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The inside dope on '420' buzz

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When, where and why did innocuous numbers become a sly reference to "pot smoker"? Its history is hazy but the smoke may finally be clearing on the real story.

...How a random three-digit number became a pot euphemism is, in itself, a story. Either that, or something from the annals of Cheech & Chong.

Links between youth culture and the number surfaced after the April 20, 1999, Columbine massacre, when some postulated that the shooters chose the date of their rampage to coincide either with Hitler's birthday or some date of unspecified importance to teenage youth culture. Well before that, however, pager-toting suburban adolescents throughout the country used the three digits as a code for smoking marijuana. And in 1991, High Times magazine, a staunch promoter of the 420 phenomenon, published an item on a flier that a staffer found circulating at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland: "WAKE 'N' BAKE. Smoke Pot At 4:20," the flier reportedly said.

The term, however, appears to have been coined long before then, according to those who have tracked it. Stern, for example, says she heard it as long ago as the late 1980s, when she was working with young people in a Pennsylvania drug treatment facility. Ron Angier, field supervisor for the Marin District of California State Parks, has recollections that are older still, from his first days as a park ranger 22 years ago on Mt. Tamalpais.

"Crowds of teenagers just started showing up on the mountain at 4:20 p.m. on April 20," Angier said. "Maybe a thousand kids went up one year to Bolinas Ridge, this open vista that overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Stinson Beach."

...

In fact, the only documented story behind the 420 phenomenon is the most comically mundane one, starring a group of now-middle-aged former slackers at San Rafael High School in 1971. One -- now a commercial lender in San Francisco -- told the story on condition that he be referred to only by his first name, Steve.

...

The group agreed to meet that afternoon after school at 4:20 p.m. by a campus statue of Louis Pasteur, he said, and head out to search for the marijuana patch. "But one thing led to another," he laughed, "and suffice it to say we never found it. Every day we'd meet at 4:20 by this statue, and every day we'd just end up getting high and driving around for hours." Over time, the mere phrase "four-twenty" -- exchanged in a hallway, or discreetly mentioned in the presence of teachers and parents -- became their personal code for "time to get high," he said.

(extract from the "LA Times", article by Shawn Hubler)
 
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