The Real Story of 420

It’s always fun waiting to see how Steve Bloom is going to spin his annual 420 story. Bloom likes to take credit for “discovering” 420 because he published a flyer in 1990 in High Times. But there’s always this mysterious 5-year gap in Bloom’s accounts. I was investigating the history of Soma when Bloom showed up at the office with that flyer for a gathering on Mt. Tam on April 20th at 4:20 that he’d been handed at a Grateful Dead show in Oakland. Bloom laughed at how silly it seemed and published a small blip in the news section making fun of it.

I had a much different reaction. Channeling the Rig Veda, I instantly announced this gathering on Mt Tamalpais was proof of the spiritual powers of cannabis and its ability to manifest real ritual and ceremony. Not only that, I instantly made 4:20 pm a daily ritual for myself, and began re-tooling the Cannabis Cup and Whee! festivals around 4:20 as the central ceremony. I was trying to build a case for the religious use of cannabis and I wanted to videotape and document those ceremonies as proof of that connection. And I have all that documentation intact.

Now Bloom watched all this go down for years and never once got involved with these 420 rituals, just poo-poohed the whole thing like a big joke. He watched the Cannabis Cup spread 420 around the globe during this time and saw myself and Stephen Gaskin deliver many 420 sermons to the uneducated masses, waking them up to the power of peace. Today Boom will tell you 420 spread through the Grateful Dead scene, which is not true. It spread through the teenagers of Marin county, some of whom had gone across the bay to Oakland to recruit comrades for their annual mountain-top ceremony, an event that only lasted a few years before police presence shut it down.

When I investigated the Waldos, the true creators of the 420 code, I came back to announce they were the real deal, and, of course, Bloom went into high gear discounting that notion and acting like I was deluded. Finally, he did cave in and admit the Waldos created 420 a few years back, but then last year, he backtracked once again and claimed it was actually another person from their high school, a tall tale told by a prankster and backed by zero evidence, while the Waldos have maintained a large stack of verifiable documents, including post-marked letters? A few months ago, Bloom was positively crowing about how the Waldos were frauds and he had finally uncovered “the real story.”

So, at the start of 420 week, what does Bloom say now: “Thirty-two years after I stumbled onto the 420 phenomenon, I really could care less who started it. Better off left shrouded in mystery, it makes for a good stoner bedtime story.”

I’d say he’s backed off that lame story, but he’s still not close to the truth, because the Waldod’s did invent 420, a reality Bloom has always had a hard time swallowing, probably only because I was the first to assert it and that would somehow, in his mind, steal his 420 spotlight?

The real story about this year’s 420 is about the people who organized those original Mt. Tam ceremonies, because the Waldos had no hand in these. And wouldn’t you know, one of them happens to have become altar master of the Temple Dragon Crew. This shaman will be returning to Mount Tamalpais in one week bearing the seven sacred candles of peace, which will be lit at 4:20 PM as an OM circle forms.

The real story of 420 is not about who found the flyer, who invented it, or who gets credit for anything. The real story of 420 is that this is our peace culture and shared by all of us who want to walk a path of non-violence. Don’t be fooled into thinking marijuana is only about getting high and/or making money, although that is as far as many people get with the plant. No, there is something much stronger, much deeper, much more intense going on around cannabis because it is the true sacrament of peace culture and always has been. And peace culture is a much truer emanation of the universal energies than anything those black magician masters of war running the Federal Reserve can dream up.

Music, Math & Marijuana

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.