Opinion Column

4/20 organizers wrong to plan party during fentanyl crisis

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

Thousands of people gather at 4/20 celebrations on April 20, 2016 at Sunset Beach in Vancouver, Canada. The Vancouver 4/20 event is the largest free protest festival in the city, with day-long music, public speakers and the world's only open-air public cannabis farmer's market where people sell all kinds of cannabis and extracts while educating the crowd about medical marijuana, political involvement and activism. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Thousands of people gather at 4/20 celebrations on April 20, 2016 at Sunset Beach in Vancouver, Canada. The Vancouver 4/20 event is the largest free protest festival in the city, with day-long music, public speakers and the world's only open-air public cannabis farmer's market where people sell all kinds of cannabis and extracts while educating the crowd about medical marijuana, political involvement and activism. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Plans are well under way for this year’s 4/20 pot party.

Organizers have begun booking booths for this year’s event even though the Vancouver Park Board has denied the group a special event permit. Just like last year, the Park Board has been stuck in an extremely difficult position – forced by the mayor’s inaction to put up with a 4/20 party they haven’t sanctioned while the federal government constantly teeters on the verge of legalizing marijuana.

Last year, Mayor Gregor Robertson tried to wash his hands of the problem, telling the Park Board to communicate their concerns about the event to organizers without stepping in and taking a stand himself. So far this year we haven’t heard a thing from him.

It feels a lot like déjà vu, but one thing is starkly different. This year, our city is struggling with a fentanyl overdose crisis that is killing some of our most vulnerable.

More than 900 lives have been lost so far. If you spend any time in Gastown or the Downtown Eastside, every ambulance siren serves as an eerie reminder that we are still fighting fentanyl.

Our emergency rooms are full with overdose patients. First responders are working overtime, yet the marijuana movement is planning a party: booking brownies booths and hookah huts. Every year, dozens of 4/20 participants are sent to hospital.

According to the City of Vancouver, last year’s event cost them $148,000 to manage, that cost was up 60 per cent from the previous year’s $92,500. All is money and resources that could be used to help prevent overdoses.

Some 4/20 organizers maintain the day is still a protest. Why not put that people power to good use and instead of getting high, go help those who every day are in danger of losing their lives. Protest the fact that people are dying on our streets.

If police and hospital resources are taken away from the real drug crisis to babysit a bunch of partiers, the cost of this year’s 4/20 could be far too high. The 4/20 website calls for volunteer to help with the event, to join the Elite Stoner Task Force.

Imagine instead of corralling stoners, the Task Force volunteered on the front lines of the crisis. The 4/20 event will inevitably pull resources from the downtown eastside.

The event’s organizers should acknowledge that fact and stop planning their party until the fentanyl tide has turned.