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It can often be very difficult to pinpoint the origin of a word or a phrase.  For instance, who said, “Groovy!” for the first time?  What deprived mind conceived such a combination of letters?  Sure, you can trace its use back in documents, but that can take you only so far.  You may find that its first recorded use was in episode 62 of “Gilligan’s Island” (or not), but that doesn’t tell you that a writer for that show created the term, although I wouldn’t doubt if one did.  The word could’ve been in use in limited circles for years before then. 

When trying to decide on the origin of the term 4:20, it’s even harder.  Those in the best position to know probably can’t remember.  4:20, for those of you who don’t know or can’t remember, has come to represent the entire marijuana smoking, weed toking, pot ingesting, and cannabis molesting sub-culture.  Just as every good beer drinker dutifully recognizes beer-thirty, every die-hard stoner recognizes bong-twenty.  4:20 – the time of the afternoon to get high.  And thus, the twentieth of April, the twentieth day of the fourth month, 4/20, has become the most sacred of all days for every red-eyed, munchie-craving stoner everywhere, who will all be happy to show you how they put the high in high holy days.

But why 4:20?  Why not 2:15?  9:37?  Noon?  All the above?

When trying to figure something such as where the term 4:20 originated, perhaps one of the best places to start is by eliminating the possibilities.  One rumor of where the term comes from is that there are 420 chemicals in pot.  Not true, says Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana advocacy group.  According to them there are “...483 different identifiable chemical constituents known to exist in cannabis.”  (Medical Marijuana)  And then they go on to list them, but you’ll just have to take my word on that. 

Another possibility was that 420 was the police code... somewhere... for weed addicts.  “We’ve got a 420 in Progress at the Disc Golf Course.”  Never mind that that’s redundant.  There’s one way to find out if that’s true.  In the terms of modern parlance, google it!  I simply put in:  “Is 420 a police code?”  It’s a well asked question, according to Google.  And the answer I found at an entire site devoted to squashing rumors was, “No.”  There are no police departments in the country that use 420 as a code for a couple of brothers passing a spliff.  (Mikkelson)

On the other hand, Senate Bill 420, which became law in California in 2003 made it legal to use medicinal marijuana.  (Senate Bill)  However, the term 420 was around long before 2003.  And I know that because while searching for the police codes, I stumbled across a site where somebody else had already done the work for me.  Aside from having found what they claimed was the right answer, they also debunked many others that I hadn’t even thought of, such as that the 20th of April is the best time to plant marijuana (as if a weed needs a best time!), or that when the Grateful Dead toured they always stayed in room 420.  (Mikkelson)  Wow.  Some people have really put a lot of effort in this.

According to a quasi-reliable source, 420 is believed to have come into existence in 1971 at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California.  There were these twelve dudes, you see, and they all got into the habit of getting high every day at pretty much the same time after school... by the statue... at 4:20.  And that became their code.  You’re sitting in second hour algebra... or is it French... hard to tell, you can’t speak it... and your buddy nods and says, “420.”  Enough said.  And from there, quite naturally, it spread.  (Mikkelson)  All the cool stuff starts in California.

But is that true?  I mean, it’s not that I don’t trust Ms. Mikkelson, or Ms. Witmer, or Mr. Grimm, or any of the other numerous sources on the Internet that all confirm Mikkelson’s story.  But it’s just what my mama always told me:  Trust, but verify.  So I did.  I looked it up on Wikipedia.  And, by golly, there is a San Rafael High School.  And the High School has a statue of Louis Pasteur on its campus... the same statue where those darned stoners used to hang out each day at 4:20.  And get this!  Louis Pasteur has nothing to do with marijuana!  And if that’s not enough, it’s a high school.  And, really, if it’s on Wikipedia, then you know it must be true.


Work Cited

Grimm, Ryan.  “What 420 Means: The True Story Behind Stoners' Favorite Number.”  25 May 2011.  The Huffington Post.  19 Apr. 2012.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/20/what-420-means-the-true-s_n_188320.html

“Medical Marijuana.”  7 Dec. 2006.  Pro/Con.org.  19 Apr. 2012.  http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000636

Mikkelson, Barbara.  “Claim:  The Term ‘420’ entered drug parlance as a term signifying the time to light up a joint.”  13 June 2008.  Snopes.com.  19 Apr. 2012.  http://www.snopes.com/language/stories/420.asp

“San Rafael High School.”  2 Dec. 2011.  Wikipedia.  19 Apr. 2012.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Rafael_High_School

“Senate Bill:  SB 420 Chaptered Bill Text.”  12 Oct. 2003.  California State Government.  19 Apr. 2012.  http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/03-04/bill/sen/sb_0401-0450/sb_420_bill_20031012_chaptered.html

Witmer, Denise.  “What Does ‘420’ Mean?”  2012.  About.com:  Teens.  19 Apr. 2012.  http://parentingteens.about.com/cs/marijuana/a/420meaning.htm