The current consensus is that a group of five teenage Deadheads in San Rafael, California created the 420 code. The friends called themselves the Waldos after their hangout spot at a wall outside the school. The code word, created in 1971, referred to a 4:20pm meeting at San Rafael High School’s statue of French chemist Louis Pasteur, but the purpose of the meeting was not to smoke out. Rather, the group of high school friends heard about a cannabis crop abandoned by a Coast Guard service member in Point Reyes, a 71,000-acre park 30 miles northwest of San Francisco. The five teens, who even got ahold of a hand-drawn map, searched the national park several times.
"We were smoking a lot of weed at the time," said Waldo Dave Reddix in an interview. "Half the fun was just going looking for it."
The recovery operation was originally called 4:20 Louis, but the Waldos eventually shortened it to 4:20. The Waldos never found the crop, and 420 morphed into code to meet up at 4:20pm to smoke. Saying “420” in the high school hallways was obviously more discreet than saying, “You wanna get high after class?”
Speaking with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000, Waldo Steve Capper added, "It was just a joke, but it came to mean all kinds of things, like 'Do you have any?' or 'Do I look stoned?' Parents and teachers wouldn't know what we were talking about."
San Rafael was home to Grateful Dead Productions, and according to the Waldos, the five friends had Grateful Dead associations. Waldo Dave worked the shows, and his older brother managed a side band called Too Loose to Truck with David Crosby, Terry Haggerty and Dead bassist Phil Lesh. Likewise, Waldo Mark’s father was a hippie real estate broker in Marin County who helped Grateful Dead band members find homes. As part of the association, the Waldos attended shows and passed out flyers at concerts that included cannabis images and the number 420, which eventually led to the association on a local level. In 1990, a High Times writer learned about 420, and the publication further spread the code by incorporating it into editorial. More recently, High Times broke the story on the Waldos’ connection to 420.
All this said, another San Rafael group who called themselves The Bebes claim they actually created the code a year earlier in 1970. Per Brad “The Bebe” Bann, the Waldos and Bebes were friends, but “The Waldos were a group of guys I ordained.” In 2012, 420 Magazine made the case for the Bebes, who claimed the word originated in October 1970 when two friends looked at the clock and said, “It’s 4:20, time for bong loads.” After getting high, the friends did some audio recording that included the Abraham Lincoln quote, “Four score and 20 years ago.” The numbers seemed to roll off the tongue, and the Bebes started using it as a code word for smoking. The pro-Bebes argument also notes that Point Reyes is an hour from school, so if the group met at 4:20pm (an odd time at that), they might not reach the park until 5pm at the earliest. In terms of searching for the lost cannabis crop, that did not give the group much time before the sun went down, keeping in mind that it was autumn, not summer. Furthermore, other members of the Bebes back up Bann’s stories.
This alternative 420 theory might be true, but the Bebes lack verifiable evidence, while the Waldos have flyers, flags and postmarked letters, which gives the five friends the edge. Also, Bann said “Waldo” was actually an insulting name, like calling someone a Gomer, which kind of makes him sound like a dick.