Illustration by Jim Cooke

Have you considered the possibility that the United States government wants you to get high today, or at least to talk about getting high today? Specifically today, April 20?

I don’t know of any direct evidence for this. Only background facts. Here are the key ones:

  • On April 20, 1889, Adolf Hitler was born. April 20 was celebrated by the Nazis, and subsequently became an underground holiday for neo-Nazis.
  • On April 20, 1999*, the Columbine massacre took place. One of the teen killers was a Nazi enthusiast, and apparently timed the killings to that date.

While the number “420" has been used in stoner culture since the early 1970s, it was mainly a niche usage, and it was much more closely associated with a daily practice of smoking marijuana at 4:20 p.m. than with an annual marijuana celebration on April 20.

The idea that there is a widespread national marijuana observance on April 20 was an unfamiliar one in the 1980s and early 1990s. It only really took off in the 21st century.

This coincides broadly with the destigmatization of marijuana use in the United States and the spread of marijuana decriminalization and legalization, accompanied by the dawning of the legal, corporate marijuana business. Broader conspiracists, or attentive Marxists, might consider the relationship between the sudden tolerance for a mood-sweetening palliative drug and the collapse of a social contract under which the working and middle classes had a general expectation of lifelong productive employment.

But for now, let’s focus on the holiday. By the end of the ’90s, April 20 was a symbolically dangerous date. In addition to the Columbine and Hitler connections, it fell in the shadow around the fatal Waco raid of 1993 and the retaliatory Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, both on April 19.

What would turn people—disaffected and antisocial people, in particular—away from thoughts of resentment and violence at this time of year? What if the urge toward rebellion could find another outlet, a harmless outlet? A mellow outlet?

There is a long cultural and political history of overlaying a new purpose and ideology on troublesome times of year. Many of our most cherished holidays arrived at their current forms through cooptation. And our government has certainly sought to covertly solve problems through psychoactive drugs in the past.

Again, I don’t claim to have evidence that the rise of the 4/20 holiday was an intentional program of domestic psyops to defuse the threat of copycat murder and domestic terrorism. All I know is that if anyone had wanted to reclaim and pacify a day marked for hate and murder, they could hardly have come up with a more effective plan. Think about it. Or don’t think about it. Have a harmless and happy 4/20.