David L. Garcia
By 7:20 p.m. on April 20, 2017, just a few blocks south of the twin towers of St. Ignatius church, the revelry of the world’s dankest holiday was winding down inside Golden Gate Park. The opaque cloud of smoke and vaporized liquid that had been hovering over Hippie Hill for most of the day had long since disappeared along with the news choppers that had been disrupting classes all afternoon, replaced by a vibe-killing line of SFPD officers on motorcycles gently encouraging stragglers to head out of the area, towards the metal gates and porta-potties marking the park’s eastern border. Traffic on Fulton slowed to a crawl, as mobs of stoned merrymakers clogged the crosswalks and commandeered commuter-laden Muni buses.
This exodus marked the end of 4/20, an international counterculture holiday devoted to the promotion and celebration of all things cannabis. 4/20 had become a fixture of spring in San Francisco well before California legalized recreational marijuana last November. The 2017 event was the first of its kind to be approved by the city of San Francisco, which provided an event permit to a handful of Haight St. business owners and local cannabis companies to ensure that park rules were followed and the event was well-organized. Sponsors were found to offset some of the cleanup and security costs. According to the SF Recreation and Parks Department, an estimated 15,000 people attended the event.
Traffic Enforcement Officer Kevin (he refused to give a full name) was standing on the corner of Stanyan and Fulton, directing the masses. He felt that this year’s 4/20 event was an improvement from last year’s, citing the licensed organizers’ efforts to control the crowd and provide conveniences as big steps forward. “It’s been a lot better, especially compared to last year. Locals all pulled down a bunch of money to pay for security and the porta-potties and everything in between.” said the officer. He hoped the 2018 holiday is just as well planned as this year’s.
Lingering in a clearing just before Hippie Hill was one unique reveler: a cheery man named Al who brought along Goddess, a nine-foot long red tailed boa constrictor. Al kept Goddess lovingly draped over his shoulders, offering strangers the opportunity to hold her. Photos were a dollar each. The snake seemed to be fine with the arrangement, although that’s debatable; her only mode of expression was to flash her forked tongue every few seconds.
Inside the park, private security officer Brion Pique was standing near the base of Hippie Hill, staying alert as cleanup crews descended on the hill to remove litter left behind. Pique seemed equally pleased with how the day had been organized. “Everybody shares the money, the money gets shared with the community. It makes San Francisco look better.” He wasn’t worried by any of the crowd, comparing it to a much more rambunctious audience at a Jerry Garcia concert he once worked. “The hippies was wilder,” he explained.
Standing near Pique was David Smith, a USF senior and the first of many people to offer “Smith” as their last name. This was his second 4/20 in the city. “The fences were kind of a bummer, but I think the general vibe was still there…It was more fun when it was less organized though.”
A small cluster of people began to form thirty feet ahead of the slowly creeping motorcycle line. Red-eyed twenty-somethings carrying coolers and camping chairs dropped their picnic gear and began looking for cash to hand to Jasmine and Jason Smith. This couple presided over an oversized plastic bag full of homemade edibles, trading cookies and Rice Krispy treats for rumpled dollar bills. The duo are 4/20 regulars and had been in the park since morning.
“We’ve been out here for about eight hours. We heard that they regulated everything all of a sudden for the first time…which we don’t really like,” said Jason, referring to the services and vending set up by organizers. He explained that he preferred the day before 2017. “Regular people used to come here for 4/20 and actually enjoy it with each other, and not have people try to make a profit off of us. Now they have all these vendors and food trucks and these lines, which means the bigger man’s trying to get his foot in.”
As the final wave of celebrators trickled out of the park, a blonde woman named Heaven stumbled giddily towards the street. Giggling and sporting a pair of Snapchat Spectacles, Heaven was wrapping up the fourth 4/20 she had enjoyed in San Francisco. She summed up the day nicely before heading out.
“I really like the chaos of the crowd, and how, like, the camaraderie, you know, because everybody’s, you know, sort of stoned, so they’re going to be more open to being chill, and friendship, and just…it’s a nice fun day in the park.”
Photo: David Garcia/ Foghorn