Finding 420

Our Editor-in-Chief goes on the ultimate 420 adventure.

It’s around 10:30 a.m. on an otherwise average Wednesday in San Rafael, California. I’ve arrived at San Rafael High School to see the Louis Pasteur statue where a group of high school friends in the early ’70s smoked weed. I wander tentatively on the high school campus among the students with backpacks rushing to class. I don’t exactly blend in, and a teacher spots me. 

“Can I help you? You look lost,” he says.

I try to explain myself in a way that doesn’t reveal my allegiances to the leaf.

“I’m here to see the art, the statue of Louis Pasteur,” I say.

“Oh, you’re on a 420 pilgrimage,” he says smiling and points to the area of the school where the art should be. “We put the statue in storage while we complete the construction.”

When I express sadness and lower my shoulders in disappointment, he smiles again and tells me, “don’t worry, it will be back.”

“Happy 420!” I say joyfully and head out to my next destination.

420 Eve & The Temple Dragons

The first time I went to Terrapin Crossroads, the now-shuttered bar and music venue in San Rafael founded by former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, I walked confidently straight backstage and discovered large jars filled with cannabis. The 2016 event was a 420 Eve party hosted by longtime High Times Editor-in-Chief Steve Hager who had labeled each jar of bud with a different character from Arthurian legend. I smoked them all, Guinevere, the Green Knight, King Arthur, and had an absolute blast. At one point, Steve announced the music would start and, as it turned out, he was also the performer with his act, the Temple Dragons, an homage to something from his past. As Cannabis Digest explains, the Temple Dragons were Steve’s name for hippie security. They were there to keep the peace at large gatherings like 420 celebrations. The dragons were initially summoned at the first award ceremony for the Cannabis Cup in 1987. 

“For Steve Hager, cannabis cults stand at the center of many major religions, the herb recognized at one time as the greatest medicine and healer,” the Cannabis Digest article reads. “The task today is to restore it to its rightful place. In the meantime, its supporters must protect their quest. The Temple Dragons’ unique fusion of improvisation and faith have taken on this responsibility. Their performance is magical. They pull troubled souls out of whatever funk they’ve fallen into and settle them into new psychic spaces, better ones. They produce new meanings.”

The party was amazing. I picked up a signed copy of Steve’s book about the assassination of JFK (I’m sorry, Steve, I still haven’t read it) and puffed tough with cultivation expert and High Times legend Ed Rosenthal and his wife and publishing partner, my good friend Jane Klein. 

Star of Bethlehem, the anticipation for the next day’s festivities was shining through the night. We had so much to celebrate about our mutual love for a plant that 420 was not enough. We needed another day. 

I was in 420’s ancestral homeland with the whole crew. The group of high schoolers who started the 420 phenomena, the Waldos (a name given because they liked to congregate along the wall), were there. And Steve, the person responsible for spreading the gospel of 420 through the pages of this very magazine, was also there. 

I won’t ever forget the conversation I had with one of the Waldos outside of the bar (but I will forget which Waldo, I’m sorry! I remember your face.). He told me that they would be attending the massive smoke out celebration in San Francisco on Hippie Hill the next day to clean all the trash left behind. 420 and all it has become was his legacy, and he just wanted to make sure it was right for the world.

At the close of the evening, the 420 Limo broke down and my good friend and fellow cannabis writer Jimi Devine helped with a jump.

Jimi Devine’s 420 Eve

Cut to 420 in 2022. I’m back at the Meadow headquarters in San Francisco for the first time in years (at least two years of that includes a global health pandemic that added fun new vernacular like shelter-in-place to our daily lives and made cannabis essential). Jimi’s hosting a party with the San Francisco Chronicle’s GreenState, a publication we both used to write for under the leadership of our friend David Downs, who also can’t miss a good 420 Eve party and is there to celebrate.

David Downs, Jimi Devine, and Ellen Holland, Courtesy of Jimi Devine

It feels a bit like coming home. I had a book launch party at Meadow. At Meadow, I took a multi-hour hash-making workshop with departed hash master Frenchy Cannoli. I gathered with the Bay Area cannabis community and cried together at Meadow when our friend cannabis activist Alex Zavell tragically passed away in 2017. It’s a special cannabis gathering space and I’m seeing faces I haven’t seen in a very long time. 

