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Whither 4/20?

Jody Vance: both sides of the debate have a point – so let’s try and find a solution that works for everyone…next year.
(LeonWang /

Once upon a 4/20, it was a protest.

It was a “smoke in” – an annual gathering to promote legalization of cannabis.

There was reason for it.

The roots of 4/20 are deep in our city. Vancouver’s first April 20 protest was a small event, held in 1995 at Victory Square Park at Hastings and Cambie. That was organized by Danna Rozek and Cindy Lassu, who worked at Marc Emery’s revolutionary Hemp BC shop.

In 1997 the 4/20 protest was moved to the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) grounds downtown; over 1,000 people attended. 4/20 grew every year, led for many years by local activist David Malmo-Levine ,who hosted cannabis raffles and a big joint giveaway at 4:20 pm.

Each April 20th since ’97, the baggies of dope would come out of hiding. Massive joints lit and a haze of marijuana smoke would bloom over happy tokers making their political statement: adults young and old smoking their illegal substance in plain sight of authority.

It was a rather stinky sight, but the message was clear: pot should be legal.

The “why” for being at VAG was simple: a long-time marketplace for dealers, pot partakers knew VAG was the go-to space to score.

Without a doubt, those early organizers and protesters played a huge part in the dialogue that lead to cannabis legalization.

Today, it is legal. Is a protest necessary? (Insert loud social media argument here)

October 17, 2018 The Government of Canada legalized, regulated and restricted access to cannabis. Officially.

Cannabis, being a controlled substance, is now governed similarly to alcohol. Adults can now possess up to 30 grams of legally produced cannabis. That’s lots, more than enough for personal use. Some activists disagree with any limits.

Folks who attend 4/20 say that they continue to protest because of how legalization has rolled out. (Insert loud social media argument here)

Jodie Emery, one of the organizers, outspoken cannabis rights activist and politician, said on Instagram this weekend “until this beautiful, peaceful, life-saving plant is no longer criminalized, penalized or demonized in any way, cannabis is not truly “Legalized”. Until cannabis, it’s people & culture are completely liberated & treated with dignity & equality…”

In 2016, 4/20 organizers decided they’d outgrown the Gallery, and decided to move the protest to Sunset Beach. Dana Larsen, one of the main organizers, said in a statement, “Over the past few years we’ve been faced with very large crowds, and forced to shut down major downtown streets to accommodate the mass of people. The new location at Sunset Beach will help ensure a safe, successful event with far less public disruption.”

Are protests not all about a bit of public disruption? (Insert loud social media argument here)

Sunset Beach is a Vancouver jewel, a pristine spot where community gathers to enjoy nature, the sunset, sea air — not smoke. In fact, being a city park, smoking anything there is punishable by a hefty fine.

No surprise that 4/20 would not receive a permit for their event. It’s a fresh fight “against the man” (insert loud social media argument here)

While most British Columbians are cool with pot being legal, the majority of Vancouver tax payers are not cool with this massive unsanctioned event taking place at Sunset Beach, and the bills that come with it. (Insert loud social media argument here)

The Middle here is to simply find the right place for this event. Sunset Beach need not be the place.

After much frenzied discussion at City Hall, Council decided that in 2020 this “protest” will relocate. Some wonder why 2019 will go ahead on the beach. (Insert loud social media argument here)

With organizers pushing back about Vancouver Pride festivities and The Celebration of Light being allowed at the beach, it seems highly unlikely they will opt to follow proper event protocol, or agree to a move.

Rather than be mired in that finger-pointing and whataboutism, it’s time for this event to grow up. Let’s stop sniping at each other and actually find solutions where boxes of safety are checked and the balance sheet can be cleared.

The sidebar fights start a big back and forth on what actually happens at 4/20. The booths selling edibles (illegal), booths selling non-regulated cannabis (illegal), minors in attendance, a headlining band (Cypress Hill) — all without city approval and proper permitting.

All of this activates the attendees to come out in force. Let’s tackle all that after the Middle is achieved on the venue for next year’s 4/20.

If the venue hurdle can be cleared, we have an incredible opportunity here.  Vancouver could be globally hailed as being at the forefront of Cannabis Activism. But the ongoing and petty fights between all-or-nothing bombastic activists vs. a rabid anti-420 contingent only clouds that.

The Mayor of Vancouver has gone on record that City of Vancouver will not intervene this Saturday…next April, it will.

With 368 days until 4/20 2020, let’s find a way to hold this event at a location that is palatable for all.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.