For many stoners, the origin story for 420 is canon: A group of friends called the Waldos, who went to California’s San Rafael High in the 1970s, were the progenitors of the now-sacred number in reference to cannabis.
But not so fast, says another group of dudes who were their contemporaries. The Beebs, whose ringleader is/was a guy named Brad Bann, say that they were the ones who first used a phrase that has now become a worldwide holiday.
A recent article by Bay Area publication SFGate’s cannabis editor Lester Black examines the controversy, comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the two etymological versions.
You probably already know the Waldos’ side of this: The crew says they learned of an abandoned weed field and decided to link up after school at 4:20 p.m. to embark on a search for its cannabis bonanza. Soon enough, they say that rendezvous time became their shorthand for smoking marijuana in general, and through their fervent groupiedom of the Grateful Dead, the slang spread like the popularity of wandering psychedelic jam music itself.
But a challenger has arisen to this widely accepted narrative in the form of fellow San Rafael stoner friend pack the Beebs. Leader Bann sas that “420” was actually first used in reference to weed by he himself while smoking at fellow Beeb Dan Dixon’s house in San Rafael’s Peacock Gap neighborhood. At 4:20 p.m., Dixon asked Bann what time it was, and Bann replied with the hour and that, “We should load some bong loads.”
Hardcore cannabis historians will not want to miss the SFGate article, which goes into depth about which points of both stories are deemed weak by the dueling posses and other acquaintances. Of primary importance are a debate over when bongs first appeared in San Rafael, whether high school kids were fashioning them out of bamboo, what time football practices let out, and the veracity of certain barn dance documentation.
Don’t think that anyone is happy to let these discrepancies lie. The Waldos went so far as to hire a private investigator to track down the man who hipped them to the supposed existence of the weed garden. The investigator found the guy living on the streets of San Jose, and managed to film him for a 2016 Youtube clip saying that yes, he had told the Waldos about this cache of cannabis.
At the end of the day, the two groups may just have to accept that they’ll never fully be able to lay claim to 4/20’s origin story. As their friend Craig Saunders tells Black:
“I don't know if this can ever actually be resolved. I just hope that all of these people who were always hanging out and being friends don’t try to separate. We were all there when it happened, and who knows for sure [who exactly invented it]. But it did happen in San Rafael High School in and around ‘71 and ‘72.”
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