Sunset Beach in Vancouver will be home to a 4/20 gathering next month for the second year in a row.
It also won’t be sanctioned by the Vancouver Park Board for the second year in a row after commissioners voted 4-3 against issuing a permit to 4/20 Vancouver organizers, which would have allowed them to purchase insurance.
NPA commissioners John Coupar, Sarah Kirby-Yung and Casey Crawford were joined by Green Party commissioner Stuart Mackinnon in supporting a motion that “will not permit or approve future 420 and/or cannabis day events on any property that falls under Park Board jurisdiction.” Catherine Evans (Vision Vancouver), vice-chair Erin Shum (Independent) and chair Michael Wiebe (Green Party), despite their objection to the unsanctioned event taking place on the West End waterfront, voted against the motion.
“The only way we can say that ‘no this is not an appropriate use of park space’ is to say no to them,” said Mackinnon. “We know that regardless of whether we give them a permit or not, they’re going to come. We know that regardless of whether we give them a permit or not, they may or may not have insurance, and they may or may not give us money, and they may or may not clean up after themselves. There are no guarantees.”
The vote came despite a recommendation from park board staff to issue a permit given that the event will take place with or without the board’s approval and would be a way to potentially offset costs. The conclusion was reached by both a special working group and a steering committee and presented in a report prepared by manager of business development Octavio Silva.
“While both groups acknowledge the challenging aspects associated with the 4/20 celebration and protest, they also recognize that the event will occur regardless,” stated the staff report. “Further, with the impending federal legalization of marijuana, there is recognition that in the foreseeable future, the 4/20 initiative will likely shift from being a protest to a legal celebration.”
4/20 Vancouver organizer Dana Larsen was not impressed by the decision reached at nearly 11pm and spoke to reporters outside the meeting afterward.
“If only we would drink alcohol instead of smoking cannabis, we would get a permit like that,” said Larsen while snapping his fingers. “This is clearly just prejudicial. It’s not about Sunset Beach, it’s about the dislike of cannabis users and the cannabis culture… Vancouver does not have a lot of great spaces for large outdoor events. We’ve worked with the city and we tried to work with the Park Board, and Sunset Beach is the best place we could get for this kind of event.”
Larsen pointed out that the annual protest against prohibition laws and celebration of cannabis culture predates the dispensaries that now openly operate in the city. The rally has taken place every year since founder Marc Emery held the first one at Victory Square in 1995 outside Cannabis Culture’s downtown headquarters.
Last year’s event on April 20 – the first time in many years that the annual pot prohibition protest was held away from its traditional home outside the Vancouver Art Gallery due to construction – cost taxpayers an estimated $155,000 dollars. Reasons for denying the permit ranged from the amount of garbage left behind at last year’s event to concerns minors would be able to partake, tourists on the Seawall might stumble into it, and the grounds could be destroyed if the weather is wet. The board would have also have needed to suspend its anti-smoking bylaw and concern was expressed about the precedent this would set.
“Basically there was a downloading from the City of Vancouver to the Park Board because ‘we don’t want to deal with it, you take it,’” said Coupar, who introduced the motion Feb. 20. “I am very concerned that we as commissioners would consider suspending our own bylaws for one group. I think this is a real mistake for us to condone this.”
After last year’s rally, park board staff worked with the City of Vancouver’s legal department to explore ways it could prevent it from returning to Sunset Beach Park or any other park in the city and to identify a more appropriate location for the event. Both the PNE and the False Creek area currently occupied by the touring Cavalia show were considered.
A separate “4/20 Classic” is planned for outside the art gallery.