Authorities in San Francisco, home to one of the largest and longest-running 420 celebrations in the country, have joined Denver in canceling the annual cannabis fete amid concerns over the widening novel coronavirus pandemic.
Long a “renegade” underground event with no sponsor or permitting, the yearly gathering on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park near the city’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood has become somewhat tamed in the legalization era. Since 2017, 420 has been a city-sanctioned event, with a permit, a sponsor, fencing and other trappings of legitimacy.
The coronavirus has changed all that. San Francisco has been under a shelter-in-place order since Monday. While cannabis dispensaries have been declared “essential businesses” and will remain open — following a brief period of closure on Tuesday — public gatherings of more than 10 people are forbidden and all citizens are advised to practice social distancing.
With that in mind, the city’s Recreation and Park Department will not issue 420 an event permit, agency spokeswoman Tamara Barak Aparton told Cannabis Now on Wednesday.
“We’re under the shelter-in-place order, with no gatherings until at least April 7,” she said. “With that in mind, obviously we had to cancel it.”
Alex Aquino, a Haight-Ashbury merchant who has secured the 420 event permit for the last few years, told Cannabis Now that the decision was expected.
“There’s bigger stuff than 420 going on right now,” he said, adding that “it’s too soon to say” if a replacement event, a sort of “420 observed,” might happen later in the spring or in the summer.
“We have some plans to do a couple of things, but we’re still working on the details,” he said.
This year’s event was to have been sponsored by Weedmaps and featured musical acts.
As for what might happen if crowds still gather at the hill on April 20 — a Monday this year — nobody could quite say what might happen with such a fluid situation that changes multiple times per day. Park rangers could theoretically block access to the park, but that might be an operation for which resources simply cannot be allocated.
In years past, Arquino has sponsored a “clean-up crew” to police trash and other refuse that’s often accompanied crowds. Whether that will happen this year also depends on what happens over the next month, he said.
The move follows the cancellation of the Mile High 420 Festival in Denver, which bills itself as the world’s largest.
Other 420 rituals observed around the world are not permitted affairs. These include the gathering at Porter Meadow at UC Santa Cruz, though crowds had been thinning in recent years due to increased campus police enforcement, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported last year.
420 joins the ranks of numerous other concerts and cultural events upended, postponed, or canceled to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which as of Wednesday had sickened 10,442 Americans and killed 150, according to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The hardest-hit states so far are Washington, New York and California.
And new data from federal health authorities suggests that contrary to earlier information, young people — the kind who might be drawn out to 420 — are susceptible to serious health complications if they contract the disease. According to figures released Wednesday, 38% of coronavirus patients sick enough to require hospitalization were under 55, as the Washington Post reported.
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