Thousands gather for annual 4/20 celebration at Hippie Hill

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU and wires) -- Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts came together on a cool, foggy Monday in San Francisco day for the annual April 20th tradition known in some circles as 4/20.

The date has become a holiday of sorts in the Bay Area.

"It's the stoner holiday," said one young man from Yuba City who traveled with friends to Golden Gate Park's Hippie Hill for the annual celebration of marijuana.

San Francisco police were also on hand to ensure the visitors participating in the unofficial international marijuana holiday are law-abiding and safe.

The San Francisco Police Department's Park police station, which oversees the epicenter of the city's marijuana festivities in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and the park's Hippie Hill and Sharon Meadows, said in a statement, "We are here to serve you and do everything under our power to facilitate a peaceful outcome."

Police said marijuana supporters and enthusiasts began arriving to Golden Gate Park as early as 5 a.m.

Medical cannabis has been legal in California since the passage of the voter-initiated Compassionate Use Act of 1996, also known as Proposition 215, according to California NORML, a non-profit organization dedicated to reforming California's marijuana laws.

As of Jan. 1, 2011, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana was decriminalized in California, according to California NORML's website.

However, marijuana is still considered illegal by the federal government under the Controlled Substances Act.

Last year during impromptu marijuana celebrations in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, 10 people were arrested for offenses ranging from selling marijuana or opiates to mischief and carrying a gun, police said.

"It's more about just the gathering of people," Ian Franklin said sitting in his tent, rolling a joint. "You don't really see this many people gathering for smoking."

Franklin said he's given up smoking pot, for the most part, but that 4/20 isn't just about the high.

"Well you get a social high. You get high from the experience even, not just the second-hand smoke floating around everywhere," Franklin explained.

There is a push in California to put an initiative on the ballot to legalize the use of recreational marijuana for adults.

"It's our gay marriage moment! People are coming out of the closet," said Dale Sky Jones, who is Executive Chancellor at Oaksterdam University and Chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. "I think it's fantastic we're having this evolution."

A Pew Research Poll done in March this year showed 53 percent of adults favor legal use of marijuana. That's up from 32 percent in 2006. 23 states and the District of Columbia have already legalized cannabis in some form, but only four states allow recreational use. If California passes an initiative, it would be the most populous state to do so.

"Colorado is the size of the Bay Area. California is like, eight to ten of these states, and we're 1/6 of the United States economy," Jones pointed out. "Cannabis is the largest cash crop in California, and frankly, it will be bought and sold. The question is, by whom, to whom?"

California has tried and failed once before. In 2010, voters rejected Prop 19. Jones believes attitudes have changed.

"I think once folks realize that it's not just stupid stoners that consume cannabis, that it's the soccer mom, it's professionals; it's folks that were simply just too smart to talk about it," said Jones

The earliest an initiative to legalize recreational pot use in California would get on the ballot is 2016.

The increased preparation and police presence comes in response to past marijuana celebrations that resulted in an abundance of trash left in the park by revelers.

In 2013, the celebration attracted about 15,000 people who left a mess that took about $10,000 to clean up, city officials said.

Last year, despite estimated crowds of about the same size as 2013, the park was left in better condition, though it was still "heavily impacted," San Francisco Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Connie Chan said in 2014.

Many San Francisco businesses are embracing the marijuana holiday by offering 4/20-related events and discounts.

Milk Bar on Haight Street is hosting a 420 Jokes and Tokes edition of Monday night comedy at 7 p.m., while Brainwash CafT on Folsom Street is hosting 4/20 Laughs & Munchies, a free comedy show with snacks.

In Oakland, The Rock Steady bar on San Pablo Avenue will be screening the marijuana-heavy movie How High featuring Redman and Method Man at 7 p.m.

Numerous marijuana dispensaries offered special promotions throughout the Bay Area Monday to new and returning customers with medical marijuana identification cards.