While gathering tens of thousands of people together to freely pass around joints isn’t advisable right now, there’s still ways Vancouver’s 4/20 revellers can support the longstanding protest against prohibition.
As the world ground to a halt to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, 4/20 organizers read the writing on the wall and scrapped the world-famous Sunset Beach event, moving the festivities online.
This year people can catch a live stream of 4/20 celebrations from the comfort of their own couch, organizer and veteran weed activist Dana Larsen said.
To support the protest they should consider voting with their wallets and buying from a local dealer instead of a regulated store, he said. Everyone can help battle stigma against drug use by being open and proud about their cannabis consumption, and demand change by calling their local politician to say drug prohibition is wrong, he added.
This is the first time in 26 years that Vancouver’s 4/20 cannabis protest has been cancelled. The irony that the government had a part to play in the cancellation isn’t lost on Larsen, though he said organizers scrapped the event before the government ordered mass closures.
Larsen said he’s sad that the world’s longest running cannabis protest has to be online this year, but hopes the pandemic will highlight some of the things the 4/20 protest advocates for.
A little more healthcare, a little less policing says 4/20 organizer
“There’s much more serious things we should be focusing on as a society than arresting, persecuting and jailing people for cannabis and other drug use,” he said. “Maybe we should have a few less police and less prohibition and a few more health-care workers.”
Weed was federally legalized in 2018, but Larsen said there’s still a lot of work to be done to reduce stigma and to fight the ongoing criminalization of cannabis.
People tell us we’re obsessed with cannabis, but its the government that’s obsessed with weed, Larsen said. “They’re the ones spending millions of dollars and redirecting energy to harass people. We just want to be left alone to do our thing.”
The online celebration will run from noon to 5 p.m., Vancouver-time, and will be free to stream on multiple platforms.
That should keep 99.9 per cent of people at home, but Larsen said it would be fine by him if people walked to the beach to smoke a joint while respecting physical distancing.
Last year’s 4/20 was the biggest yet, drawing around 150,000 people throughout the day and peaking at 4:20 p.m. during the Cypress Hill concert, when organizers estimate 50,000 people were in attendance.
From obscurity to world renowned in 25 years
That’s an incredible difference from the protests’s formative years, back when the term “4/20” was still a relatively unknown phrase. Back then, Larsen remembers how people would meet up in Victory Square Park, across from Mark Emery’s British Columbia Marijuana Party headquarters, to play music, smoke joints and meet local dealers.
As the protest grew, organizers moved it to the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. People would stand in a large circle to create a space in the middle where people could buy, sell and talk openly about cannabis without worrying about the police, Larsen said.
At that time there weren’t any dispensaries in Vancouver, so it was the first place in the city where people could openly and safely buy weed, he added.
The Vancouver Police Department was always present, but arrests were rare and each year more and more people would arrive with bags of cookies and joints to sell or share. One year a guy showed up with a table, a scale and a big bag of weed. He wasn’t arrested, and the next year tables were everywhere.
The protest swelled in size till it outgrew even what the VAG could host. Organizers decided to move it to Sunset Beach Park, and “at the time, the chief of police said he thought it was a good idea, because it was a safer, better place to have the event,” said Larsen.
But the move only aggravated the Park Board and created a firestorm of politics around the event.
“I think it’s actually good. I mean, the point of a protest is to be controversial to you know, if you’re not aggravating anybody, are you really protesting?”
Despite the protest being used as a “political football” Larsen said 4/20 covers all city expenses for the event, except for the cost of policing.
The event never makes any money despite sponsorship and charging for certain booth spaces, Larsen said.
“If we stiffed the city and all their bills, maybe it would break even,” he said. The protest pays $60,000 to the city and park board and spends $100,000 on things like public toilets, fencing and security. And that’s before adding in the cost of entertainment, Larsen said.
Assuming the pandemic ends before July 1, Vancouverite’s can celebrate a mini 4/20 at Cannabis Day on Canada Day, hosted at Thornton Park at Pacific Central Station. Last year there were around 100 booths, Larsen said.
Catch the online 4/20 celebration on Pot TV and the Cannabis Life Network.
Top image of Cypress Hill performing at 4:20 p.m. at the 2019 4/20 protest at Sunset Beach Park. Photo via the Cannabis Life Network