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“420” Forefathers, the Waldos, launch website claiming legend

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez |

Photo of the Waldos by Gabrielle Lurie.

From Bob Marley’s birthday to obscure police codes, every weed smoker has a different theory about how the numbers “420” became synonymous with smoking weed.

But the term was coined from a much humbler, crazier origin, according to the group of Marin County friends who claim to have coined “420” as a code for getting stoned.

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

The Waldos are five friends from San Rafael who went to high school together in the 1970s. This week, now middle-aged marijuana users launched a new website proving their claim that they invented perhaps the most pervasive slang word for smoking weed in modern times.

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

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

The story told before is the origin of 420: In 1971, Waldo Steve got a card. However, the treasure was not golden doubloons, but a small garden of cannabis. The teenage Waldos would meet outside the statue of chemist Louis Pasteur, at San Rafael High School, at 4:20 p.m., and venture to Point Reyes in search of the sacred greenery.

As times were strict, and their parents even more so, they came up with a code to refer to their adventure: 420 Louie, which was eventually shortened to just 420, for weed. Through some friendly connections to 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 sparked countless doubters who all want to say they are the ones who invented the term 420.

“The old [website] was pretty outdated, there are no facts and figures,” Waldo Dave told us in an interview at San Rafael High School. “We have created a whole culture of 420 claimants! But there is evidence.”

That evidence includes letters from the university referencing their capers, as well as an original painted “420 flag” encouraging The Waldo’s scientists to analyze, for age. Even an early 1970s San Rafael High School newspaper has an interview with a Waldo referring to “420.”

More importantly, they told us, the website highlights their personas: happy pranksters, pranksters, and those who are always looking for new problems to get into (and laugh while coming out).

Such as the time when the quintuplets Waldos were considered by a mob of cops to be the Symbionese Liberation Army while he was traveling in Southern California.

“They came with low guns,” said Waldo Jeff, “and you sit there, gentle.”

This isn’t the end of our coverage of the merry pranksters known as The Waldos. Watch full interviews and backstories from the men who came up with “420” in our April issue, on newsstands March 30.

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