Originally published in 2021, this post has been edited for content and clarity.
HAPPY 4/20, Y’ALL!!! Why do we celebrate cannabis culture on April 20th? According to legend, the holiday’s roots date back to 1971, when a group of teens in San Rafael, California, used the term “420” for their search for an abandoned cannabis crop (they met after school at 4:20 PM). The boys never found the crop, but they inadvertently created a term still used more than fifty years later. A piece in High Times magazine in 1998 told the story of the boys and their treasure hunt; one of them, Dave Reddix, later became a roadie for Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, so the consensus is that Reddix passed the phrase along to Lesh and the Deadhead community helped popularize it.
Recreational marijuana use has been legalized in Canada, Mexico, and several US states, including my home state of Michigan. Outside of North America, only a few countries – Thailand and South Africa among them – have legalized recreational cannabis, though many more have either decriminalized it or legalized medical use. And even though 38 US states have legalized medical use and 21 have legalized recreational use, the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance alongside drugs like heroin and ecstasy. I acknowledge the privilege that allows me to legally consume recreational cannabis, so let me make my position clear: I am in favor of full decriminalization and legalization of cannabis.
In locations where cannabis use is still illegal, 4/20 observances are often used as a platform for legalization or decriminalization and sometimes involve acts of civil disobedience (the penalty for cannabis possession in the US is typically a civil infraction/fine or a misdemeanor charge but in some countries, one could potentially be imprisoned for years).
However you celebrate, I hope you all have a happy 4/20. And if you don’t observe the occasion, you could always spend the evening with one of these fictional stoners:
- Ron Slater, Dave Wooderson, and Randall “Pink” Floyd – Dazed and Confused
Before I even saw Dazed and Confused, I knew that I would love it; the reviews were glowing, and I’d enjoyed director Richard Linklater’s first film, Slacker. What I didn’t realize was how much I would love a scrappy little stoner boy named Ron Slater. Played by the adorable Rory Cochrane, Slater is the quintessential slacker, single-minded in his pursuit of recreation. But he’s also a philosopher and historian; his theory about George and Martha Washington being weed farmers is one of the funniest bits in the movie. Slater’s sole disappointment in life? He never gets shotgun.
Yes, Wooderson is super creepy – if he were a real person, he’d have been a “Times Up” cautionary tale by now. But I admire Wooderson’s motto: “Just keep livin’…L-I-V-I-N”. Matthew McConaughey, in his first film role, oozed confidence and charisma, and the part expanded to match his outsized personality. Linklater apparently hesitated to cast McConaughey because he was “too handsome” (and you can hardly blame him), but I’m glad Linklater saw past McConaughey’s absurd good looks to the actor underneath. In a film full of fantastic characters, McConaughey steals scene after scene.
Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) is experiencing an existential crisis. He wants to continue playing football but is uneasy about the pledge his coaches have asked him to sign, promising not to engage in “drinking, drugs or any other activity that would jeopardize the goal of a championship season in ’76”. Pink just wants to enjoy the last day of school -and the rituals that accompany it – but he’s caught between his teammates and his stoner friends. When Pink, Wooderson, and company are busted on the fifty-yard line of the school’s football field, the police call the coach. In the end, Pink crumples up the pledge and tosses it at the coach (“I may play football, but I will never sign that”), then goes off with the stoners – to the strains of Foghat’s “Slow Ride” – to buy Aerosmith tickets.
- The Dude – The Big Lebowski
Please do not refer to Jeff Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) as Mr. Lebowski – it’s “The Dude”, thank you very much (“or His Dudeness, or El Duderino, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing”). The Dude just wants to bowl with his friends Walter and Donny, drink White Russians, and get high. His tranquil life is disrupted when he is mistaken for another Jeff Lebowski, whose trophy wife Bunny owes money to porn tycoon Jackie Treehorn. Treehorn’s goons break into The Dude’s apartment and, realizing they have the wrong Lebowski, leave – but not before urinating on his favorite rug (“That rug really tied the room together”). This sets off a farcical chain of events that can only occur in a Coen film. Featuring a fantastically talented supporting cast (among them, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and Philip Seymour Hoffman), The Big Lebowski nevertheless rests on Bridges’ more-than-capable shoulders.
