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Up In Smoke; Thousands Gather At Hippie Hill For 4/20 Celebration

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/BCN) -- San Francisco's annual 4/20 bacchanal kicked off Wednesday morning at Golden Gate Park for the first time in two years and organizers are expecting a large and enthusiastic crowd.

Gates opened at 10 a.m. to welcome revilers to the park's Hippie Hill and Robin Williams Meadow areas for the first time since the pandemic shutdown in March of 2020.

City officials said the celebration is expected to draw up to 20,000 people. To keep everyone safe, onsite cannabis sales will be allowed for the first time in the annual event's history. That also triggered the first age restriction in the event's history.

"The sales will help support the local cannabis industry. Because of the sales, however, this year no one under 21 years old will be permitted inside," said San Francisco Parks and Recreation spokesperson Daniel Montes.

Marijuana "4/20" Day in Golden Gate Park
Thousands gathered in Robin Williams Meadow aka "Hippie Hill" in Golden Gate Park for the 2019 4/20 Day celebration.

Streets in the area could be closed and traffic redirected to facilitate crowd movement, according to SFPD officials.

Also, the department's Park Station will monitor a hotline to field reports of "quality of life violation" related to the event.

The hotline number is (415) 242-3065 and is for non-emergency calls.

"After two-long years full of restrictions, the city is really happy to welcome back this event, which wouldn't have been possible without coordination from several city departments as well as local event production company Sounds Bazaar," Montes said.

The festival included food trucks, venders, performances by the rapper Berner, former professional boxer Mike Tyson and comedians Jeff Ross and Hannibal Buress, among other things.

it was clear amidst the smoke haze of marijuana that the event was as much about how to get gold from green as it was getting green on the scene.

"A few places thrived during the pandemic, but many didn't. Some lost eighty percent of their businesses," said Brian O'Ceallaigh. He saw businesses line up for the crowds hoping to cash in.

One of them -- Mike Tyson's weed brand Tyson 2.0 -- had representatives at Golden Gate Park selling products on behalf of the fighting champion. Many in line for that booth saw Tyson's Las Vegas venture into marijuana as instructive of how marijuana can elevate economies.

One visitor who said his name was Dan was fresh off the bus to San Francisco. A recent graduate of Florida State, he traveled across the country to the Bay Area believing in the business of pot.

"I see this as opportunity," he said. "A thousand percent."

"We know that this event at one point was occurring whether we wanted it to or not," San Francisco Mayor London Breed said earlier this week. "And over the years, in working with the cannabis industry, we've been able to make adjustments in order to provide the appropriate safety and restroom facilities and the cleanup necessary in order to ensure that this was not as problematic for the people who live in and visit the area."

Officials with the city's Recreation and Parks Department, Office of Cannabis and police and fire departments urged 4/20 attendees to treat the event like any other large gathering by respecting the park and other attendees.

Office of Cannabis Director Nikesh Patel said this year's event will also be key to determining the viability of similar future cannabis-related events.

"The success of this event will set the tone for other events," Patel said, adding, "it's really important that we get this right."

1970s San Rafael High School Students Recall Coining '420' Term by KPIX CBS SF Bay Area on YouTube

How the marijuana-loving world came to mark the occasion is believed traceable to five Northern California men. They are the unofficial grandmasters by virtue of the code they created nearly 50 years ago as students at a suburban San Francisco high school in 1971.

"We thought it was a joke then," David Reddix, a filmmaker and retired CNN cameraman, told KPIX during a 2015 interview. "We still do."

Reddix and his four buddies — Steve Capper, Larry Schwartz, Jeff Noel and Mark Gravich — were a clique who hung out at a particular wall between classes at San Rafael High School. They dubbed themselves "The Waldos," a term coined by comedian Buddy Hackett to describe odd people.

One fall afternoon in 1971 a non-Waldo classmate came to the wall with an intriguing tale and a crudely drawn map.

The map purported to show the location of a marijuana garden in the forest of nearby Point Reyes National Seashore. The classmate said the pot patch belonged to his brother-in-law, a Coast Guard reservist stationed at Point Reyes.

The classmate explained his brother-in-law, paranoid of exposure and washing out of the reserves, was renouncing ownership of the garden. He handed Capper the map and said The Waldos were welcome to the marijuana.

The five laugh about tumbling out of a marijuana smoke-filled car when they arrived at their destination.

"It was straight of a Cheech and Chong movie," Schwartz said.

They didn't find the patch that day, but vowed to keep searching. They would pass in the halls and whisper "420 Louis" to each other if a new attempt was planned, indicating they should meet at 4:20 p.m. at the Pasteur statue.

The patch was never found.

"We were probably too stoned," Schwartz said.

But the "420 Louis" stuck as code for "let's get high at the statue after school." Soon after, it was shortened to simply 420 and meant "let's get high anywhere."

There were myriad reasons for the teens to speak in code about smoking marijuana in 1971. Marijuana's growing social tolerance was still decades away and people were receiving stiff prison sentences after being caught with even small amounts.

Another big reason: Noel's father was a narcotics agent for the California Department of Justice.

"He had an inkling we smoked," Noel said. "But I don't think he ever caught on to 420."

Reed Cowan contributed to this story.

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