Thirty-seven years ago a group of stoners at a California high school had a dream that they could smoke weed every day after school at a regular time. With the precision and commitment rare to their kind, they carved out a slice of late afternoon (and probably beyond), dedicating it to the illegal indulgence they share with an estimated 100 million Americans. If Wikipedia is to be believed (and really, for the scholarly subject of stoner cultural history, why shouldn’t it be?), this 1971 San Rafael High School tradition was the bong that launched a thousand hits. 4:20 P.M. daily outside the cafeteria evolved into the ‘High Holiday’ of 4/20.
Despite its prosaic credibility, a minority of paranoid stoners has yet to embrace this creation story from the gospel according to Wikipedia. Some maintain 420 originated from a California penal code or a Congressional bill. Others insist 4:20 is high-tea time in Holland, and still others claim that there are 420 active chemicals in marijuana. (There are approximately 315). These may be proven urban legends, but it is in fact true that National Pot Smoker’s Day coincides with Hitler’s birthday and the Columbine tragedy – and that, most conspiracy-minded stoners will agree, is pretty effed up, man.
But why all this attention to a half-baked holiday that, if you’re like most Princeton students, you didn’t celebrate? (Yeah, yeah it fell on a Sunday, and Sunday’s your “work day.”) Because – due to the contributions of a prominent conservative leader, this year’s 420 was especially momentous. No, I’m not talking about the pope and his serendipitously timed American tour. I’m talking about the National Review founder and little-known advocate of marijuana legalization, the late William F. Buckely Jr.
Following his death two months ago, Buckley was eulogized by author George Nash as the “the most important public intellectual United States in the past half century…[and] the preeminent voice of American conservatism.” Conservatives herald Buckley’s 60 years of political influence, but they conveniently tend to overlook his penchant for pot.
In the 1960s, Buckley publicly admitted to smoking marijuana at sea, sailing his yacht outside of U.S. territory, where it would no longer be illegal. Granted, even for staunch social conservatives, this constitutes a relatively harmless offense. It was the sixties after all, and assuming a helicopter dropped the bag of weed—like a divine dove bestowing a narcotic olive branch—Buckley was in the clear.
Unfortunately for conservatives, an old man’s cry for “Free Weeds” is not as easily dismissed as a young man’s experimentation in international waters. In 2004 at the age of 78, Buckley wrote a well-reasoned and wholly unexpected op-ed in the National Review calling for the decriminalization of marijuana. The current law, he wrote, is representative of an endemic conservative blindness: “intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great.”
Not only did the article display remarkable intellectual integrity, it also put forth some very valid – albeit unusual – points. Buckley insisted that to argue that one man, having smoked marijuana, moved on to severe mental disorder is precisely “on the order of saying that every rapist began by masturbating. General rules based on individual victims are unwise.” Take that so-called “gateway drug”!
Maybe you finished your annual 420 festivities, or maybe you don’t ever intend to finish. Either way, on this the year of his death, remember Buckley: conservative pundit, old man stoner, and hope that one day America can smoke publicly in more places than just yachts.