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Where does 420 come from? He pauses and thinks, hands on his side. “I don’t understand the real origin. I know myths and rumors,” he says. “I’m really unclear about the first time I heard it. It was like a police code for smoking in progress or something. What’s the actual story?”

According to who you ask, or their state of inebriation, you will find as much kinds of answers as strains of medical bud in California. It’s the number of active chemicals in It’s teatime in Holland. It has something related to Hitler’s birthday. It’s those numbers because Bob Dylan song multiplied.

The origin from the term 420, celebrated around the world by pot smokers every April 20, is definitely obscured through the clouded memories in the people that made it a phenomenon.

It was Christmas week in Oakland, 1990. Steven Bloom was wandering through The Lot – that timeless gathering of hippies that springs up within the parking area before every Grateful Dead concert – whenever a Deadhead handed him a yellow flyer. “We will meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County on the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais,” reads the content, which Bloom dug up and forwarded for the Huffington Post. Bloom, then a reporter for High Times magazine now the publisher of and co-author of Pot Culture, had never heard of “420-ing” before.

The flyer came including a 420 back story: “420 started somewhere in San Rafael, California within the late ’70s. It started because the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard about the police call, they started utilizing the expression 420 when discussing herb – Let’s Go 420, dude!”

Bloom reported his find in the May 1991 issue of High Times, which the magazine seen in its archives and provided to the Huffington Post. The history, though, was just partially right. It had nothing to do with a police code — even though the San Rafael part was dead on. Indeed, a small group of five San Rafael Secondary School friends called the Waldos – by virtue with their chosen hang-out spot, a wall outside the school – coined the word in 1971. The Huffington Post spoke with Waldo Steve, Waldo Dave and Dave’s older brother, Patrick, and confirmed their full names and identities, which they motivated to keep secret for (Pot is still, after all, illegal.)

The Waldos never envisioned that pot smokers the world over would celebrate each April 20th because of their foray into the Point Reyes forest. The day has were able to become something of the national holiday in the face of official condemnation. This year’s celebration will be no different. Officials on the University of Colorado at Boulder and University of California, Santa Cruz, which boast two of the largest smoke outs, are pushing back. “As another April 20 approaches, we have been up against concerns from students, parents, alumni, Regents, and community members in regards to a repeat of last year’s 4/20 ‘event,'” wrote Boulder’s chancellor in a letter to students. “On April 20, 2009, hopefully which you will choose never to take part in unlawful activity that debases the reputation of your psfuxi and degree, and definately will encourage to act with pride and remember who they are.”

Nevertheless the Cheshire cat is out of the bag. Students and locals shows up at round four, light up at 4:20 and become gone shortly thereafter. No bands, no speakers, no chants. Just a bunch of people getting together and having stoned.

The code often creeps into popular culture and mainstream settings. Almost all of the clocks in the pawn shop scene in “Pulp Fiction,” for instance, are positioned to 4:20. In 2003, once the California legislature codified the medical marijuana law voters had approved, the bill was named SB420.

“We think it was a staffer employed by [lead Assembly sponsor Mark] Leno, but nobody has ever fessed up,” says Steph Sherer, head of Americans for Safe Access, which lobbied on the part of the bill. California legislative staffers spoken to for this particular story state that the 420 designation remains unknown, but that both Leno and the lead Senate sponsor, John Vasconcellos, are hip enough that they must have known what it really meant. The code pops up in Craig’s List postings when fellow smokers hunt for “420 friendly” roommates. “It’s simply a vaguer method of saying it plus it kind of makes it sort of cool,” says Bloom. “Like, you know you’re in the know, but that does explain to you how it’s inside the mainstream.”