Now that all the 4/20 festivities have been wrapped up and slept off, it’s a good time to reflect on the fun we had, the people we met, the herb we enjoyed…and the tall tales we told about the origin of the slang phrase “420”.
If you are like me or any of my friends, you have wondered how in the world “420” became associated with cannabis consumption. If you ask around, you’ll get as many answers as the number itself — and probably never know if any of them is the real one. And you’ll hear similar rumors all around the US: police department codes, song titles and lyrics, chemical references. Theories abound.
Leery and weary of theories
It seemed legit to me when a friend in Boulder explained that 420 was a police radio code for a “crime” in progress (possession or consumption of cannabis). She said it was specific to California. Others have claimed it was a New York state police radio code. But those were just urban legends.
Associations with Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan were not too crazy-sounding — meaning they seemed logical, if a bit farfetched. For example, the famous Bob Dylan song with the repeating line “Everybody must get stoned” bears the HIGHLY quirky title “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35”. Those two numbers multiplied do equal 420, but it’s pure coincidence; the toking term was coined four years later.
That 420 is the number of chemicals found in cannabis is a good one. It sounds scientific; and the chemicals identified in the plant do number over 400. However, that fact was unknown in 1970 when the term was born. Another “science-y” one is that April 20 is the best day to plant. But that would change for different parts of the country and the world — hello, hemispheres! — and even from year to year for the same locale. So, again…patently false.
What a long, strange trip it’s been…now we know why?
Then there is the sublimely silly story that the Grateful Dead only stayed in hotel rooms numbered 420. Even if we ignore the wacky visual of all those band members sharing a single room on the road — night after long, strange night — what about all the hotels with fewer than four floors? And, why would they have picked that number to begin with? The tale fails.
I personally had always wondered if 420 was some arcane Lewis Carroll reference. Carroll was a mathematician who scattered references to the number 42 throughout his books, including Alice in Wonderland. (Coincidentally, the answer to “the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything” in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is also 42.)
None of the rumors I’d been told sounded as credible as the story of the “Waldos” in Marin County, California. According to legend, a group of guys called the Waldos would meet every day near a statue at their school at 4:20 in the afternoon. They would smoke some bud and then drive off to look for a fabled abandoned crop offering plenty of free flowers, if they could only find it.
But the Waldos story is also false. For the most part, anyway.
It’s true that in Marin County in the 1970s, the term “4:20” was used to denote bud. And it can even be traced back to San Rafael High School, where the Waldos attended. But there is another, more plausible story — more mundane and far less fantastic.
San Rafael High School was like any other in America. There were cool kids, jocks, nerds, stoners, and plenty of misfits. According to friends of one very popular guy named Brad Bann, known as “the Bebe” for his initials, he is the father of 420. (As a side note, “the Bebe” sounds very similar to “the Dude” — which made this writer a little more skeptical of the veracity of his claims.)
In 2003 Bann and one of his friends he’d nicknamed “Bone Boy” sent a letter to High Times magazine to set the story straight. They were spurred to action after the magazine ran an article detailing the fictitious “Waldos” version of the story. Rob Griffin, the editor of 420 magazine, somehow got his hands on the letter and decided to do what journalists do: investigate.
Griffin interviewed Bann’s friends and classmates and in 2012 published his findings. The group “the Bebes” was named after Bann. He was a highly creative type known for entertaining and assigning nicknames that stuck — to friends, acquaintances, even strangers. He nicknamed clumsy or nerdy kids “Waldos”. A certain group of Waldos that the Bebes socialized and toked up with would later take the term “420” across the nation, claiming it as their own invention.
The straight dope: how 420 became a thing
According to Bone Boy:
Quite simply, the birth of 420 occurred at precisely 4:20 in the afternoon to begin a bedroom bong session at the house of Du and Puff [brothers Dave and Dan Dixon, two of the Bebes] on a Saturday in October of 1970. The Bebe along with the brothers began preparing to “bong out”, when Bebe glanced at the clock on the nightstand and said, “It’s 4:20, time for bong loads”. After getting high, they proceeded to do some audio recording with Bebe, as we did frequently, using his assortment of voices, including his impression of Abraham Lincoln, and said as tape was rolling: “4 score and 20 years ago…” As it turned out, 420 became an instant code in our neighborhood. We gravitated to any and all Bebe terminology he conjured up.
And there you have it. Basically, a popular and creative guy famous for inventing nicknames happened one day to announce the time as he sparked up a bowl, and made history. It’s a little bit of hero worship, kids being kids, and being in the right place at the right “time” — all rolled into one. A big, fat one.
Around that time, the Grateful Dead decided to move away from San Francisco because the speed freaks were taking over the Haight. And where did they move to? Marin County, near San Rafael High. They picked up the phrase, some of the Waldos became Deadheads and took the term nationwide when following the band on tour, and that was that.
Rob Griffin of 420 Magazine says:
One thing is certain to me: Brad Bann a.k.a. the Bebe coined the term 420, and the Waldos carried the term across the U.S. on tour with the Grateful Dead. I took the torch in 1993 and promoted 420 to the world via my website(s), reaching over 20 million people a year, totaling over 420 million people worldwide.
The Bebe should be proud. The slang terms most people blurt out while partying in their bedroom never become part of the permanent global cannabis lexicon. Over the years, especially as proponents have become more vocal, April 20 has become recognized worldwide as the day to celebrate the plant and spread awareness of all its benefits.
Come out, come out, wherever you are
It’s critically important for supporters of cannabis freedom, as for the lesbians and gays of the 1990s, to “come out” whenever they can. Once the general public realizes that millions of responsible, mainstream, “otherwise” law-abiding adults relax with herb as a milder, safer alternative to drinking alcohol, the stigma will be lifted. (Then we can get rid of that annoying word “otherwise”.) It just has to click in the minds of the populace that herb is MILDER than drinking even beer or wine, not more dangerous. And it’s certainly safer than cigarettes, despite the desperate, sputtering attempts of prohibitionists to make us believe puffing a doobie is chemically worse than inhaling a pack of Pall Malls.
Four-twone (“for-twun”), 4:20, 4/20, 420, however you want to say it or display it, has become much bigger than just a phrase. If you’re looking for a room to rent, “420-friendly” is a welcome sign. If you’re traveling and need to find some party supplies or like-minded folk, the code word can help.
So, join your community’s 4/20 celebrations from now on if possible. Tell the true tale of the origin of 420. Talk to your neighbors about the relative safety and the amazing benefits of herb, write to your legislators, and make your voices heard.
RELATED: For scrumptious 420-infused recipes, how-to videos, and information on the Botanical Extractor™, the world’s first countertop appliance for converting cannabis into edibles, check out MagicalButter.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amber Boone considers writing the cornerstone of communication. She interviews MMA (mixed martial arts) athletes for CombatPress.com and opines on MMA at FightItOut.com. She’s passionate about helping folks tell their stories and making the world a better place, which includes working to win the freedom of Americans to partake of the herb. When not writing or playing beach volleyball, she can be found at her day job—for now. Follow Amber on Twitter @thruthetrees11.