If it hadn’t been for the poor weather – and the distinct odour – you could have been forgiven for thinking it was steam rising from the crowd. It was, in fact, a cloud of cannabis smoke that billowed up from the 1,000 people gathered at Hyde Park in London at 4.20pm on Sunday.

The numbers 4/20 hold a special place in cannabis culture. They are, according to one apocryphal story, US police code for a person found in possession of marijuana. In any case, stoners around the world mark 20 April – 4/20 in the US-form calendar – by getting together, getting high and calling for legislative change. With hardline drugs policies from Portugal to Uruguay – as well as in some US states – giving way like the knees of someone who has smoked too much, this year’s event came with the hope of real change.

“Solidarity,” was the answer given by one dreadlocked 18-year-old when asked why he was there. He was one of a group of four, who gave their names as Nick, Tim, Henry and Barry. And then laughed. “I want cannabis to be legal and this is the best way we can all demonstrate that,” said Nick, spliff in hand.

But the four were sceptical about whether change would come. “Not in the UK,” Nick added. “Primarily because the media and newspapers like yours won’t talk about cannabis in a positive way.”

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