Every year, people from all around the world make the pilgrimage to a famous public park in San Francisco, California to celebrate April 20 (4/20), an unofficial but widely recognized cannabis holiday. However, the mayor of San Francisco is taking precautions this year to ensure that no public gatherings take place on the holiday as the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, reaches peak numbers in the United States.
The annual meeting in the city takes place at Robin Williams Meadow, otherwise known as Hippie Hill. The 4/20 celebration attracts upwards of thousands of cannabis enthusiasts, advocates and more to the park. Last year, approximately 19,000 people were in attendance. Mayor London Breed has advised San Francisco residents and those planning to travel to the city to follow stay-at-home guidelines and choose not to make the journey this year.
“I want to be clear with people who come to San Francisco on 4/20 to Robin Williams Meadow to celebrate 4/20,” Mayor Breed said Monday in a press conference. “Do not come to San Francisco on 4/20 to Robin Williams Meadow. We will not allow this unsanctioned event to occur this year, especially in the height of a pandemic.”
While the 4/20 holiday is technically unsanctioned and uncondoned and public consumption of marijuana is illegal in San Francisco, the city has traditionally tolerated the event. Officials and law enforcement have fenced off areas and restricted alcohol use in previous years to make the gathering “a lot more manageable,” according to Mayor Breed.
“The fencing and the other things that we put into play has made it, I guess, tolerable for the community,” the mayor added. Breed also noted that the area surrounding Robin Williams Meadow will be blocked off and law enforcement personnel will be patrolling the area to prevent any unneeded congregating. Failure to adhere to the guidelines could result in penalty.
“We will cite and, if necessary, arrest,” Breed said. “We will not tolerate anyone coming to San Francisco for 4/20 this year.”
(Kelly Jensen holds a flag while he makes his way through the crowd offering goods for sale during the annual 420 pot festival at Hippie Hill. Photo: Jana Asenbrennerova / Special to The Chronicle)
The mayor noted that the city has worked with local groups in the past to permit 4/20 celebrations to take place, but unexpected circumstances this year have caused the city to crack down.
“We have absorbed the cost and we have worked with the community to allow this unsanctioned event to continue to occur despite all the rules and regulations that are challenging to abide by, for example, no smoking in a park. But it is what it is,” said Breed. “We have been very welcoming to people who have come here, but this year we will be very, very strict with the policies. We will not allow it, so we want to just take this moment to put this message out there that we will be prepared if people show up to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”
Mayor Breed is out to harsh anybody’s mellow. She states that this is an issue of public health. Ensuring the wellbeing of the citizens of San Francisco, surrounding areas and the global community is far more dire this year than celebrating cannabis (which can still be done online, through video call and in numerous methods).
“I just want to say for your own health and safety, please do not come. Please do not come. Please do not try and identify another location. It is not safe for us to gather in large groups of people, especially during a pandemic, because the consequences could be deadly.”