SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – Marijuana aficionados arrived at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in the thousands Wednesday to take part in one of the nation’s largest gatherings of pot smokers for the unofficial 420 holiday.

In some cases, the revelers came to the park before dawn, with hundreds if not several thousand gathered by noon.

The so-called “420 Smokeout” took place at the traditional time of 20 minutes after 4 p.m. at Hippie Hill, also known as Sharon Meadow. About 8,000 to 15,000 people are expected. Some estimated the crowd on Wednesday between 10,000 and 12,000.

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Plenty of sets of bongos and congas — longtime staples on Hippie Hill regardless of the date — made an appearance, along with every kind of smoking apparatus one could imagine.

While police were not planning to crack down on marijuana use, officers were on hand to look out for unruly behavior.

“For those who come and plan to create any kind of havoc whatsoever, we plan to be very swift with arrests and removing those individuals,” Capt. John Sanford of the San Francisco Police Department said earlier this week.

“I’m pretty sure everybody’s going to be on their best behavior,” said pot enthusiast Doris Gaffney. “Not too crazy.”

Another major concern was the amount of trash likely to be left behind after the celebration. Last year, park rangers, city workers and volunteers cleaned up 10,000 pounds of trash. The unofficial event cost the city $80,000 to $100,000.

“Clean-up is what its all about once everyone leaves the park,” said SF Park Ranger Chief Mike Celeste. “We have an additional staff of about 40 from Rec and Park who will be cleaning up once it gets over with.”

Just a few yards from the party, normal life continues in Golden Gate Park. Tennis players on the park’s courts said they don’t mind the event.

“We’re not going to stop doing our thing, they shouldn’t stop doing their thing. We’ll all get along,” said tennis player Lael Sturm.

There wasn’t much visible enforcement by authorities despite warnings earlier in the week. The city said Monday nothing was supposed to be sold here, but there were people vending edibles – both with and without marijuana — and drugs, with one guy even hawking acid to passers by.

There were some children visible in the crowd despite warnings for parents to leave their kids at home. At least one parent was seen being asked by authorities to leave after arriving with a child.

Park rangers said their priority was safety, not necessarily enforcement.

Vendors were offering plenty of snacks to cure any mid-day munchies, and efforts to get out the vote in time for a potential ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana this November.

According to the SFMTA (.pdf), several streets will be closed starting at 10 a.m. Among them:

• Haight, Page and Waller streets between Masonic and Stanyan streets
• Stanyan Street between Frederick and Oak streets
• Shrader Street between Beulah and Waller streets

Between the street closures and the sheer volume of foot and vehicle traffic heading towards Golden Gate Park, there were reports of congested roads and packed Muni trains and buses throughout the afternoon. People who live in the area of the park where the gathering is taking place and in the Haight Ashbury District are being told to expect the traffic to continue into the evening.

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