Yesterday (April 20), thousands of people attended a peaceful gathering at the Vancouver Art Gallery to recognize 420, an annual celebration of marijuana culture.
Despite intermittent rain throughout the day, the grounds were already packed by the time the Straight arrived on the scene at 1:00 p.m., with the more weather-wise revelers hiding out in pup tents erected on either side of the steps on the south side of the gallery.
Crowd estimates for the event are always difficult. This year, some spectators guessed that there were 5,000 people on site while Cannabis Culture put the number closer to 10,000. Since I have absolutely no idea how to gauge the size of a crowd, I’m going to say it was “a lot”.
Now in its 13th year situated at the VAG, the day full of speeches, music, celebration, and, of course, a whole hell of a lot of toking.
Among the speakers were Jodie Emery, 2009 Green party candidate for Vancouver—Fraserview and wife of the Prince of Pot, Marc Emery. Jodie spoke at length about Bill C-15, a piece of federal legislation that would—among other draconian measures—create a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for anyone caught growing a single marijuana plant. While the bill was effectively killed after Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament in January, Jodie reminded the crowd that the government will likely introduce another piece of legislation to take C-15’s place.
With a denouncement of “evil Conservative party government members”, Jodie encouraged the crowd to enjoy the celebration but not to forget to remain politically active.
Pot activist and former Hemp School operator David Malmo-Levine—who recently completed a six-month term in prison for intent to distribute—gave an impassioned speech about justice and the role of the citizen.
“We all have the duty to follow just laws and we all have a duty to disobey unjust laws,” he told the crowd. “And that’s what we’re doing here”.
Next, David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, gave the crowd a brief lesson on personal rights and how to talk to the police in nearly any situation, while other BCCLA members on site passed out copies of The Arrest Handbook.
It wasn’t all speechifying, however. Vendors roamed the crowds attempting to peddle their smokable and consumable pot products, while the Robson Street side of the gallery played host to emcees and musicians.
Attendees were quick to figure out that one of the best ways to clear a space was to dance furiously—or at least that is the only sane explanation I can come up with for why an older man stripped down to his pants and put on a spectacle for an amused crowd around him.
By the time 4:10 p.m. rolled around, the crowd was shoulder to shoulder and it was difficult to move. At times, I was a bit concerned that I might be trampled to death—albeit incredibly slowly—if the crowd decided to surge. But everyone kept remarkably chill, even after several well-meaning attempts by event organizers to have the massive crowd kneel down in order to receive free joints. (The theory behind this attempt was that kneeling people wouldn’t cause a stampede; however, they just got annoyed at having to crouch on the wet ground.) Malmo-Levine only had to get on the mic once to ask the masses to stop tagging the art gallery.
Right before the main toke, the crowd observed a moment of silence for hemp activist Jack Herer, who passed away on April 15, 2010. Then, as 4:20 p.m. struck, the crowd lit up—with some people pulling out ridiculously oversized eight-gram joints—and filled the air with the unmistakable cloud of cannabis smoke.
By 4:45 p.m., the crowd began to thin, with droves of people swarming the sidewalks and piling into nearby eateries. After standing for nearly five hours, this little observer was exhausted and didn’t stick around for the clean up, so I can’t give a full picture of the end of the day.
I leave you with one tip for first-time 420 attendees: Never eat anything offered to you at a pot rally. Just… don’t.