A lot of people LOVE a good conspiracy theory and spend an inordinate – some would say unhealthy – amount of time trying to find ‘proof’ of their claims. I once wrote a three-part JFK Assassination series for a history website which focused on the evidence for and against Oswald as the lone gunman, along with a look at various conspiracy theories surrounding the death of President Kennedy.
Needless to say, the series was among the most visited, and commented on, pages in that website’s history! Given that weed is often associated with paranoia, it isn’t a surprise to learn that some stoners have focused on the 420 conspiracy, the weed world’s version of the JFK assassination.
420 Conspiracy Theories
It seems as if 420 is the real number of the beast according to the government. Elon Musk is the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) lawsuit after his announcement that he would take his Tesla company private. The news itself was no surprise, but the Internet is wild with 420 conspiracy theories claiming Musk is under investigation for making a pot joke.
The billionaire claimed that he didn’t know the significance of the number at first, but once he found out, he rounded up the share price to $420 and believed his girlfriend would find it funny.
Ill-conceived pranks from eccentric Tony Stark wannabes aside, several 420 conspiracy theories are doing the rounds. Some of them are so ridiculous that true believers should be kept under lock and key. A prime example is the idea that 420 is related to Adolf Hitler because the murderous dictator’s birthday was April 20. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Nazi leader was into marijuana.
The above is probably the craziest 420 conspiracy theory, but there are many other wild and wonderful ones. It is suggested that 420 commemorates the death of Bob Marley; unlikely since he died on November 5, 1981. There is a suggestion that the Grateful Dead always stayed in Room 420 in a hotel when touring, but that also isn’t true.
The notion that it is based on California Senate Bill 420, better known as the Medical Marijuana Program, at least makes some sense. After all, SB 420 helped establish guidelines for Proposition 215. However, the bill was passed in 2003, over three decades after the real story of 420 took place.
Here are a couple of more 420 conspiracy theories:
- It comes from a Bob Dylan song called Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35 because Dylan chants “everyone must get stoned” repeatedly during the track. Also, 12 x 35 = 420.
- It is the time of day when smokers in the Netherlands light up.
- April 20 is the best day of the year to plant weed.
- 420 is a California penal code section that bans marijuana.
- 420 was a police code for a marijuana crime in a certain police department.
- There are 420 chemical compounds in marijuana. In reality, approximately 315 have been identified.
To be honest, the list of 420 conspiracy theories goes on and on. None of the above is true, but the number 420 has still entered the English lexicon.
420 in Popular Culture
Before we get to the real story of 420, let’s delve into the number’s growing influence. One of the first instances of 420 in pop culture happened in Fast Times at Ridgemont High way back in 1982. In the movie, Forest Whitaker plays an irate football player who helps his team demolish their opponents by a scoreline of 42-0. Incidentally, Sean Penn plays the role of stoner in the movie.
In a season finale of 24: Legacy, the main character enters a room numbered 420 as the clock ticks down towards zero. In one episode of Mad Men, Don Draper’s agency had a meeting with American Airlines, and the presentation took place on April 20. A few episodes later, there were scenes depicting characters getting high.
In Season 7, Episode 12 of Family Guy, the episode is called ‘420’. As you can guess by the name, the main plot involves Brian the dog campaigning for the legalization of weed in Quahog. The Mayor passes a law legalizing the herb, but a wealthy businessman is angry because hemp threatens his newspaper industry (a nod to the influence of William Randolph Hearst in the 1930s).
He bribes Brian to begin an anti-marijuana campaign, and the drug is made illegal once again. The Family Guy 420 episode was praised for the sharp plot and excellent musical number; although it was banned in Venezuela.
The Real Story of 420
The true tale of 420 is actually pretty straightforward. Five friends, who called themselves the Waldos, met outside San Rafael High School in California in 1971 at 4:20 pm to smoke weed. The group chose the Louis Pasteur statue as their meeting spot, and it was there that they went on a quest for a secret marijuana plot; one they never found.
When they passed one another in the school’s hallways, they would whisper ‘420’ as a reminder of the time they were due to meet after school. They chose 4:20 pm because some of the teenagers had after-school sporting activities that were not completed until 4 pm. It is claimed that one of the group later worked as a roadie for the Grateful Dead and the band’s followers, nicknamed ‘The Deadheads’ spread the 420 word.
By the 1990s, High Times began using the term ‘420’ and later, members of the Waldos surfaced to prove that they were the ‘inventors’ of the term. They even produced and displayed a ‘420 flag’ from the 1970s as further evidence along with postmarked letters from the same era which uses 420 as a code for marijuana.
In the end, the real story of 420 is probably not as ‘cool’ or ‘outlandish’ as people hope, but the best tales seldom are. Today, there are special 4/20 festivals that take place all over the world on April 20 of each year to celebrate a magical plant.