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It's 4/20; Where Are All My Co-Workers?


Tomorrow is April 20th, 4/20. 4/20. Commentator Marion Winik says if that doesn't mean anything to you, she's here to fill you in.

: 20 on 4/20 step outside and take a whiff. Don't smell anything? Okay, head over to the woods behind the high school.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you're not alone. I found out just a few years ago, when on April 19th I happened to be standing behind a teenager while he was at the computer. Though I was forbidden to read over his shoulder, I couldn't help noticing he had more than one instant message that asked each in it's uniquely misspelled way, what are you doing for 4/20? It was with a mixture of hesitation and pity that he informed me that 4/20 is the sacred hour and day of pot smoking. The best time of all to fire one up. Of course, not that he ever had or would.

How could such a thing exist and I not know about it? I must have let my hippie license expire. A quick Goggle showed just how out of it I was with everyone from High Times Magazine to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services waiting to fill me in. As far back as 2001, the latter group put a document titled It's 4/20; Do You Know Where Your Teen Is? I guess I didn't. Little kids have secret clubs and passwords, big kids have My Space and 4/20. Like any worthwhile code word, the origins of the term are shrouded in mystery. Food for hours of debate and speculation. Some believe it to be the police radio code for pot smoking in progress. Others the length of the Beatles song Come Together. Still others the date of the death of Morrison or Hendricks, or the number of chemicals in cannabis. It is the time to which all the clocks are set in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the room number in which the Grateful Dead always stayed.

The code you sent to the drug dealer's pager to place your order. It really is the number of blackbirds baked in the pie, and the birthday of Adolf Hitler, though that doesn't explain much. Most sources endorse the story that the term originated among a group of stoners at a southern California high school in the early seventies as the time to meet by the water tower to smoke a doobie. But honestly, I don't think anybody really wants to know. Knowing ruins it, and parents knowing really ruins it. So if you'd like to do your part to stop teenage marijuana abuse, or at least take the fun out of it, pipe up tomorrow at dinner, hey, what did everybody do for 4/20?

BLOCK: Marion Winik is the author of the book Above Us Only Sky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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