The Vancouver Police Department has said that its officers took action after observing "someone overtly selling marijuana, including to young people" at the Cannabis Day celebration.
In a written statement, the VPD maintained that when the man was arrested, "officers were immediately confronted and swarmed".
Police responded by using pepper spray. Two men are in custody with one facing potential marijuana-trafficking charges and the other was booked on obstruction of justice.
“The safety of everyone is always our priority” Const. Brian Montague said in the statement. “That includes the safety of the public, police, and protesters. It is unfortunate there are some at this unsanctioned Cannabis Day event who do not feel that way.”
Following the arrests, cannabis activists set up a blockade to prevent traffic from moving on Howe Street south of West Georgia Street.
The city had warned the organizers of the 20th annual Cannabis Day event that it violated civic bylaws.
Marc and Jody Emery own Cannabis Culture magazine, which promotes the annual party. They each blamed deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston for the turmoil.
"It's just a really strangely militant, aggressive move by the VPD against the least aggressive people in the city," Marc Emery told the Straight.
Green Planet Store Ltd. CEO John Berfelo told the Straight that he witnessed police taking away three well-known cannabis activists: David Malmo-Levine, Neil Magnuson, and Bert Easterbrook.
The police statement did not identify the two men in custody.
Earlier this week, Vancouver police Chief Adam Palmer told CBC Radio that his department's top priority is addressing violent crime, which is why officers were not swooping down on all the illegal marijuana dispensaries in the city.