Can’t Stop the Blaze: 420 Hippie Hill Celebration Persists Despite Event Cancellation

According to a 2023 Gallup poll, 17% of Americans reported they smoke marijuana. Photo by Inés Ventura/SF Foghorn

Despite forecasts for clear skies on Saturday, Apr. 20, a cloudy haze rolled in on the Sharon Meadows part of Golden Gate Park, better known as Hippie Hill. 

More than 500 people gathered on the hill to celebrate 4/20, an important date in marijuana partaker’s calendars. 4/20 is celebrated globally, but is very prominent here in the Bay Area, where it got its roots

On Saturday, Haight Street’s many smoke shops were adorned with 4/20 decor, and people could be seen headed to the park clutching bags of weed bought from street vendors, and donning marijuana memorabilia like Santa hats around Christmas. 

This year’s cannabis congregation differed from years prior, since the official city-held event was canceled. According to a Mar. 26 Instagram post by the organizers, 420 Hippie Hill, the event was canceled “due to city wide budget cutbacks, the climate of the cannabis industry & economy we have been unable to secure enough financial sponsorship to get everything required for a safe, clean, city & state compliant event.”

Only 15 minutes away from campus, students make the annual trip to Hippie Hill to partake in 4/20 celebrations. This year, despite official event cancellations, students stuck to tradition.

Mari Quinton, a senior performing arts and social justice (PASJ) major at USF, said, “I was really sad that it was canceled this year, especially because a lot my friends are now 21 and older… and it’s my last year here in SF, so I really wanted to experience that for my last 4/20.” Her friends decided to go to the hill despite not knowing what to expect. 

Joely Kaatz, who came to Hippie Hill with Quinton, noted how great of a turn out there was, despite there being no festival. “We were just talking about… it’s so cute that we don’t actually need an organized event to still come out into the park and be here together,” said Kaatz, also a senior PASJ major. 

Upon entering Sharon Meadows, park-goers were not greeted with the previous years fencing and event entrances. Instead, kickball games and volleyball nets took over the grass area. Volo Sports, a nation-wide adult social sports company and the largest of its kind, was called in by the City to provide some activity in lieu of the usual festivities being canceled. 

Greg Sileo, vice president of Volo Sports said to the Foghorn, “The city reached out to us and asked us to partner with them, to activate some of the space here during the 4/20 event. Historically, obviously, lots of people come to the park on 4/20, and we were just all about trying to figure out ways to have some fun stuff for people to do while they’re here…. To celebrate the day in a different way than they have in the past.” 

While people had the option to play, the majority opted to sit on the hill and partake in something less athletically-demanding. 

As the sun beat down on the hill and its inhabitants, people filed into the few empty spots left on the grass. Quinton said, “I love getting to just like, lay in the sun and smoke a joint. And like they are passing out free water and free joints if you show your ID, I’m like ‘that’s so cool.’” 

While people have celebrated unofficially on the hill for years, the city-sanctioned festival began in 2016 in response to crowd trampling, drug lacing, overdoses and “several reports of violence & theft, and tons of trash left behind (literally 22,000 pounds = 11 tons!!),” as stated on the 420 Hippie Hill page. 

Last year’s celebration hosted up to 20,000 attendees, and weed guru and musician Erykah Badu performed at the festival, and even led the countdown to 4:20 p.m. Mike Tyson made a guest appearance on stage, adding to the events’ list of celebrity attendees. Admission to the festival is usually free with valid 21+ ID, with VIP tickets available for purchase. 

In preparation for this year’s festivities, the San Francisco Police Department increased patrolling of the park, according to reporting by the San Francisco Examiner.

To ensure that drug safety remained a part of the celebration, local organizations like Dance Safe and Mica’s Hugs were set up at the foot of the hill with free fentanyl test kits, cases of water bottles and plenty of drug harm prevention resources. Mica Sawyer, president and founder of Mica’s Hugs, told the Foghorn, “This is the first time we’ve done the 4/20 thing here… we have plenty of product on hand in case someone here does overdose, so we can help out in that way.” 

The product that Sawyer refers to is naloxone, more commonly known by its brand name “Narcan.” The FDA approved it as the first over-the-counter “medication that rapidly reverses the effects of opioid overdose.” 

Sawyer continued, “Also just to educate people as much as we can, and try to get the project out in the community, so even when people go home from here they will have the product with them.” 

When it got closer to the most anticipated time of the day, someone announced through a megaphone, “alright everyone you got five minutes to 4:20.” People got their supplies ready, and the clicking sounding of lighters started to speckle throughout the crowd. 

Counting down to the second, just like on New Year’s Eve, the crowd erupted into cheers once the time came, and the clear skies quickly became hazier. And no, it wasn’t the skunks in the park behind that smell. 

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Scene Editor: Inés Ventura 

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