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How to Stop Trashing San Francisco on 420

A woman piles garbage into bags at an event in San Francisco on 420.
Photo by Jimi Devine

Industry Events

How to Stop Trashing San Francisco on 420

San Francisco’s 420 gathering is the long time granddaddy of such events globally. 

This year’s 420 festivities at Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park saw over 10,000 holiday heads leave behind a wasteland of trash, but among the crowd an organized group spanning generations of the cannabis industry made a positive impact on the clean up efforts.

While in recent years there have been attempts to make Colorado the flagship state of the holiday, the city of Denver has squashed those dreams via a ban on public smoking. Both the Cannabis Cup and 420 Games have headed to greener pastures in LA and Boulder. Despite efforts to organize events in Denver, it would be nearly impossible to pull the Bay Area’s moniker as the capital of 420. It’s said that the event’s true spiritual home is San Rafael, where the Waldo’s came together decades ago to smoke out. Now, 40 years later and just a half-hour drive south, San Francisco has become 420’s epicenter.

With this truly authentic energy, the event has grown over the years into what is experienced today. While official numbers estimate that about 10,000 folks attended this year, a park ranger on site said Sharon Meadow, at the base of Hippie Hill, held that many alone. The meadow appeared to be roughly 60 percent of the crowd. It would not be unwarranted to guesstimate that this year’s crowd might have hit the 15,000 mark. And with 15,000 people come certain realities including an amazing amount of waste.

Unpermitted vending was a major contributing factor to the messy situation across the park. The event was a headie wonderland featuring everything from pre-rolls to Jack and Cokes, but the majority of the trash seemed to come from the well-over 30 food vendor stands. While hot dogs looked to be the clear winner of the day, the many pathways surrounding the meadow were dotted with an assortment of jerk chicken and tacos. With these booths came landscapes covered in paper plates and cans as far as the eye could see. The on-site infrastructure of Golden Gate Park didn’t stand a chance. While efforts were made to increase the number of garbage and recycling bins, they were all filled to the brim, with over an hour to go before 4:20 p.m.

With all that being standard practice, 420 looked to be following the same path as its predecessors. Unlike past years though, which have had reputable clean up efforts, things of a grander scale were in the works. The first effort came via industry-leading O.penVAPE, which teamed up with leading San Francisco dispensaries, The Green Door and The Apothecarium — both known for their charitable efforts in the community. To get the ball moving on cleanup efforts, the three businesses decided to sponsor one free O.penVAPE cartridge to every person who filled up a 30-gallon trash bag.

While this all sounds simple enough, about 40 minutes after 4:20 p.m. things took a weird turn. With both the meadow and hillside both packed with people, five gunshots reportedly rang out. There is some discrepancy between park rangers, police, and the public about those shots, but what happened next is 100 percent fact. Thousands of people stampeded creating a legitimate mob scene and in the middle of the chaos was O.penVAPE’s booth. The crowd stormed through in a panic, trashing everything to the point that one of O.penVAPE’s custom-printed tents was destroyed. With the booth now half its size, O.penVAPE reps didn’t pack up, and instead began handing out trash bags and rubber gloves to folks who wanted help clean up. Nearly 80 volunteers collected over 2,400 gallons of garbage. As the pile grew, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department came over to personally congratulate the team for their efforts.

“In light of the stampede and massive amount of trash, it seems it would make sense to get more companies involved as sponsors to pay for security and clean up,” noted O.penVAPE Sales Director, Chelsey McKrill. “At the same time, commercialization doesn’t make sense with the city’s smoking ban for the park. With cannabis legalization expected to hit California sooner than later. It will be interesting to see how 420 at Hippie Hill evolves in the coming years. I’m glad we were there to motivate and inspire. Hopefully we can do it bigger with the help of others next year!”

Another park cleanup effort was led by Steven Hager, who in 1988 founded the original Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam after being hired as an editor by High Times. Accompanying Steve was Waldo Dave — yes, one of those Waldos.While the garbage continued to pile up, the founders of two of the most iconic events in cannabis history walked through the park, joint in hand, picking up after the others who had came to celebrate a holiday they helped kickstart. They’d also just hosted the inaugural 420 Eve the night before in San Rafael at Greatful Dead member Phil Lesh’s venue Terrapin Crossroads. After honoring the founders of 420, Steve grabbed Tom and some other volunteers in the morning and headed south.

They were able to get 30 jumbo trash bags filled before things got crazy. Unfortunately, the team did not go unscathed. Donna Eagle, who served as high priestess of the 420 Eve festivities the previous night, was caught up in the stampede. In the melee, she lost her purse and cellphone, but thankfully a good samaritan came across her belongings and returned them to her the next day.

In spite of a great effort by all those involved with the 420 cleanups, the general consensus is that something must be done to reign in the event — if that’s even possible under current municipal regulations.

“I’d never go back to that chaotic ceremony,” concludes Hager. “I’m planning an alternative 420 event for people in the Bay Area, one that will be entertaining and enlightening and raise positive energy.”

How did you celebrate 420 this year?

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ellen Komp

    May 3, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful article Jimi. I went to the Oakland Museum “Altered State” exhibit on 4/20: it was much more enlightening than trashing the park. GG Park stopped issuing permits for cannabis events there a while back, allowing only unpermitted ones (and the problems that ensue). Thanks for OpenVape and others who tried to bring some sanity to the celebration.

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