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Volume 71, Issue 131, Thursday, April 20, 2006

Opinion

Famous date deserves a little investigation

James Davis
Opinion Columnist 

The mythology surrounding April 20 has always mystified me. My brother, a stoner for the better part of his 23-year-long life, had a "Highway 420" bumper sticker on the back of his Honda Civic, and it took me until about my freshman year of high school to understand the humor. 

We're all college students here, so most of us probably understand 420's link with drug culture. Not only is 4:20 p.m. the unofficial teatime for marijuana smokers; April 20 has become an underground holiday for mind navigation. Keep your nostrils open tomorrow for a dank, piney smell on your classmates, and make sure to check their pupils. 

Though most of us recognize this infamous date, few among us have a clear knowledge of its origins. The term came to life around 1971, when a group of high school kids in San Rafael, Calif., designated 4:20 p.m. as their time to commune with the spirit of ganja. Their high jinks affected the surrounding culture's argot, and the term 420 worked its way to potheads throughout the country and the world. Most of the clocks in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction are set to 4:20. According to his lab notes, Albert Hoffman took his first LSD trip at 4:20, which, considering this experiment took place in 1943, is a coincidence

That's the extent of it. Despite some stoners' nurtured beliefs, 420 is not the penal code section that refers to marijuana use in California or elsewhere. It is not linked with police radio code, nor is it the chemical compound number for cannabis. Why those California hoodlums chose that time is probably arbitrary.

Still, there are some other associations with the date that continue to puzzle me. Around the time I began to understand my brother's bumper sticker, two students shot themselves and 12 other students at Columbine High School, about an hour away from where I lived at the time. Like the Californians, the reasons the Columbine shooters chose this date may have been arbitrary. But I can't help but wonder: If the date choice was deliberate, did it have anything to do with the stoner subculture? Or did it have something to do with Adolph Hitler's birthday, another of today's infamous attributes? 

Ever since 1999, I've been secretly trying to uncover the connection among these three: drugs, Hitler and Columbine. I'd like to think I'm not alone in this pursuit, either. An encyclopedia could be filled up with books, articles, films and other media trying to decipher the Columbine incident. Many have questioned the link between the shooters and Nazism, an obsession with structure and supremacy. Eric Harris, one of the attackers, was prescribed anti-depressants, so drugs have entered the discussion, as well.

OK. This is getting out of hand. Suffice it to say that April 20 sparks our imaginations for a reason. Today, we must consider three areas I believe are core to understanding the United States: drug culture, student malaise in public education and the aftermath of World War II. They may not have much to do with each other besides this date, but something tells me they have more in common than we think.

Davis, an opinion columnist for The Daily Cougar, can be reached at jpdavis@uh.edu.
 

Send comments to dccampus@mail.uh.edu

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