Editor’s Note: How a silly phrase became a worldwide holiday

Do you remember where you were when you first heard it?

For me, it was sophomore or junior year of high school, back in New England in the late 1990s. I was on the lacrosse team — don’t ask me why or how — and we were on a road trip when the older, cooler, party-going guys got lost in laughter at the sight of an old Toyota 4Runner. They were getting a kick out of some vinyl numbers, the kind you’d see stuck to a mailbox on a rural road, affixed to the truck’s rear window.


I was clueless. “What’s that mean?” I asked, innocent as always. I was “kindly” brought up to speed, but another question that even the cool kids couldn’t answer remained. This occurred to me as I floated around campus my freshman year of college on April 20 a few years later, baked out of my mind and headed to a Ben Harper show:

Why — and how — did “420” come to universally mean getting stoned?

The answer is in these very pages. And even if you think you know — if you know the story of the Waldos, and aren’t repeating nonsense about police codes ­­— you have no idea.

The full tale of how a teenage gag cooked up by a couple of stoned kids from Marin County ended up seared in drug users’ brains across the world involves the Grateful Dead, the hardy activists from the Cannabis Action Network, and a pre-Internet viral phenomenon — aided greatly by copy giant Kinko’s.

Kinko’s played a major role in the liberation of the cannabis plant. Let that sink in for a second.

You’ll read about how an after-school routine a generation ago spawned a mass gathering of up to 15,000 cannabis lovers in Golden Gate Park every year. You’ll read about why there are no toilets in the park on that magic day today, and how close we’re coming to getting the whole show shut down thanks to a bunch of faux-heads who can’t clean up after themselves.

Which makes no sense. Cleaning’s always easier when you’re high. Just ask the volunteers from The Green Cross who show up every year to pick up.

We hope you’ll enjoy — and we hope you’ll enjoy finally knowing exactly what you’re talking about.