"If you had a problem with the stench of marijuana smoke, San Francisco probably wasn't the place for you then. Because of the low cloud covering, it was like someone had Saran-wrapped the City. The smell of weed had enclosed the City from the ocean to the Embarcadero. No one was safe from its odor."
The notion that San Francisco is a marijuana-smoking town with a working problem is hardly new, and on April 20 thousands of cannabis users will gather in Golden Gate Park to break the law by smoking in a public park.
You see, medical marijuana is legal and tolerated by police, but the city's health code says it's illegal to smoke in a park. It's a fire hazard, and an offense punishable by a fine -- and the reason why the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo's application to host its event this summer in Hellman Hollow was rejected by the Recreation and Park Department.
It's also very rarely enforced by the Park Patrol, which is tasked with providing security in green spaces. Park Patrol officers issued a total of four citations for smoking in parks in 2011 -- three in Golden Gate Park and one in the Civic Center -- and none on April 20.
Park Patrol issued one citation in March, two in May, and one in December all to smokers busted violating Section 19 of the Health Code, which bans smoking in public parks, according to department spokeswoman Connie Chan.
In March, the bust occurred near the County Fair building by Lincoln Way. One of the May hits was in Civic Center, the other in Sharon Meadow. The December citation in the 200 block of JFK Drive -- not too far from Hippie Hill, but not on it, either -- wrapped up the year.
Like any law enforcement department, Park Patrol has the option to issue a warning rather than a ticket. "On a case-by-case basis, Park Patrol would generally cite [an] individual for [a] smoking violation when the smoking is deemed a fire hazard," Chan wrote in an e-mail. "Smokey Bear teaches us that smoking in parks near trees and grass is a fire hazard. It is simply just not safe to smoke in our parks."
It's unclear when the last time Golden Gate Park caught on fire, but it is this and "general concerns about cannabis events" that led Rec and Park to deny the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo's request to host its event in the park. It did seem odd to some tokers that the department would tolerate renegade smokeouts -- such as this 4/20 event -- while telling a permitted event to try friendlier climes, like the federal land at Fort Mason.
The figures cited above only include smoking busts made by the Park Patrol. It's possible other citations were issued by SFPD; a request for stats from SFPD's Media Relations Unit was not immediately fulfilled.
Police did make six arrests on April 20 last year, according to a report by Jack Rikess, national pot blog Toke of the Town's Northern California correspondent. And while two of the arrests were for assault -- and not smoking pot -- by the sound of things, police could have made many more.
"Marijuana was everywhere," writes Rikess, describing a gauntlet of dealers running from Stanyan Street to Hippie Hill. "A person asks them [some salespeople] if they will trade a T-shirt for an edible. They say they'll have to call their dad on the cell and see if that's okay. They're out selling for him. They were serious."
Maybe this is the year the budget is balanced on the backs of ticketed tokers on April 20?
Nevertheless, remember that marijuana-related events are not allowed in Golden Gate Park. As long as you don't apply for a permit, anyway.