As the city of Vancouver voted in favour of regulating medical marijuana dispensaries today (June 24), a protest over marijuana reform will go ahead as planned next week, despite best efforts by the city to shut it down.
For the past 19 years on July 1, the Vancouver Art Gallery has been crowded with 10,000 to 20,000 pot enthusiasts buying, selling, and smoking weed, not unlike the annual 4/20 rally.
The event has been organized by Cannabis Culture magazine, though now they claim they have been forbidden to to move forward.
"The City of Vancouver does not support or approve this event at this location as planned," deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston wrote in a letter to Cannabis Culture on June 9, telling them to cease and desist planning. "It would violate a number of Civic Bylaws.”
The city’s hands are full with what they call a "saturation of events" around the art gallery. According to Johnston, "The north plaza will be fenced in preparation for planned construction, the south plaza is also unavailable as the annual VIVA event is located on the south plaza throughout the summer."
Renovations to the plaza were announced in October 2013.
However, that isn't stopping Cannabis Day organizers. Jeremiah Vandermeer, Cannabis Culture's editor-in-chief of and event co-organizer, said Cannabis Day 2015 will go ahead on the south side of the gallery.
"We are going to have to do everything we can to have a peaceful protest, be civilly disobedient,” Vandermeer said. “We’ve been banned from collecting any donations from vendors. We can’t do any advertising, we can’t pay for the things we usually do, like Porta-Potties, the ambulance on-site, two or three first-aid tents, a 10-person security team, and various other safety equipment like barricades—we can’t pay for any of that.”
Vandermeer said planning with the city and Vancouver Police Department had been going smoothly for this year’s event, until two weeks ago when he found out that construction and the art installation threatened to cancel Cannabis Day.
“We heard from the media that the city would be denying us the art gallery spot,” Vandermeer said. “The city has banned vendors booths from setting up and also said that any of the vendors that do set up could face enforcement from the police, including seizing their property.”
How communication became so hazy after decades of events isn’t clear. “In previous years, we had always met with the city four or five times a year, the VPD has always been at our meetings. For some reason nobody contacted us this time,” Vandermeer said.
Letters dated June 9 showed up to Cannabis Culture’s office informing them that construction at the art gallery wouldn’t leave any room for the event, while also demanding they cease promoting, organizing, and advertising for it. Since those letters were sent, Johnston stated the city had met with Cannabis Day organizers and the VPD to hash out a plan for an alternate location: under the south end of the Cambie St. Bridge, near the VPD’s main detachment.
"They just don’t want it in the downtown core, they want a site they can control, it’s a little out of the way," Vandermeer said. “When they told us about it two weeks before Cannabis Day, it would be impossible for us to reorganize and start our protest at some other location, it’s just too late to do that.”
VPD media relations officer Randy Fincham told the Straight that police are taking a "wait and see" approach while they watch developments over Cannabis Day.
"As each event is unique, they present their own set of challenges," Fincham said. "Our emergency operations and planning unit is conducting a threat assessment with the goal of deploying units appropriately."
Vandermeer won’t encourage or discourage people from setting up a booth or selling marijuana person-to-person under the threat of police action during Cannabis Day, though he feels people will try, calling vending an “integral part of our protest".
“I am not sure how many people will show up,” Vandermeer said. "it may be diminished because of construction, but it may also be increased because people are pissed off that the city has blocked us from having our peaceful rally.”
"We hope a lot of people come out to send a message that this isn't just a bunch of stoners getting high; this is a real political protest and we are going to be here until marjuana is legal," he added.