Every April 20 for the last 24 years, cannabis users from across the Lower Mainland and beyond have descended upon Downtown Vancouver for a day of peaceful protest, open consumption, and one of the biggest unsanctioned cannabis markets in the world.
Moving from its first home in Victory Square to the Vancouver Art Gallery and eventually to its current grounds at Sunset Beach, the annual smoke-in and open-air market is expected to bring more than 10,000 people to the West End area on Friday.
Ahead of what will be Vancouver's last 4/20 protest before cannabis is legalized, the Straight interviewed three prominent cannabis activists who are involved in today's event.
As the founder of Sensible BC and Overgrow Canada, Dana Larsen has been at the forefront of cannabis activism in Vancouver for 20 years. He told the Straight that while the federal government is moving ahead with legalization, one mustn't forget the role of the city's early marijuana movers and shakers.
"Joining us in this protest, it's important to remember that the Vancouver activist community that has been putting on this event has been very influential in leading us to legalization," he said.
Larsen said the government's plan for legal cannabis would bring big change to Vancouver, where the municipality's dispensary regulations have made for a very active grey market. He said that while there were some good aspects of Bill C-45, "it certainly isn't perfect."
While Larsen said he's been asked repeatedly if 4/20 will be cancelled after legalization, he said the idea behind cancelling a cannabis event after the plant is made legal makes little sense to him.
"I feel that with legalization, we should see that there are more cannabis-related events, and that you can have cannabis events that aren't political protests—just events where people are enjoying cannabis, like the way you can enjoy alcohol at so many events in Vancouver," he said.
Cannabis Culture CEO Jeremiah Vandermeer wanted to remind attendees of the roots of the event, and that despite the government's plan for legalization, there are still reasons for cannabis users to protest.
"I think it's important for people to show up here to continue to press for reforms to bad laws," he said. "Legalization is coming, but it's not here yet, and what we'd really like to see is decriminalization. We will be here protesting until people are not going to prison for marijuana."
Even if and when those arrests come to end, he said, it won't mean that the culture of Vancouver's vibrant grassroots cannabis community will simply "go away": "Then it will be like a festival, just like the pride parade, which also began as a protest," he said.
Long-time activist Jodie Emery reiterated Vandermeer's stance on cannabis-related arrests in Canada, and spoke to the importance of 4/20 in Vancouver and around the world.
"We'll be calling for amnesty and no more marijuana arrests," said Emery, who will take to the stage at Sunset Beach for a speech at 2:45 this afternoon.
"The goal is freedom for all, not just the legalization of pot growers that sell to the government. Cannabis legalization law reform efforts started in Vancouver in a big way, and even a lot of American activists relied on Vancouver for seeds, for money, inspiration, and media, so Vancouver has a deeply-rooted history in the activism and the industry itself."
As crowds have grown year over year, Larsen is expecting 2018 to be one Vancouver's biggest 4/20 events ever. Organizers have been able to put extra money aside this year as they've increased the number of booths spaces that can be reserved by vendors, but all the money collected will either go back to pay costs incurred by the Park Board, or to one of two Vancouver-based charities.
"This was never designed to be a money making event. In fact, for the most part, it's been a money loser and subsidized by the activist community as something we believe in," he said.
This year, to prevent damage to the grass, organizers have invested $30,000 in a Duradek turf protector.
"Complaints about damaging the grass are real and we feel bad about that," Larsen said. "We want to make sure that doesn't happen again."
For the first time ever, organizers will also be covering every cost incurred by the Park Board, with the exception of policing.
"This is the only protest in the city to cover any kinds of expenses—no other protest that I know of is willing to cover them," Larsen said. "It certainly makes 4/20 unique."
As another first, 4/20 organizers will also donate $4,200 to the Saint Paul's Hospital Foundation, and another $4,200 for the Vancouver Firefighters Snacks for Kids program.
"Saint Paul's gets busy on 4/20 so we thought it would be fair to offer them a donation," Larsen said.
Vandermeer said attendees can expect a lot of fun, with a stage show, activist speakers, and live music including Bay Area rapper E-40, happening all day long.