4/20 is basically a national holiday in the seeming nation state of California — so much so that cities like San Francisco have even come to make April 20 a permitted event, acknowledging that a strong plurality of residents within its borders will be getting high in public.
In the birthplace of counterculture, it’s common to still find a few heads of flower-entangled dreadlocks among the tech bros vaping in the park. Classically, hippies wandering in from Haight-Ashbury converge on the aptly named Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park, a mecca for anyone looking for weed, acid, or a good drum circle. On 4/20 especially, and most other days of the year, it smells like weed there, and it always has — as if the prohibition against smoking weed in public were beside the point.
Because it basically is. And San Francisco city regulators know it. That’s why they’ve chosen to adapt.
“This has been a rogue kind of spontaneous thing,” Sarah Madland, director of policy and public affairs at the SF Recreation and Parks department, said of the Hippie Hill 4/20 smoke sesh. The city’s M.O. has been to let it happen, then spend $50,000 cleaning up after everyone leaves.
“We’ve had discussions about how to end this event, but the reality is that it would break into four or five different events and then we couldn’t control any of it,” said SF Mayor Ed Lee.
Rather than try and inevitably fail at squashing 4/20, the city wants to at least manage it. With the passage of Prop 64 in California this past November, anyone over the age of 21 can legally possess up to ounce of weed in public. The City of San Francisco will dole out permits so people can legally celebrate 4/20, smoke in public, and turn it into a regulated event with sponsors, gates, and fences all funded by Haigh Street merchants.
The city also wants to bring in porta potties and trash cans, while ensuring there’s a traffic plan and an emergency plan with an on-site ambulance. Unlike festivals in the park, like Outside Lands or Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, which event companies put on and clean up after, 4/20 is like a spontaneous festival without the oversight. That’s where the City of San Francisco comes in.
And while it’s still technically illegal to smoke in the park, Mayor Lee acknowledges it’s “like a critical mass” that can’t be curbed. There’s no stopping 4/20.