4/20, 4:20, Four-Twenty, 4-20: Where In The World Did The Mysterious Marijuana Code Number Come From?

4/20, 4:20, Four-Twenty. The number sequence is as bewitching to a cannabis fan as the word abracadabra is to a magician. Aficionados of the aromatic herb have been saying “4/20” as a semi-secret code for “it’s time to smoke a spliff” for decades. Do you know where the phrase originated? A lot of people think they do, but only a select few are 100 percent certain.

So, where in the world did the terms 4/20, 4:20, 4-20, and four-twenty come from? We’ll explain. First, let’s take a cannabis-scented stroll through 4:20 theories both reasonable and outlandish.

Where 4/20, 4:20, Four-Twenty, and 4-20 did not come from

Speculation about the origins of the phrase “four-twenty” ranges wildly from region to region. Some say the term 4-20 is a police code denoting marijuana use in progress in (name your city). Wrong. Some suggest the term came about because April 20 is the perfect calendar date on which to plant a plot of pot. Wrong again. Although springtime may provide ideal planting conditions, the exact dates vary depending on where and how one cultivates.

One of the sillier theories regarding the birth of 4-20 revolves around the deaths of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and/or Jimi Hendrix. According to Snopes, specious explanations of the origins of 4/20 have one or more of the fabled 20th century rockers passing away on the 20th of April. Bogus, bogus, bogus. Hendrix died in London on September 18, 1970 and Janis died in Los Angeles on October 4, 1970. Morrison met his end in a bathtub in Paris on the third of July, 1971.

The proposal that “four-twenty” was derived by songwriter Bob Dylan almost makes sense. Believers of the Bob-began-it theory note that multiplying the numbers in the title of the cannabis-celebrating song “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35” results in a sum of 420. Here’s the catch on that one: Whether “420” is used as a noun or a verb or to mean that a person is weed-friendly, the phrase is always pronounced “four-twenty” and never “four hundred and twenty.” Glad we cleared that up.

Some happily high citizens are quite sure that the phrase 4/20 conflates with reefer use because the Grateful Dead made a habit of requesting room 420 at every blue-light cheap hotel the band stayed in whilst on the road. Grateful Dead historian Dennis McNally discounts this rumor. Interestingly, the Dead were loosely associated with the origins of the phrase 4:20 and undoubtedly enjoyed that particular time of day now and again, but no band member coined the phrase to denote grateful ganja.

‘Twas teenagers who turned the phrase 4/20 into what it means today

Earlier today, New Brunswick, Maine radio station Q 96.1 revealed the truth about the origins of the “4-20” phrase, and that truth has nothing to do with Dylan songs, police codes or death anniversaries. Four-twenty was the after-school meeting time of a group of five best buds at a high school north of San Francisco. They called themselves “The Waldos” and were well known, likable pranksters on the campus of San Rafael High School in the early 1970s.

Classes let out at 3 o’clock, but the boys had after-school sports activities to attend before meeting up at a statue of Louis Pasteur. At their now-official website, The Waldos emphasize that they were not simply stoners who met at 4:20 in the afternoon.

“The Waldos were motivated, creative, active, driven, involved, aware, intelligent, fit, and educated. They were athletesโ€”football, track, high diving, mountain-cross country running. One was a double-honors Accounting student in high school. Others were award-winning animation film makers and painters. Ironically, one was the son of the head NARC (narcotics enforcement) in the San Francisco Police Department which gave the Waldos a special knowledge of drug search and seizure laws โ€“ valuable knowledge in the 70’s era.”

The Grateful Dead 420 connection

Waldo Dave had an older brother who was and is a good friend of Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh. The brother managed Lesh’s side projects, and Waldo Dave worked many of the shows. Waldo Mark’s dad also worked for the Dead and associated musical act, the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Due to these affiliations, The Waldos enjoyed backstage access to local shows where the Dead may have picked up the phrase “4-2o” from them, but not the other way around.

Documented proof of the origins of 4/20

Lest anyone think they’re kidding, The Waldos offer plentiful proof that they did indeed originate the phrase 4-20. Postmarked letters, a high school newspaper from the 1970s, school transcripts, and a handmade tie-dye “420” flag are among the bits of evidence The Waldos now keep in a high-security safe deposit box in Marin County, California.

[Featured Image by Jonah_M/Thinkstock/Getty Images]

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