Vancouver’s 4/20 organizers say the event remains an act of civil disobedience aimed at marijuana reform

After nearly two decades at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the city's annual celebration of marijuana is moving to Sunset Beach.

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      Organizers of Vancouver’s annual 4/20 marijuana festival want people to know the event is still a protest.

      “This year, more than ever, we need to rally,” Jodie Emery told the Straight. “The city is threatening to shut down dispensaries and the federal government is allowing arrests to continue.”

      In a telephone interview, the activist and owner of Cannabis Culture said that despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledging to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, the event remains focused on pushing for reforms.

      “The primary message is to stop marijuana arrests now, to legalize marijuana now,” Emery emphasized. “We need to allow everyone to participate safely and openly in this industry. And right now, millions of Canadians are still being criminalized.”

      Last February, the Straight broke the news that Vancouver’s annual 4/20 protest and celebration of marijuana was leaving its long-time home on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. On Wednesday, April 20, the event will take place at Sunset Beach, just east of English Bay on the south edge of the city’s West End.

      "The size of our event has grown, and with such big numbers, it will be more exciting and inclusive to go to the beach,” Emery said in an interview for that article.

      Speaking today (April 18), Emery acknowledged that the move has become a bit of a controversy, mostly because, she argued, the park board has vocally opposed the festival moving to Sunset Beach, which is a public park.

      “It’s the same old antimarijuana fear-mongering and bigotry that we’ve been dealing with for decades,” she said.

      Asked about the latest development in that dispute—reports that event organizers won’t be requesting vendors to ID people buying marijuana—Emery maintained that this is a misunderstanding.

      She said organizers are “of course” asking vendors to ID people who purchase marijuana on Wednesday and to deny sales to anybody under the age of 19.

      “This is not about selling pot to youths,” she insisted. “This is a legalization rally, and we always encourage responsible safety.”

      Jeremiah Vandermeer is the event’s lead organizer and editor in chief of Cannabis Culture magazine. He argued that despite the federal Liberals initiating a process to legalize cannabis, there are still reasons to protest government policies on cannabis.

      “We have the federal government ordering police to continue to arrest people for marijuana,” Vandermeer said. “Even here in the City of Vancouver, we have the laws getting worse when it comes to marijuana and medical marijuana. We have city council threatening to close the vast majority of dispensaries in the city.”

      Sunset Beach is located in Vancouver's West End, roughly a 20-minute walk from the 4/20 festival's previous location at the Art Gallery.
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      On February 26, the Straight reported that Ottawa had instructed police across Canada to continue arresting people for the possession of marijuana. And on March 29, the Straight reported the City of Vancouver had given unsanctioned dispensaries until the end of April to shut their doors or face fines and other enforcement measures.

      From 2003 to 2012, the B.C. Ministry of Justice recorded charging 44,522 people under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for crimes related to cannabis.

      An even larger number of people were recorded for a marijuana "offence", an interaction with police that falls short of authorities pressing charges but that still can carry heavy consequences. According to another set of Justice Ministry numbers, from 2003 to 2012 B.C. police recorded 173,157 such offences related to cannabis. Today, those interactions with police remain alongside individuals’ names in police databases.

      The 4/20 event’s move from the Art Gallery to Sunset Beach was welcomed by city hall, which is dominated by councillors belonging to the Vision Vancouver party. Since the relocation was made public in February, the NPA-dominated park board has positioned itself as a vocal opponent to the change.

      “It’s been a challenge, working with the parks board,” Vandermeer said. “They continue to come up with added costs and sanctions or requirements they are putting on us at the last minute, which is very problematic.”

      He maintained that despite the event’s festive nature, it remains an act of civil disobedience.

      “Until the laws have been changed on a federal level or on a municipal level, 4/20 will continue to be a protest,” Vandermeer said. “And once those laws have been changed, 4/20 will be able to become a celebration of cannabis.”

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