- Larry “Doc” Sportello – Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson’s underrated gem Inherent Vice, based on the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, stars the incomparable Joaquin Phoenix as “Doc” Sportello, a hippie private investigator who finds himself embroiled in LA’s criminal underworld. Phoenix’s performance feels entirely lived-in, and he was deservedly nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor – Musical or Comedy (he lost to Michael Keaton). The film itself could best be described as “Sam Spade meets Cheech & Chong”. Speaking of which…
- Anthony “Man” Stoner and Pedro de Pacas – Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke
For all intents and purposes, Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong created the stoner buddy genre. The two met in Vancouver in the late 1960s; Chong was a Canadian citizen, and Marin had moved there to avoid the Vietnam War draft. They started performing stand-up together and released their first album in 1971. Their success culminated in Up in Smoke, their first of several films. Mainly consisting of a series of skits, Up in Smoke‘s plot is primarily an excuse for the pair to smoke comically large joints. The movie was a critical failure but a box office hit, earning $104 million on a $2 million budget, and Cheech and Chong became one of the most successful comedy duos of all time.
FUN FACT #1: Ivan Reitman conceived Stripes as a Cheech and Chong vehicle, but the two demanded creative control, so Reitman had the screenwriter rework it for ultimate stars Bill Murray and Harold Ramis.
FUN FACT #2: The Lion King‘s hyenas Shenzi and Banzai were modeled after the duo, and the film’s producers offered the voice roles to them. The two weren’t getting along at the time, so Chong declined, and Whoopi Goldberg was cast as Shenzi to Marin’s Banzai.
- Jeff Spicoli – Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Sean Penn’s turn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the kind of comedic performance that can only be achieved by a remarkable dramatic actor. Penn also has terrific chemistry with Ray Walston, who plays Spicoli’s nemesis Mr. Hand, and with Anthony Edwards and Eric Stoltz as his stoner buds. Fast Times was the cream of the ’80s teen sex comedy crop, and it has aged remarkably well. Penn’s performance, which provides some much-needed levity to balance out the story’s darker elements, is still the best thing about it.
FUN FACT: Don Phillips was the casting director for both Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Dazed and Confused.
- Floyd –True Romance
On the cusp of superstardom in 1993, Brad Pitt turned in one of his funniest performances ever in True Romance, playing Floyd, the stoner roommate of Clarence’s friend Dick. Pitt makes the most of his mere minutes of screen time, wringing laughter from the tiniest details, like Floyd’s honey bear bong. Pitt purportedly improvised much of his dialogue, and it is pure genius. The following year, Pitt would land on the A-list with the one-two punch of Interview with the Vampire and Legends of the Fall, and his days of taking supporting roles like Floyd were over. It’s too bad, because I’ll take Floyd over Louis and Tristan any day.
- Ted and Marshall – How I Met Your Mother, multiple episodes
Since Future Ted is telling his kids this story, he resorts to using an interesting euphemism for smoking weed – “eating a sandwich”. The joke first appears in the season 3 episode “How I Met Everyone Else”, as Future Ted tells his kids how he first met their Uncle Marshall. It became one of the series’ best running gags, featuring in several flashbacks throughout its run. Once in a while, older Ted and Marshall would eat a sandwich as well; in the standout season 7 episode “Tick Tick Tick”, the two (along with a pregnant Lily) attend a concert and eat a sandwich that may have been laced with “hard meats”. The results are harrowing for Ted and Marshall, and absolutely hilarious for us.
- Dale Denton and Saul Silver – Pineapple Express
The Cheech and Chong of the 21st century, Seth Rogen and James Franco both got their start on the lovely, canceled-before-its-time Freaks and Geeks. Rogen and Franco vaulted to stardom, and their well-documented love of cannabis culminated in 2008’s Pineapple Express. The movie is shockingly violent for a stoner buddy comedy, as Saul and Ted are ensnared in a war between a corrupt cop and an Asian gang. Named for a particularly heady strain of marijuana, Pineapple Express was a box office success, making a worldwide total of $101 million on a $26 million budget. A sequel was planned, but the filmmakers and the studio couldn’t agree on a budget. We were treated to a pseudo-sequel by way of the movie-within-a-movie in 2013’s This Is the End.
FUN FACT: The inspiration for Pineapple Express was True Romance‘s Floyd. Producer Judd Apatow thought it would be interesting to follow Floyd out of his apartment and watch him get chased by bad guys.
- Scooby and Shaggy
Scooby and Shaggy never smoked weed onscreen; in fact, the folks at Hanna-Barbera never intended for the pair to be perceived as stoners. But we know what they were doing in the back of that van. The only question is, were Scooby snacks edibles or just his cure for the munchies?
2 thoughts on “My Favorite Pop Culture Stoners”
I saw the title and thought “Spicoli has GOT to be on this list”, and I just added Breakfast Club to the list of movies it’s been too long since I watched.
Full confession, though. I’ve never seen The Big Lebowski.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Big Lebowski isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of my very favorites.
LikeLiked by 1 person