and they would sit around for hours, playing the guitar and listening to the radio. They were also widely known as the athletic hippie kids who enjoyed smoking marijuana.

Deep in the bowels of the high school campus, is a statue of the French scientist Louis Pasteur. The Large bust is located near a large wall. Because of the secretive nature of the place, the boys found it to be an advantageous place to congregate and enjoy the smoking of cannabis with one another, without fear of reprisals from the school faculty.It was a common sight to see the teenagers, hiding by the wall, passing their joy amongst each other. Due to this hiding place, the boys became known as the Waldo's.

Dave Waldo had heard a story that was too good to be true during the summer of 1970. A member of the local Coast Guard Station had a field of cannabis hidden away in nearby Point Reyes, California. Dave had heard of this through his older brother, Patrick. The brother was a friend of the Coast Guard slash entrepreneur, and the man told him of this plot of land he had secured for the cultivation of hemp. Unfortunately, the young officer was being transferred, and he would no longer be able to tend to his crops. Although he was very cryptic about the location, he assured the boys that the treasure was theirs for the taking if they found it.

After sharing this story with the crew, Mark Waldo devised a plan for the boys to get together every day after wrestling and basketball practice. They were to rally every day at the Louis Pasteur statue, smoke, and then look for the hidden plot of land. Because practice ended at 4:00 p.m, it seemed only natural for every one to be present twenty minutes afterward. Sure enough, one by one, the boys would show up like clockwork. At 4:20 the boys would light up their pleasures, and share their dreams with one another, in hopes of finding the lost Utopia.

The quirky boys had an almost telepathic connection with one another. During school hours, classmates noticed that the boys spoke code with one another. For example if Steve Waldo saw Mark Waldo, you may hear him say something like, "420 Louie, dude." Which really meant,"Meet me at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20, to enjoy a smoke together." The term took on many meanings amongst the boys, but the time of 4:20 had become an almost tribal agreement among the boys, as the exact minute of the day, the boys would connect with one another, regardless if they were together or not. At the end of the school year, they dropped the Louie moniker, and 420 began taking on an evolving nature in the Waldo's language patterns. Man we were 420ing it up last night, or Dude had some awesome 420 last night, we should go 420 him back. Sometimes it was discreet, other times it was blatant, but the Waldo's always knew right away what his brethren was saying.

Classmates and friends were fascinated by the Waldos. They were a funny group of guys, who spoke a language that the parents and teachers did not understand.Other teenagers in San Rafael began to imitate the coded language. Incoming classes after the Waldos began to uphold the tradition of meeting at the statue to smoke at 4:20.

Dave Waldo said to High Times magazine, in a 1978 edition, " We never did find that field of marijuana. Although, we sure had alot of fun looking for it. Every day, we would smoke, and then jump in my 66' Chevy Impala, and go looking for our modern day Utopia. We would smoke the whole time out there."

The Waldos Meet The Grateful Dead

In 1973, rock icons, The Grateful Dead were sick of the living conditions in the Haight Asbury district of San Francisco. The once friendly atmosphere, that made it conducive to creating their brand of music,had changed into a haven for con artists, and heroin junkies. The band decided to move their base of operations to Marin County Hills, which is literally blocks away from San Rafael High School. Mark Waldo's father was the bands realtor and set them up with property in the area. His brother Patrick, managed a Dead sideband named Too Loose To Truck. The Dead's Bassist Phil Lesh also played bass in the sideband. Through Phil and drummer Mickey Hart, the Waldos became very close to the band. They had easy access to the rock stars and their entourage. They would hang in the Rehearsal Hall down on Front Street, named The Wonderland, and would often be the center of attention. The Waldos would sit around with the band, speaking in their coded gibberish of 420isms, and they always had some treats for the witching hour of 4:20. Other Deadheads( fans of the group) began to pick up on this, and like their high school classmates, they began to imitate their speech and traditions.

Mark Waldo, who is now in his 50's, remembers that in the beginning, it was just a community thing, but as the years passed, he began to notice the term popping up in more and more unusual places. In the summer of 1985, at a Greatful Dead show in Cleveland, Mark was handed a flier that read on," On 4/20 at 4:20 everybody is going to 420!! "I couldn't believe it, my jaw hit the floor." Mark recounts. In that same interview Dave Waldo laments," We never made one dime off of it. I began hearing about people in Florida and Canada using the term and saw a park bench in Michigan with the numbers carved into it." High Times Magazine would take the term global and had the foresight and vision in the early 90's to secure the web domain of

The Waldos have gone on to have successful lives. They have always kept themselves anonymous because of their professional lives. Dave is a credit analyst and works for Steve's specialty loan company. The company took a hit a couple of years ago, falling prey to Bernie Madoff's ponzi schemes, losing a considerable amount of money. Nowadays Steve says he spends too much time arguing with the SEC, to be able to enjoy that type of lifestyle. Mark is a marketer for a Napa Valley winery. They all agree to a man, that they never in a million years, would have imagined their coded sophomoric gibberish would take on a life of their own, and become such a modern day staple of world wide culture. To this day, High Times Magazine flies any of the Waldos who want to go, to the annual Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam and puts them up all expenses paid.

The Cannibis Counter Culture

As 420 has gotten bigger through the years, there are festivals and gatherings of people, who get together every 4/20 ( April 20th) and celebrate openly their love for cannabis, in the warm embrace of fellow smokers.Cities worldwide including Amsterdam, London, Washington D.C and of course Hippie Hill in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park are just a few of the places where these festivities take place. Many of these gatherings have become political by nature, calling for the decriminalizationof Marijuana.Some of these events are well promoted, while others are very humble with no fanfare whatsoever. The one thing that all these festivals have in common, is that at exactly 4:20, everyone lifts their joy and takes a modest pull. What seems to be the looks of obligatory delight is only surpassed by the community exhale that follows.For the most part Law enforcement has become relaxed at these gatherings, rarely arresting anyone or serving citations, as long as there is no unrest and the protest remain peaceful. Only the hardcore anti-drug activist or the right wing religious kooks show up in opposition, but they are usually ignored, by the police and the participants.

420 has the dubious distinction of falling on Adolph Hitler's birthday, and the anniversary of the tragic Columbine High School shooting. It has also entered the world of Hollywood. It is the hotel room number, in the comedy Hot Tub Time Machine, and in the Quinton Tarrentino cult classic Pulp Fiction, it is the time on every clock that you see in the movie. It is amazing that five California potheads could transform a silly phrase into the lexicon and fabric of the cannabis counterculture, and watch it grow into a worldwide phenomenon.


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