Joseph Snow and Ellen Holland, Courtesy of @goldneil415

The jars of the world’s best pot are coming out! Cracking open jars and smelling different kinds of flower is just about one of the most fun things I can think of, so this is my type of party. While the night does have sponsors (shoutout to Neil Dellacava and Chronic Culture for bringing in the Butcher Shop to serve wagyu sliders!), it’s not a formal industry affair.

Joseph Snow, the cultivator behind Snow Till Organics, spots me and pulls me aside to sample his herb, which is exceptional. Beyond the fact that Joseph seems to pop up at almost every event to smoke us all out fat, it’s indoor herb grown organically in living soil. Living soil means that the dirt is teeming with different microbes that break down organic matter, like decomposing mulch, providing the plant nutrition. Living soil, think earthworms and building soil in a grow style called no-till, is something I’ve only ever seen in outdoor grows. Joseph applies the outdoor rules inside and uses techniques like growing different cover crops inside the cannabis pots. I smoke the Sundae Driver he cultivated before moving on to my next course of the night, La Paleta from Cam. A Seed Junky Genetics Ice Cream Cake and Sherbert cross, this purple-hued herb tastes delectable and has a great name. Cam’s owner Anna Cozy tells me the name is scoop in Italian. She’s set to be on a plane in a few hours and will be celebrating 420 in Queens, New York. It’s sure to be a momentous occasion as it’s the first 420 in New York with legal weed.

Spirits are well, high, and a lot of people are planning to check out the party at Hippie Hill the next day, which will definitely be a massive scene. I’m opting for an alternate adventure. Before leaving, I connect with the folks at Sense who won the recent Transbay Challenge 3  with their version of Compound Genetics’ Pink Certz. This is exceptional cannabis, mints and grapey fuel from a Menthol x Grape Gasoline cross. It’s just what I need to get me through my 420 safari the next day.

Pink Certz grown by Sense, Courtesy of Sense

Getting Higher at Mt. Tam

The legend of 420 begins at the Louis Pasteur statue in San Rafael.

The boys used to say “4:20 Louie” as code to meet at the Benny Bufano sculpture at 4:20 p.m. As the Waldos explain it:

“In the fall of ’71, Waldo Steve was given a treasure map to a patch of weed on the Point Reyes Peninsula. The map was given to him by a friend whose brother was in the U.S. Coast Guard and was growing cannabis. The coastguardsman was paranoid he would get busted, so he granted permission to harvest. 

“The Waldos all agreed to meet at 4:20 p.m. at the statue of chemist Louis Pasteur on the campus of San Rafael High. They met, got high, and drove out to search for the patch.”

Safaris on the Holy Right Eye

North of the Golden Gate Bridge, Mt Tamalpais rises majestically from the heart of Marin County. Known locally as Mt. Tam, the mountain rises to a 2,571-foot peak. The mountain slopes reveal sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and its deep canyons host fern-filled redwood groves.The landscape around Mt. Tam can take you to another spiritual plane and cannabis can help enhance that journey. 

“Many tribes have a legend that we all live on the back of a Great Turtle which forms the North American Continent,” the Sausalito Historical Society reports. “The tail of the Great Turtle is Florida. The mouth is the San Francisco Bay. The ‘holy’ right eye is Mt. Tamalpais. The left eye is Mount Diablo in the East Bay. For this reason, great leaders of the Lakota were dragged on pole litters across the country and buried in Mt. Tam’s foothills. This tradition is part of the reason there are so many burial mounds in Marin.”

Steve Hager likens it to Mt. Fuji and told me over a phone call (that also included a discussion on another place evoking gatherings, New Orleans’ Congo Square) that Mt. Tamalpais was a mythical and spiritual place. In 1989, the Dali Lama, who had just won a Nobel Peace Prize days before, held a ceremony on the mountain’s peak. 

The Waldos crawled across the mountain on adventures they called safaris.

