The origins of “4/20” are, fittingly, a little hazy. Steve Hager, former editor of High Times, told the New York Times that the phenomenon comes from a group of California teenagers in the 1970s, who would religiously meet up to smoke weed at 4:20PM every afternoon.
Now held on the 20th of April every year, the Christmas Day of Cannabis is marked the world over. In London, it’s become tradition for thousands to descend on Hyde Park and send clouds of smoke above the city’s skyline.
Last year, the event was cancelled, as it fell amid the peak of the first wave of the coronavirus. This year, a planned event was also cancelled, but crowds still descended upon the park, with official government guidance allowing groups of six to gather outside.
“We’re veterans – we’ve been here for the last six years, apart from last year. Gotta keep the streak going,” said Morgan, 19.
“I’ve come down here to smoke, bro,” said Daniel, 17. “I want to do it in the police’s faces… the amount of times I’ve been nicked, this is my chance to get back at them.”
“We’ve been cooped up for the best part of a year so it’s nice to hear the chatting of people and smell that funky smell,” said Morfo, a content creator who’d come down with her giant blow-up sofa to speak to attendees. “In the media, it’s portrayed as this ‘devil’s drug’, but everyone is just here, chilling, having a good time and speaking to each other, which people never normally do. I hope we’re getting close to decriminalising, but I think we’ve got a long way to go. There’s a new Mayor of London election coming up – so Sadiq, if you’re listening to this, you know what to do.”
Earlier this month, Sadiq Khan – who is currently running for a second mayoral term – promised to launch a review into decriminalising the drug, were he to win the election.
While his powers would only stretch as far as instructing the Met Police to no longer arrest people for cannabis possession, the promise suggests he has some idea of the capital’s attitudes towards the plant, with residents showing strong support for full legalisation in a poll earlier this month. The same YouGov study showed that 53 percent of all Brits would support the legalisation of cannabis in the UK, with 32 just percent opposing.
A man who gave his name as Higrade Singh was in London from Leicester for the day. He defines himself as a cannabis activist who makes THC and cannabis products, mainly for medicinal use. “We’re fully for the legalisation of cannabis – that’s what we’re here for today, to support the movement, show people what it’s about, show the chilled out, calm environment in comparison to alcohol,” he said.
“There’s not been a bad example of it being decriminalised anywhere,” said James Parker, “so it’s only a matter of time, because it’s only going to make the government money, realistically.”
The event today in Hyde Park was heavily policed, but, for the most part, officers kept their distance. In one instance, they moved in and confiscated weed from a group, and the situation then escalated. Onlookers shouted, “Know your rights,” and, “It was all fine until you got involved.” As a crowd gathered, one person asked officers, “Are you gonna arrest everyone then? Everyone here is smoking weed – are you going to arrest them all?”
As the confrontation got heated, a woman rushed in, shouting, “No comment, know your rights,” before handing out a “bust card” that listed arrestees’ rights and contact details for a number of criminal solicitors.
The woman, a 26-year-old named Sarah, said she had been in the park enjoying a drink with some friends when she saw the confrontation take place. “From my perspective, I saw a large amount of police being aggressive and hands on with two people,” she said. “I questioned them as to what they were doing, and they didn’t give me an answer.”
Besides this brief confrontation, we didn’t witness any other interactions between police and those gathered to celebrate the day. No arrests have been reported as yet, but a number of police remained on the scene as we were leaving.
Before we headed off, a man who gave his name as Jon Snow explained that he’d come down for the day because – presumably like everyone else there – he loves smoking weed.
“The thing is, you can’t stereotype a person who smokes weed – everyone smokes weed,” he said. “You tend to associate weed with drugs that have negative associations, but when you bring so many people together in one place and everyone is smoking weed, chilling and minding their own business, it really shows what weed is and what it’s all about.”