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Read This: The war over who created 4/20 spans 5 decades

Photo: Marc Piscotty / Getty

History is rife with historic feuds. The Hatfields and McCoys. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Sean Spicer and Dippin’ Dots. Meanwhile, another epic rivalry has been brewing beneath a thick cloud of smoke for the last four and a half decades and we’ve been none the wiser. Until now, that is. A new piece from The Ringer serves as a definitive primer to the harshed mellow that is the Waldos-Bebes feud.

Today’s a fitting day to report on the rivalry, as its significance wouldn’t exist without them. For years now, a group of friends who went to San Rafael High School in the ’70s have been credited with coining the phrase “420” in reference to all things marijuana. The story is that the Waldos, a group of friends led by a chill dude named Steve Capper, would “head for team practices and assorted meetings before rendezvousing back at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 sharp to smoke up and set out on the day’s safari” after school.


This has long been the accepted origin, but in 2012 a piece from 420 Magazine disputed this fact, citing a group of friends called the Bebes as the phrase’s true originators.

420 Magazine quoted Tom Thorgersen, the era’s “neighborhood Norwegian weed dealer,” as saying: “Steve Capper is an opportunist who wasn’t even close to making up 420. We made fun of the Waldos, a.k.a. ‘Wallies,’ they were the weaker link, the ones who didn’t fit in.”


Despite there being no financial gain to the outcome, the two friend groups have gone to insane lengths to make their case over who originated the phrase. Capper, for example, has a “safety deposit box in the underground vault of a Wells Fargo in downtown San Francisco.”

There’s a postmarked letter from Waldo Dave from the early 1970s, which finishes, “alittle [sic] 420 enclosed for your weekend.” There’s an old copy of the San Rafael student newspaper, dated June 7, 1974, in which a member of the Class of 1974 indicates that he would like to tell the graduating class, simply, “4-20.” And then there’s an old, tie-dye batik flag made in a San Rafael art class by a friend a few years younger than Capper, emblazoned with the telltale seven-point leaf and, of course, the number 420; to show she took the course, he has her transcript, which she requested from the school at Capper’s behest. “I don’t care how many stories [the Bebes] make up,” Capper says, “nobody [else] in the world has any evidence that goes back to the early ’70s.”


You can check those pieces out here.

Meanwhile, Brad Bann, leader of the Bebes, fronts a band called the 420 Band and eschews evidence in favor of a cockiness that includes a claim that he not only coined “420” but also gave the Waldos their names.


A tip for whoever comes out on top: Your soon-to-be mascot is ready and waiting.

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