“Every safari started with a sacramental hit of cannabis, followed by the cranking of the tunes, either in the 1966 4-door Chevy Impala with the killer Craig 8-track stereo system, in Steve’s room, or in one of a few other sacred spots they shared herb, as getting high was illegal and couldn’t be done in public or around parents,” Hager writes.

The Magic of Numerology

The Waldos began sponsoring big pot parties on April 20th, where a ceremonial toke would be taken at 4:20 p.m.

“But as soon as the Waldos retired from staging 420 ceremonies, the younger classmen of San Rafael picked up on the magic of numerology and began using the code as a way to evade detection,” Hager writes. “To honor the spirit of cannabis, some of them started a ritual of congregating on a ridge of Mount Tamalpais with a sunset view of the Pacific on April 20th in order to get high at exactly 4:20 p.m. This ritual started with only a few souls, but soon grew to dozens.

“And that’s when someone got the idea of making a flyer inviting stoners from all over the Bay Area to the ceremony. Nobody outside Marin even knew that 420 signified pot. But even those gathered at the top of Mt. Tam didn’t have any idea how the code had started. They thought it had something to do with the police.”

Courtesy of @gmiwhpodcast

My idea for 420 2022 was to follow one of those flyers, which provided instructions on exactly where and how to toke up for the high holiday.

“We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420 in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais. Just go to downtown Mill Valley, find a long-haired stoner and ask where Bolinas Ridge is. If you can’t get to Marin, get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore,” the flyer reads. 

I told my friend, fellow cannabis writer Rachelle Gordon, to meet me at the Pantoll Campground for an adventure. Rachelle came equipped with Puffco’s newest offering released that day, a secret smoking device that looks like a coffee cup. I carried my bong in a padded bag and my jar of Pink Certz. Rachelle filled her sneak-a-toke mug with the crisp water falling down a waterfall along the trail. When we reached Bolinas Ridge, we smoked pot hardcore and talked about life as we stared out to the vast blue of the Pacific Ocean. From our vantage point we could see San Francisco in the distance and we waved at our friends down below smoking on Hippie Hill. I wished a few people along the trail, “Happy 420!” 

Courtesy of Rachelle Gordon

On the mountainside, I pretend the fog that often rolls over is cannabis smoke and the trees are giant nugs. When 420 p.m. arrives, we make sure to follow the flyer’s helpful hints section:

“When you 420 with a group make sure that there is enough paraphernalia so everyone is included within that minute. Take extra care that nothing is going to go wrong in that minute. No heavy winds, no cops, no messed up lighters.”

Our ceremonial 420 toke together on Mt. Tam was magical, just like marijuana experiences should be. As expressed by the cultural movement that is 420, this plant has so much power to bring us together. 

When I part ways with Rachelle, I drive down the hillside to a small park with an incredible view, turn on the radio and have a smoke as the rain falls over the forest. I’ve spent years in drought in Oakland, California and hanging out in the rain alone in this coastal forest feels just fine. After the jazzy melodies of Sweet Marijuana Brown, a Bob Marley song comes on, “got to have kaya now, for the rain is falling.” A few minutes later, I see a rainbow.

Author

  • Ellen Holland

    Ellen Holland is the Editor in Chief of High Times Magazine. An Oakland-based journalist who has covered cannabis since 2013, her book Weed: A Connoisseur's Guide to Cannabis explores how the aroma and taste profiles of the botanical can help us better understand the effects of the strains we smoke.

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  1. Terrapin Crossroads was the best bar in (1) the Bay Area, (2) California, (3) the entire United States.

    $40 a show and super intimate. I had gotten too spoiled there and miss it very much. I have lived in 18 places and have partaken in debauchery from my home town of Daytona Beach (Home of NASCAR and Gregg / Duane Allman) to Jacksonville (Home of The Allman Brothers Band, .38 Special, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Graham Parsons, etc.) to Alabama to Georgia to Belize to Costa Rica to Panama to Illinois (y’all can keep that entire state), Wisconsin to California and hands down T X R was the best of the best. Surprised Graham Lesh never took it over with its 10 years of history and he being such a young man. Maybe it will re-open one day.

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