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4/20 and The Waldos: The hidden origins of pot's annual celebration

Forget rumours of mythical origins: most experts agree marijuana's 4/20 celebration began at the unlikely meeting spot of California high school students in the 1970s.

Despite grand rumours, 4/20 appears to have started with a bunch of dudes and a scientist's statue

The first known reference to marijuana and 4/20 was at a high school in San Rafael, Calif. in 1971. Many Canadians now spend the day letting their freak flag fly. (CBC)

Some legends are borne of fire, steel and destiny. 

Others - pot's annual 4/20 celebration, for example - start with a bunch of dudes called the Waldos, looking for a place to get high. 

Despite years of intrigue, supposition and sometimes acrimonious debate, it turns out a group of 1970s high school students in San Rafael, Calif. appear to have the strongest claim to the origins of marijuana's holy day.

The Waldos

Yes - April 20, 1889 was Adolf Hitler's birthday. Yes - Marie and Pierre Curie isolated radium on April 20, 1902. And yes - the manned lunar module from Apollo 16 landed on the moon on April 20, 1972 (if you go by Canadian timezones.)

Bob Marley was no stranger to marijuana - but had absolutely nothing to do with 4/20. (File photo/Associated Press)

But no one involved with those historical events agreed to meet at San Rafael High's Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 p.m. during the 1971 school year to smoke marijuana and search for legendary pot fields.

The group called themselves the Waldos — because they liked to hang out in front of a wall.

Various members have said the words 'four twenty' came to be code, not just for their meeting time, but anything having to do with marijuana, like "Do you have any?" or "Do I look stoned?"

And from there, the legend grew.

San Rafael also happened to be the home of the late Grateful Dead guitarist, singer and songwriter Jerry Garcia.

Whether or not he ever met the Waldos is a matter of pure speculation, but marijuana historians credit The Dead and their massive, cult-like following of Deadheads with spreading the ethos of 4/20 far and wide.

A pretender to the throne?

In 2012, a guy named The Bebe challenged The Waldos as the self-proclaimed father of 4/20.

4/20 also has absolutely nothing to do with Willie Nelson. But he's been known to celebrate. (Liaison/Getty Images)

The Bebe claimed to have gone to the same high school as the Waldos, but said he and his gang originated the term 4/20 in 1970 — a full year before the Waldos.

Believe it or not, this became a full-fledged controversy, from which most agree the Waldos emerged victorious, by producing various pieces of "scientifically verifiable evidence."

Finally, a few things 4/20 has no connection to: the California penal code, the best date to plant marijuana, the death of Bob Marley, the exact length of Willie Nelson's ponytail...or the number of days 'prince of pot' Marc Emery spent in a U.S. prison.


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