In the classic sci-fi novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a supercomputer named Deep Thought spent 7.5 million years questioning “the meaning of life, the universe and everything” and came up with an answer of the number 42.
Cannabists might argue the answer could use another digit.
You probably already know the backstory of how 420 became synonymous with weed.
While there’s a common misconception it’s because April 20 was Bob Marley’s birthday, the truth is that, back in the fall of 1971, a group of buddies attending San Rafael High School used to meet up after class at 4:20pm to get high. They would then head off in search of a cannabis crop abandoned by a Coast Guard worker somewhere in the remote Point Reyes National Seashore that they sadly never managed to locate. This would’ve likely been the end of it but one of them later became friends with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, who adopted their code for weed-smoking time and went on to spread it to Deadheads all around the world.
The rest is history and April 20 has become the de facto day to celebrate pot and protest pointless prohibition.
But there are perhaps a few things you might not know about 420, such as:
It used to be longer
The spot outside school they used to meet was at a statue of French microbiologist and hand-washing enthusiast Louis Pasteur, and it’s highly possible we might today talk about getting “pasteurized” or “louied” if they hadn’t shortened their shorthand.
“We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20,” one of them told the Huffington Post. “It originally started out ‘4:20-Louis’ and we eventually dropped the Louis.”
But it seems fitting that a catchphrase for a plant with so many therapeutic benefits was coined next to a statue of the inventor of germ theory and vaccination. Additional fun fact: Pasteur completed an experiment falsifying the theory of spontaneous generation on April 20, 1862.
Bob Dylan also has nothing to do with it
The opening track of the album Blonde on Blonde features a giggling Bob Dylan singing “everybody must get stoned!” but is titled “Rainy Day Woman #12 and 35” despite none of these words actually appearing in the song itself.
Nobody but him knows why he called the song this over original working title “A Long-Haired Mule and a Porcupine Here” but, if you multiply 12 by 35, you’ll get the sum 420. The stoner anthem was recorded in 1966 – five years before the California teens coined the term – but then again Dylan has always been ahead of the times.
The Trudeau Connection
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015 in no small part due to a promise to legalize recreational cannabis. His father Pierre also happened to be the leader of the country back in 1971 despite legalization not exactly being on his priorities list. The day he was inaugurated? April 20, 1968.
It shows up in a lot of movies
It’s an urban legend that all the clocks in Quentin Tarantino’s timeless Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20 although quite a few of them are. For example, when Butch goes down the pawn shop stairs to (spoiler) exact bloody revenge on Zed and Maynard, you can see the time of day on the clock behind him.
However, in one of the most famous timepiece-related scenes in movie history, the hands of the watch Captain Koons kept up his ass for five long years are clearly set at 6:15.
It was also 4:20 in the morning when Bill Murray got woken up at the beginning of Lost In Translation, 42-0 was the score of a lopsided football game in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and it was 4:20 in the afternoon when elementary school counselor Mr. Mackey checked the time in the early South Park episode Starvin’ Marvin. Despite school still being in session.
Terrible things have happened on 4/20
Speaking of South Park, show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are graduates of Columbine High School, which was the scene of an horrific mass shooting on April 20, 1999. Other awful things to happen on 4/20 include the Ludlow Massacre, the Deepwater Horizon explosion, a deadly 6.6-scale earthquake in China, and Adolf Hitler being born. April 20 was even made an official German holiday in 1939 to mark the Führer’s 50th birthday.
There’s a campaign to make 420 a new holiday
While Germans no longer celebrate Hitler’s birthday on 4/20 (or at least not openly), comedian Bill Maher wants to see it become a new holiday in the U.S., pointing out that celebrating cannabis makes a lot more sense than celebrating a “racist psychopath” on Columbus Day. He launched a Change.org campaign to try to make it happen and there is also a book called ‘Twas the Night Before 420 that you can watch him read from below:
The world’s first intentional acid trip began at 4:20
Three days after accidentally exposing himself to a small dose of lysergic acid diethylamide while working on a new respiratory and circulatory stimulant, Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann decided to take 250 micrograms of the drug to learn more. His lab notes report Hofmann dosed himself April 19, 1943 (not, sadly, April 20) at 4:20 pm before going for a bike ride and tripping balls. Psychedelic enthusiasts now commemorate Hofmann’s discovery every April 19, also known as Bicycle Day.
It’s not a winning game show strategy
Some guy named Evan Goding earned his 14 minutes and 20 seconds of fame when he bid either $420 or $1,420 on every item during an appearance on The Price is Right. Goding’s 420-friendly strategy nearly scored him a home karaoke setup but, sadly, the price was wrong and a rival contestant snaked him with a bid of $421.
There is no Mile 420
There are 450 miles of Interstate 70 from west to east in Colorado, but Mile 420 isn’t officially one of them. After the 420-mile marker was repeatedly pinched by sticky-fingered stoners, officials chose to replace it with a 419.99-mile sign.
A California medical marijuana law is mysteriously named after it
In 2003, California Senate Bill 420 (SB 420), also known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act, established guidelines for Proposition 215, such as how many plants and how much processed cannabis a patient is allowed to possess. Sadly, the legislator who chose the number for the bill remains unknown to this day. An unsuccessful 2010 bill to legalize cannabis in Guam was also called Bill 420, and the unincorporated U.S. territory in the South Pacific currently has a more sober-sounding Bill 834 under consideration.