The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and thousands upon thousands of Bay Area residents are smiling. Why? Because today is 420, the annual celebration of the relationship between cannabis and culture.
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But we digress. Going back to the cannabis holiday! 420, also written as 4/20, 4:20, and even four-twenty, has a cloudy history that has been dissipating over the past few years.
Since legal cannabis sales in Colorado began in 2014, the 420 celebrations across America have shifted from hippie-centric, counter-culture events into mainstream, organized festivals.
The Bay Area has a unique relationship with 420, and cannabis for that matter. According to just about anyone who has invested time into researching 420, the holiday began not as a day, but as the perfect after-school meeting time for a group of San Rafael High School students in the early 1970s.
They called themselves “The Waldos” because they smoked together on a wall. We are told none of them ever had a great fall requiring the King’s horses and men.
From the 1970s and on, California culture would come to adopt 420 as a symbol of marijuana freedom. This unified statement, in the form of a three-digit number, eventually worked it’s way out of the shadows and onto T-shirts, apartment listings, and even state legislation.
The Bay Area was also the hotspot for the cannabis revolution in the mid-1990s. It was at this time that suffering from the AIDS epidemic forced the community to reconsider compassionate care for those with terminal or incredibly debilitating conditions.
In 1996, Californians passed the Compassionate Use Act, making our great state the first legal cannabis community in modern history. Twenty years later, Californians would approve recreational marijuana, with much of that support coming from the Bay Area and farms sprinkled throughout Northern California.
This year (2017 for all who aren’t keeping track), 420 in the Bay Area will be an interesting event to watch unfold. It is the first year that adults can legally consume cannabis, but on the other hand, they are not legally permitted to consume outdoors.
Instead of enforcing this portion of Prop 64, law and health officials seem to be taking the hands-off approach, at least in certain areas. One of the most notorious places to spark up on 420 is at Golden Gate park in San Francisco, specifically at the gentle slope known as “Hippie Hill.”
Every year, over ten thousand individuals flock to this tiny field to join hands and pass joints. The problem is that apparently, people who over-indulge in cannabis can’t clean up their mess. Last year, volunteers and city officials spent the day after 420 cleaning up tens of thousands of pounds of trash littered around Hippie Hill. For those who don’t like math, that means each person who attended, on average, contributed multiple pounds of garbage to a clear community problem.
While San Francisco does not officially condone the 420 celebration at Hippie Hill, they have said they will let it take place, but under new conditions. Now, this once impromptu gathering will have official sponsors and coordinated food truck efforts. But with the convenience comes heightened responsibility: fences, trash cans, and portable restrooms.
It will be very interesting to see cannabis shift from the shadows to the mainstream. There are over dozen 420-themed festivals and events taking place this weekend as well. But from experience, if you want to be dazed by the power of this holiday, you should make your way to Hippie Hill at 4:20 PM for, like actually, the biggest communal inhalation you will ever see.