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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘420’ becomes part of the dictionary as Spokane embraces counterculture, pot holiday

There’s still confusion about the origins of the 4/20 cultural phenomenon, but don’t blame that on the Oxford English Dictionary.

The definitive resource on the English language last month added the numerals “420” to its chronicling of more than 829,000 words, senses and compounds, citing primary documents by the accepted originators of the slang phrase: a group of self-proclaimed California stoners who met at San Rafael High School in the early 1970s to find a rumored field of marijuana.

“People always asked where it came from, and none of the explanations were very good,” said Katherine Connor Martin, the New York-based head of U.S. dictionaries for the Oxford University Press. “So it’s very pleasing that the record of the English language now records what seems to be the genuine origin of the term.”

Martin said there was solid evidence showing “the Waldos,” a group of students with ties to the band the Grateful Dead, popularized the term as a reference to the time in the afternoon they’d meet to smoke and look for the fabled weed field. The group’s story has been reported by the BBC, the Huffington Post and Time magazine. An account of the tale was printed in last month’s Spokannabist publication, a product of The Spokesman-Review.

Dillin Garvin and Zach Sharrai, two sales associates (also “budtenders”) at the Cannabis and Glass retail store, 605 E. Francis Ave., gave differing accounts of their familiarity with the phrase.

“What I thought it was, back in the day, when they made it illegal, I thought that was on 4/20,” Sharrai said.

“The one that I think, probably, has the most truth, is back in the day there were these kids in California who’d meet after detention and went out there, to one spot, and by the time they always reached that spot it’s 4:20,” Garvin said.

Aaron Boshart, director of operations for Cannabis and Glass’ two locations on Francis and in Spokane Valley, said April 20 is typically one of the heaviest sales days for the business.

“I’d say, 4/20 and Black Friday have been our biggest days of sales,” Boshart said.

The Liquor and Cannabis Board charts sales statewide by date, and the week surrounding April 20 usually sees a spike in business, said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the agency. In 2015, sales statewide on April 20 totaled $1.4 million. Last year, that number rose to $3.7 million, and indications are this year will be even more lucrative. Retailers statewide reported $4.7 million in sales already on Monday, the most recent day of sales reported by the board.

Cannabis and Glass began receiving notices from producers two weeks ago about potential deals for the upcoming unofficial “stoner’s holiday,” said Doug Glendenning, purchasing manager for the business. The location will keep regular hours from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and will be offering eighths (3.5 grams) of pot for as low as $10, he said.

“It’s a sort of holiday in the sense that you want to meet up with your friends and consume cannabis together,” Glendenning said. “Everyone knows of that day, and everyone’s excited.”

Carol Erhart and Alissa Taylor, the married owners of the Spokane marijuana retailer 4:20 Friendly, didn’t learn about the official story behind the phrase until they were researching names for their store. The couple met through a personal ad online that included the phrase “4:20 friendly,” code for cannabis-tolerant, Erhart said, and that seemed the likeliest moniker for their legal marijuana shop.

“It’s got history behind it, and it describes who we are,” Erhart said. She and her wife aren’t “really users,” Erhart said, but they have many friends and business associates who are.

4:20 Friendly, 1515 S. Lewis St., will hold another celebration Thursday of what has become an unofficial holiday for the cannabis culture, Erhart said. The shop is open 8 a.m. to midnight and has several deals on products, including pre-rolled joints for $3.

The Airway Heights shop is one of six operating retailers statewide that uses some form of the familiar slang term in its name, according to the Liquor and Cannabis Board, and the only one located east of the Cascades.

Martin, the dictionary supervisor, said the inclusion of “420” in the Oxford English Dictionary reflected the mainstream acceptance of the culture seen in legalization nationwide, even as the current presidential administration charts a course on enforcement of federal laws. As of the most recent election cycle, 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of marijuana legalization, though they haven’t all taken effect yet.

“We have a watch list of words that we think should be added, and as they get enough evidence, we add them,” she said. “This had been on the list for awhile, but it’s become more prominent, and it’s become more mainstream, since the legalization.”