Dana Larsen: Four things we've learned from 4/20 in Vancouver

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      Now that 4/20 is over and we've had a chance to look back, here's four things we've learned about Vancouver's massive cannabis protest festival.

      No minors were buying cannabis at 4/20

      One thing that should be clear after this year's 4/20 is that virtually no minors were buying cannabis at the event.

      There was over $100,000 spent on policing 4/20 this year, meaning there were many dozens of officers at the event. In our talks with the VPD in the weeks before 4/20, we discussed the possibility of minors buying cannabis. With such large crowds, officers didn't want to be in the position of trying to make arrests over potential sales to minors.

      We had agreed that if any police officers saw any sales to minors, they would immediately alert myself or other event organizers, and we would put a stop to it. Yet despite such a heavy police presence at the event, we did not receive even one alert from police about any booth selling to minors. Neither did any of our volunteers or security see any sales to minors. It just wasn't happening.

      While it's possible that one or two minors might have slipped through and purchased some cannabis, the fact is that booths selling cannabis at 4/20 ask for ID and turn away people who are underage. 

      Indeed, compared to research by the B.C. government which shows that private liquor stores, nightclubs and restaurants fail to prevent sales to minors about half of the time, our 4/20 does a remarkable job of ensuring cannabis sales are limited to adults at our event.

      We should be congratulated for setting a good example, and not be attacked over something that simply does not occur.

      Amanda Siebert

      Vancouver police are very expensive

      The second lesson learned from 4/20 is that Vancouver police are very expensive!

      Policing is the number one cost for every public event in Vancouver, and some might say this is a problem that needs to be dealt with by city hall. 

      The policing cost for 4/20 at Sunset Beach was $127,000. Although this sounds like a big number, it's actually very small compared to the cost of some other public protests. For instance, the VPD spent $100,000 at the Trump Tower protest in March, an event with only a few hundred people in attendance.

      Police also spent $43,000 at the Vancouver Art Gallery this 4/20, where a group of cannabis anarchists had pledged to shut down three major streets for three days! (This group, called "World Cannabis" is known for its disruptive and antagonistic behaviour against the rest of Vancouver's cannabis community.) Less than 300 people showed up at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the VPD brought a strong police presence to stop them from shutting down city streets.

      Sadly, most of the media didn't see any difference between our well-planned and organized event at Sunset Beach, and the disruptive anarchists at the art gallery. Many headlines just added the cost of these two events together and falsely proclaimed that our event at Sunset Beach cost $250,000, which is simply not correct.

      If people think the cost of 4/20 is too high, they should talk to the police, not to the event organizers. We do everything we can to keep costs low, but it's the police who decide how many officers to deploy. It's not our fault that police constables are paid over $120 an hour to attend public events, nor are we to blame that the police themselves that decide how many officers to deploy, with no oversight from the city.

      I'm glad the police are there to keep our 4/20 event safe, and I don't want to second-guess their deployment decisions. But I will also add that during 4/20, most of the police officers that I saw weren't engaging with the public or patrolling the crowd, they were just standing in circles, talking to each other.

      Amanda Siebert

      Vancouver's NPA party hates cannabis users

      The third thing we learned from 4/20 this year is that the intolerance and hostility exhibited by the Vancouver park board is entirely due to the Non-Partisan Association, Vancouver's right-wing municipal party. 

      The NPA dominates the park board, and is known to be very anticannabis. They want the city to issue "closure orders" for all medical cannabis dispensaries in the city, an extremist position that would cost many millions of dollars in police enforcement, and which goes against the strong local support for dispensaries across Vancouver.

      The NPA commissioners on the park board seem to feel it is their job to stop people from using public parks. They recently banned a nonprofit, free yoga class from using Dude Chilling Park, for no reason other than their own apparent desire to stop locals from enjoying a healthy stretch on park board territory.

      At first, the NPA commissioners claimed that they just didn't think Sunset Beach was the right place for 4/20. But the policy they passed was to ban all cannabis events from all parks in the city, forever. This extreme stance makes it clear that their concerns have nothing to do with Sunset Beach in particular, or with the legality of cannabis use. They just don't like cannabis users, and don't want us holding any events in any park board territory, even after the federal laws change.

      Some people say that antismoking bylaws mean the park board could not grant us a permit, but that is simply not true. The fact is that drinking liquor in a park is also against bylaws, as is loud music, staging, booths and everything else associated with these kinds of public events. The whole reason for a permit being issued is to allow a group to do something that is normally against the bylaws.

      The park board commissioners absolutely has the power to issue 4/20 a permit, they just chose not to. This point was driven home by park board staff when they recommended that our 4/20 event be issued a permit, a recommendation that was ignored by the NPA.

      The park board's job is not to stop people from using public parks, nor is its job to make moral judgements about who is worthy to use a public park and who is not. Its job is to facilitate the public's use of public park spaces, and that includes people doing yoga, as well as large public festivals like 4/20.

      In a democracy, when 100,000 people want to gather for a public event, it is expected that elected officials will facilitate this to ensure public safety, not ban the gathering because they disagree with the politics behind it.

      Interestingly, although the city of Toronto has continued launching raids against dispensaries, its 4/20 celebration is licensed by the city, and doesn't get the same kind of harassment we experience here in Vancouver.

      Amanda Siebert

      Vancouver loves 4/20

      The biggest thing we've learned after 23 years of hosting the 4/20 protest festival is that people love 4/20!

      We do no advertising or promotion for 4/20, yet it has grown into one of the city's biggest and most famous cultural celebrations. Indeed, I'm confident that if you asked Canadians to name one large public event that they associate with Vancouver, our 4/20 celebration would be at the top of the list.

      For the past 23 years, every 4/20 has been bigger than the last. Despite artificial controversy drummed up by the corporate media and hostile politicians, the fact is that 4/20 is a beloved civic event with widespread support and a broad base of participation. 

      Not only do people come from across the Lower Mainland, they come from all across Canada, and even from other countries, to participate in Vancouver's unique cultural celebration. These visitors to our city also eat in restaurants, rent hotel rooms, and spend their money in our local economy. 

      I meet people of all ages and social groups at 4/20. There are grandmothers and grandfathers, moms carrying babies, businessmen in suits, and many families with children who use cannabis to treat epilepsy and other ailments. I see people from every cultural and social group coming together in a peaceful celebration of cannabis and a protest against Canada's ongoing cannabis prohibition.

      For the last two years at Sunset Beach, I have met dozens of locals who tell us how wonderful it is to have this event in their community. There's definitely a lot of local support for 4/20, and local businesses in the West End see a surge in visitors to local restaurants and hotels.

      After 23 years, it's clear 4/20 is here to stay. Vancouver's 4/20 protest festival is a safe, family-friendly event that brings many social and economic benefits to our city.

      It's time for city hall and the park board to stop fighting their own citizens, and to accept the local cannabis community and our 4/20 celebration as part of the diverse social fabric that makes our city so very special.