420 celebration canceled at San Francisco's Hippie Hill? Not if a psychedelic church can hash out plan

Marijuana fans converge on Hippie Hill for the annual 4/20 celebration of cannabis at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, April 20, 2018. (Photo By Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
Marijuana fans converge on Hippie Hill for the annual 420 celebration of cannabis at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 2018. (Paul Chinn Getty Images / Getty Images)

Budget cuts and financial woes forced San Francisco to cancel its annual 420 celebration at Golden Gate Park this year, but a self-described psychedelic church says it will step in to help support the thousands of people expected to still make the "religious pilgrimage."

"Anybody who is going out to Hippie Hill on 420 to smoke a joint, they're doing that religiously, whether or not they realize it," said Church of Ambrosia Pastor Dave Hodges in a statement. "This is like a pilgrimage to Mecca."

An annual hazy, smoke-filled celebration that goes back to San Francisco's Summer of Love in 1967, the cannabis-themed festival drew in thousands of people for music, food, comedy and, of course, weed.

In 2022, the event attracted about 20,000 people.

Read more: San Francisco just canceled its 420 fest. Marijuana fans thought it had gotten too commercial anyway

But on March 26, the city announced the event at Golden Gate Park was canceled because of budget cuts that prevented the city's parks department from covering staffing for the event, and challenges in the cannabis industry that made sponsorships hard to secure.

Despite the cancellation, many people were still expected to make the annual trek to the park for the celebration on April 20, a day observed by cannabis enthusiasts. City officials stressed there would be no stage, live music or booths, and encouraged people to instead celebrate 420 "in a place that's special and local to them."

On Thursday, Hodges said the Church of Ambrosia had teamed up with the Haight Ashbury Merchants Assn. and nonprofit groups to provide a "safety net" for what they expect to be thousands of visitors.

Calling the 420 annual event a "religious pilgrimage," the church said in a statement staff will be dispatched to the park to help visitors. They'll be fitted and identified with T-shirts with the words "Stoner Safety."

"We see this as a religious event," Hodges said.

Read more: Looking back at the absolutely unexpected and totally wild origin of 420

Although the event has been officially canceled, city agencies are still coordinating and have staff ready to deploy if necessary, said Daniel Montes, a spokesperson for San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department.

The agency has also been in contact with the church, and expects a sizable crowd.

"We expect it to be busy and that's totally fine," Montes wrote in an email. "All of our parks are very busy on 4/20 when it's nice outside."

The church, with locations in Oakland and San Francisco, describes itself as a nondenominational, interfaith religious organization that supports access to entheogenic plants, including cannabis and mushrooms.

According to its statement, the church and Haight Ashbury Merchants Assn. will be providing more than 30 portable toilets, a medical tent staffed with four medics, a team equipped with the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, and a booth to hand out bottles of water.

Read more: Looking to light up this 4/20? Weed entrepreneur Susie Plascencia recommends these 5 Latino-owned dispensaries

Montes said some services the church is looking to provide, including tables and tents, require permits that the city has been unable to provide because of a volleyball and kickball event taking place at Hippie Hill on Saturday.

The church has been notified of the requirement, he said. He also suggested the additional assistance was not necessary.

"We appreciate the offer, but we're well prepared," Montes said.

A spokesperson for Hodges did not immediately respond to questions Friday as to whether the services the church intends to provide have been permitted by the city.

In the statement, Hodges said he is not encouraging people to attend the event.

"The fewer the participants," he said, "the less likely that available services will fall short," the statement read.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.