It was long ago that Vancouver’s annual celebration of marijuana outgrew its home on the north side of the Art Gallery. And now the city’s 4/20 festival and protest is finally moving.
This year on April 20, the cloud of smoke that usually sits over the centre of downtown Vancouver will instead cover Sunset Beach in the city’s West End.
In a telephone interview, leading marijuana activist Jodie Emery confirmed the news. She said the decision to relocate was the result of a combination of factors.
"The size of our event has grown, and with such big numbers, it will be more exciting and inclusive to go to the beach,” she said. Emery added that the north plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery is also scheduled to undergo a major renovation that will put the site out of commission.
She said that besides the move, little else will change.
“We still intend for it to be a protest against prohibition, but also a celebration of cannabis, as always,” Emery said.
The 2016 event will be the first since Canada elected a government that has promised to legalize recreational marijuana, but Emery emphasized there is still a lot to protest.
“I think now, more than ever, with the dispensaries threatened with closures in April, and with the federal government having reiterated it is still illegal and telling police that they should enforce the law, it is a time when we might need to step up our activism even more,” she said.
Emery also confirmed the event will go ahead without a permit.
“It is still a protest and the parks board, I think they just don’t know if they can allow it,” she explained. “We’ve never had a permit before. But we have always taken all of the steps related to a permit.”
Emery noted that includes insurance, security, private ambulance services standing by, as well as a large number of volunteers who help with clean up.
"We always take care of post-event cleanup ourselves, and this year we will do the same," she said.
It’s estimated that as many as 20,000 people will come together for an event that’s a mix of politics, protest, and party. According to the official 4/20 Vancouver website, that makes Vancouver's annual cannabis festival one of the largest in the world.
It began in Victory Square Park on the edge of the Downtown Eastside more than 20 years ago before moving to the Vancouver Art Gallery in the mid-1990s.
Dana Larsen, a long-time advocate for marijuana reform and former campaign director for Sensible B.C., leaked news of the move to Sunset Beach on Facebook last night (February 10) before quickly deleting that post.
He described the move as a logical next step.
“It is difficult to move an event that attracts over 25,000 people, but we have clearly outgrown the Art Gallery,” he wrote there. “The past few years of 4/20 have been difficult to navigate and participate in, because of the overwhelming throngs of people.
“Sunset Beach is Vancouver’s biggest and best outdoor event venue, and will allow 4/20 to expand and grow into a much larger event with more people, more booths, more cannabis and more freedom than ever before.”
In a subsequent telephone interview, Larsen was still nothing but positive about the move.
"I think we've outgrown the Art Gallery, by far," he said. "I wish we had moved years ago, really. It's gotten too crowded. I think it's a wonderful sign and a success of our movement that we need a bigger spot."
The City of Vancouver referred questions to the park board, which has jurisdiction over Sunset Beach.
In a telephone interview, NPA park board chair Sarah Kirby-Yung repeatedly stressed the 4/20 festival was going forward without a permit.
"This is not something that falls into the park board’s normal events policies and it is an unsanctioned event," Kirby-Yung said. "However, we are aware that it is happening, and so our role is really to work with our partners at the Vancouver Police Department and the City of Vancouver to ensure that public safety and other considerations are met.”