Opinion Column

Protest and celebration: Why Vancouver should embrace 4/20 Day

Dana Larsen, Special to 24 Hours

Dana Larsen. (Supplied Photo)

Dana Larsen. (Supplied Photo)

Vancouver's annual 4/20 is going to be at Sunset Beach -- and this year will be bigger than ever.

Since we began with a small gathering of activists in 1995, Vancouver's 4/20 protest has grown into one of the city's largest and most well-known public celebrations. Around 100,000 people now show up to protest prohibition, celebrate Vancouver's world-famous cannabis culture and enjoy a unique marijuana farmer's market.

4/20 is both protest and celebration. We're protesting the ongoing arrests and raids against our people. We’re also celebrating the wonderful benefits of cannabis.

BC's cannabis industry brings billions of dollars into our economy and provides tens of thousands of jobs across the province. In Vancouver, the dispensary boom is providing employment to thousands of people, while generating tax revenue for all levels of government.

Thanks to years of pressure from Vancouver's cannabis community, the VPD have long-since stopped wasting their time going after pot smokers. This policy change has saved taxpayers millions of dollars while allowing police to redirect resources towards real crimes.

Dispensaries are also saving lives. American studies have found that states with cannabis dispensaries have significantly lower rates of opioid use and fewer overdose deaths. There's no question that dispensaries provide a safer pain-relieving alternative to often deadly opiates. 

Sadly, the NPA-dominated Park Board voted 4 to 3 to reject our 4/20 permit application for Sunset Beach and actually banned us from holding our event in any other city park -- despite the clear recommendation from their own staff that our permit be approved. The Park Board has the power to grant us a permit for our cannabis event the same way they can issue permits for the alcohol events, which the city and park board regularly promote and subsidize for millions of dollars.

In a democracy, when 100,000 citizens want to gather in peaceful protest and celebration, their political leaders have a duty not to obstruct them. Sunset Beach is a public space and regularly used for other civic protests and celebrations. Cannabis users are citizens too and we have the right to gather together once a year just like anyone else.

Vancouver's annual 4/20 celebration will be at Sunset Beach again this year and will remain at Sunset Beach for the years to come. Frankly, there's simply no other public space in the city suitable for a gathering of this size and scope, except perhaps for the PNE.

Dana Larsen is a 4/20 organizer and Director of Sensible BC