In January 1990, High Times news editor Steve Bloom returned to the office from a trip to the Bay Area and brought with him a flyer for an April 20th event to be held at the top of Mount Tamalpias in Marin County. The flyer indicated that “420” was California police code for “marijuana smoking in progress.” Bloom thought the flyer was funny and a bit ridiculous, but I felt otherwise. Since I’d recently started my research into the spiritual history of cannabis use and was deep into the Rig Veda, I seized on the flyer as evidence of the spiritual powers of cannabis. “I’m gong to re-focus all my ceremonies around 4:20,” I told Bloom. “We can use 420 to spread awareness about the spiritual aspects of cannabis.” From that day on, I began holding 4:20 PM ceremonies in my office at High Times and proselytizing about 4:20. That’s because there’s a connection between math, music, marijuana and spirituality. Numerology has always intrigued me.
Imagine my surprise when Bloom published a one-paragraph mention of the flyer in his news section that month, but failed to mention my promise to use the number to help build the legalization movement, something I thought was pretty important news. I was disappointed I’d failed to penetrate my missionary zeal to my news editor, but remained undeterred and made 4:20 council the central focus of my legalization group, The Freedom Fighters, which at the time may have been the largest pro-pot organization in the world. The next time I returned to the Cup in Amsterdam, I brought 4:20 council with me, and it’s been there ever since. In fact, the 4:20 councils at the Cup were videotaped for 15 years, and highlights can be found on my Youtube site.
Eventually, the Cup crew, specifically the Temple Dragons, began holding 4:20 AM celebrations at the Quentin Hotel lobby. (This was Rocker T’s idea.) The 4:20 AM ceremonies quickly became crowded when word leaked out they were the best parties at the Cup. Hundreds of people took photos of themselves in the Quentin lobby next to a clock as proof they attended a 4:20 AM ceremony. In 1997, I began using 420 as a central element of the Whee! festival in Oregon, and the following year, the ceremony was picked up on by the Seattle Hempfest. If Whee had been allowed to continue, it would be as big as the Seattle Hempfest, but just as I was forced to give up the Freedom Fighters, I was also forced to give up the world’s biggest hempfest.
After 420 caught on, the tour agent, Air Tech, changed their name to “420 Tours.” They set up a website and were soon contacted by Steve Waldo, who indicated he and his friends started the 420. I flew out to San Francisco to meet with Steve and check out his claims. I returned to the office a few days later and announced I’d discovered the origins of 420, and it wasn’t a police code.
Unfortunately, then-publisher of High Times Mike Edison disputed my story and refused to accept the Waldos were, in fact, the true originators. Imagine my surprise when many years later Bloom tried to take credit for “discovering” 420, when he was one of those at the office that could never connect with my efforts along these lines. For Bloom, my attempts at forging an untainted ritual tradition for modern stoners was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, and I’m sure he feels that way today.
Thus began my odyssey to tell the true history of 420. Now many people spread false stories and stake claims on having a better explanation, but no one can document the use of the term “420” as a reference to marijuana prior to 1971, other than Steve Waldo. And no one can document 420 ceremonies outside Marin county in the early 1990s aside from mine. It’s strange to read Cannabis Culture claim they were using the term in the mid-1990s (several years after I began my 420 ceremonies) when, in fact, Marc initially ridiculed my 420 council at the Cup when he attended the first time. I’m sure that’s where he heard about 420 for the first time, although he later wrote my attempts at “hippie spirituality” were out-dated, which broke off our relationship for a while, although I’m happy to say all that’s been patched up.