With medicinal cannabis legalised in the UK last October, and recreational weed predicted to be legal in the country by 2027, for the first time ever the annual 4/20 smoke-up in Hyde Park on Saturday had the feel of a legitimate, well-organised event.
This year, organisers were granted permission by police to set up some gazebo stages with a programme of talks and live music. Organisers say 50,000 people – from young stoners and old hippies to medicinal users and cannabis industry entrepreneurs – got baked on 4/20, the hottest day of the year so far.
There were talks by Alex Fraser from medicinal cannabis firm Grow Biotech; Ellen Jardim, MD at the UK's first cannabis recruitment agency, Blume Jobs; and Big Narstie, as well as acapella performances from Footsie, D Double E, Specs Gonzalez and Big Zeeks.
At 4:20PM, it became clear how many people were in attendance. All around me was a sea of people, hands raised, spliffs up, smoke rising through the air. It looked more like a festival than a smoke-up in the park.
"It's important to do this in the most legitimate way possible," one of the organisers, Marwan Elgamal, director of The High Club, told me. "The police have been very respectful, but it's been a constant negotiation." The day was not without hiccups or stress. Half an hour before the music was set to start, the police told the organisers: no music allowed in the park.
Hyde Park, home of the British Summer Time Festival since 2013, was now apparently a music-free zone. "They wouldn't let us play music, so we sang," said Elgamal.
One police officer actually told someone to turn their portable speakers off, which was met with a laugh and eventual cooperation (immediately reversed when the officer was out of ear shot). Of all the offences the police could kick off about – tens of thousands of joints being sparked and the constant "psssh" of nitrous oxide canisters – they decided that music was the main problem of the day. Which, depending on how you look at it, isn't all bad. A stabbing on the other side of the park has not been linked by police to 4/20, and no arrests were made by police at the event.
"This year's event was by some margin the biggest yet," Fraser told me afterwards. "With medical access to cannabis legal in the UK now, and police across the country told to stop arresting those consuming cannabis, it certainly feels like a fully regulated market is not far away. Now is the time to be out and proud if you consume cannabis, to help normalise it in society."
Saturday's event wasn't simply about celebrating a collective love of weed; it served as a lesson as to how far British society has come towards its acceptance. See more photos from Hyde Park below.