“420” Forefathers, the Waldos, Launch Web Site Laying Claim to Legend

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez |
Photo of the Waldos by Gabrielle Lurie.

From Bob Marley’s birthday to obscure police codes, every ganja smoker has a different theory of how the numbers “420” came to be synonymous with smoking pot.

But the term was coined from much humbler, wackier origins, according to the group of Marin County friends who lay claim to coining “420” as code for getting stoned.

They call themselves The Waldos, and they want their story out there for the world to see.

The Waldos are five friends from San Rafael who attended high school together in the 1970s. This week, the now middle-aged marijuana users launched a new website highlighting proof of their claim to have invented possibly the most pervasive slang word for smoking weed in modern times.

The group only goes by their first names (Jeff, Dave, Steve, Larry and Mark). That one secret aside, The Waldos told SF Evergreen they also created the website to tell their whole history, which goes beyond 420, they say.

“People call us up and we end up telling the whole story over and over again,” Waldo Steve told us. “But there’s more to the Waldo’s than 420, more backstory.”

The story that has been told before is the origin of 420: In 1971, Waldo Steve was given a map. The treasure though was not gold doubloons, but a small plotted garden of cannabis. The teenage Waldos would meet at 4:20 p.m. outside the statue of chemist Louis Pasteur, at San Rafael High School, and venture to Point Reyes in search of the hallowed green.

Because the times were strict, and their parents more so, they invented a code to refer to their adventure: 420 Louie, which was eventually shortened to just 420, for weed. Through some friendly connections with legendary rock band The Grateful Dead, the term 420 spread to the masses like a skunky haze, and the rest was history.

But The Waldos told SF Evergreen that their story spurred countless doubters who all want to say they are the ones to invent the term 420.

“The old [website] was pretty outdated, there’s no facts and figures,” Waldo Dave told us, in an interview at San Rafael High School. “We’ve created a whole culture of 420 claimers! But there’s proof.”

That proof includes letters from college referring to their capers, as well as an original dyed “420 flag” that The Waldo’s encourage scientists to analyze, for age. Even an early San Rafael High School newspaper, from the 70s, has an interview with a Waldo who references “420.”

More importantly, they told us, the website highlights their personas: Merry pranksters, practical jokers, and those always seeking new trouble to get into (and to laugh while getting out of).

Like the time the quintuplet Waldos were thought to be the Symbionese Liberation Army by a crowd of cops, while on a Southern California trip.

“They came up with guns low,” Waldo Jeff said, “and you’re just sitting there, mellow.”

This isn’t the end of our coverage of the merry pranksters known as The Waldos. Check out full interviews and backstory from the men who coined “420” in our April issue, on newsstands March 30th.