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4/20 chills out: Fewer incidents, less trash at permitted marijuana party

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Friends pass around a glass bong during the 4/20 celebration at Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

This year, 4/20 was chill.

Even though an estimated 15,000 people attended the event — a new high — reports of no arrests, no citations, few calls for medical help and far less waiting times for bathrooms all equated to perhaps the most relaxed gatherings at Hippie Hill in recent memory.

The unofficial mantra of this year’s weed celebration could perhaps best be described by the words of former San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr before 2014’s celebration:

“If everyone would just be cool, it’s cool.”

SEE RELATED: 4/20 celebrations cause major Muni delays

That may be music to the ears of Haight Ashbury merchants and city officials, who for the first time organized this year’s April 20 celebration as a permitted event. The permit was needed to keep people safe, according to Alex Aquino, owner of Black Scale clothing on Haight Street, who filed for the permit.

“We don’t want it to be Halloween in the Castro,” Aquino previously told the San Francisco Examiner. “We miss that event.”

Incidents occurred after the event, however — SFPD’s Park Station confirmed a stabbing nearby around 6:30 p.m. with one suspect in custody, and shots fired at Hayes and Central Streets in the evening with no arrests, but their connection to the 4/20 event is still unknown.

With the permit came restrictions: fences around the Golden Gate Park celebration’s perimeter, bag checks, bans on glass (including bongs) and restrictions on vendors, who were only allowed to sell goods inside the section of Golden Gate Park with the proper authority.

The permits also brought a big sound system, food trucks and medical services available on site.

An estimated 22,000 pounds of trash was to be collected at the end of the event, according to Sarah Madland, a San Francisco Recreation and Parks spokesperson. Much of that will be diverted to compost for the first time in the event’s history, and this year, there were compost bins throughout the park.

Perhaps most importantly for nearby Haight Street merchants, who oft-complained of thousands of attendees asking for restrooms, the permit brought an important supply: about 175 portable toilets.
Some 4/20-goers had no frame of reference for the rules.

Tee Hayward, of Dixon, Calif., stood on Hippie Hill at 4 p.m. in a 49ers jersey enjoying the view with his copper-colored pit bull, Redbox.

“I think it’s chill,” he said slowly, adding he didn’t even realize more strict rules were in place.
Marcus Vieytes, of Castro Valley, held up a nearly foot-long, coke-bottle thick blunt and puffed it. He said this year’s 4/20 was “definitely different,” and felt a bit more restrictive. That said, he said he was having a good time between tokes.

Vieytes said crafting his giant blunt “takes skill and practice. I’ve rolled millions of these.”

Still, not everyone was a fan of the new rules.

Adrian Garcia, from Modesto, set up a nacho booth on Stanyan Street. Last year, he sold food inside the park itself. “I made my money, and some,” he said.

This year, he felt his proceeds took a hit. “The City just wants to make money, that’s what it’s all about,” he said, as he turned around to a patron and sold them nachos for five dollars.

Not everyone was deterred. One Vallejo woman, Betty, who declined to give her last name, said if she couldn’t get into Golden Gate Park to sell cannabis cookies, she would “probably go to Dolores [Park].”

One aspect of the event went up in smoke, as midday street closures didn’t do much to alleviate some traffic woes, which caused Muni delays throughout the evening.

And at Hippie Hill, people flouted the new rules here and there: Smokers huffed from glass bongs, vendors without permits sold weed-infused lollipops and rice krispie treats, and even some teenagers managed to sneak their way in.

SFPD Capt. John Sanford said most of those rule-breakers were a low priority.

“I made a command decision,” he told the Examiner, for SFPD officers to only enforce “public safety” and not various quality-of-life violations, which may actually endanger the public if enforced at the crowded event.

Nevada City couple Pam and Chris Arends, who celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary Thursday at the top of Hippie Hill, said the event seemed surprisingly relaxed for one with such a “young” crowd. Clad in similarly psychedelic T-shirts, the couple said they were married long before 4/20 was a common cannabis holiday.

As haze floated above Hippie Hill, Pam Arends, who is a San Francisco native, said she was around for the Haight Ashbury scene that lingered years after the Summer of Love — a far cry from Thursday’s event.

“I was here in the ’70s,” she said. “We had some pretty good parties.”

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A man smokes a large joint during the 4/20 celebration at Hippie Hill in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

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