The only thing 4/20 Vancouver is protesting is paying their way

Tomorrow will be April 20th, and that can mean only one thing. Weed. Or, more accurately, the celebration of weed known around the world as 4/20. In Vancouver, the 2019 version takes on greater significance than in the past. It’s the first year that marijuana is legal in Canada, it’s the 25th anniversary of the event, and Cypress Hill is playing a concert as part of the festivities. As such, from what I’ve read attendance may balloon to as much as double 2018’s estimated crowd of 40,000.

I made the mistake of engaging with organizers Jodie Emery and Dana Larsen on Twitter this week. If there’s a bigger exercise in frustration and futility, I’m not sure what it is. In truth, engaging with either one is engaging with both as they relentlessly parrot and retweet each other. Like Vancouver housing debates and conservative religious people before them, I learned the hard way that you simply can’t expect straight answers if you engage, so I decided to write this post to sum up my feelings and disengage with them further.

4/20 Vancouver was held at the Vancouver Art Gallery for several years, but moved to Sunset Beach in 2017. In the past it has legitimately called itself a protest, given that marijuana was illegal. Vancouver Police have generally had a strong presence at 4/20 and, particularly in recent years, focused on keeping a lid on things but leaving organizers and attendees alone.

In other words, 4/20 organizers been able to have a relatively peaceful event, even as it has grown and increasingly had more of a trade show or festival vibe, than a real protest. Given that it’s actually been an illegal event throughout its entire history, has never had a city or park board permit and is now held in an area that’s had a smoking ban in place since 2011, that’s a pretty successful track record.

More amazing still, as policing costs have skyrocketed to roughly $170,000 and $185,000 in the past two years respectively, 4/20 has steadfastly refused to pay those costs citing their status as a protest. All in, with Park Board, Vancouver Fire and Rescue, Engineering and other costs, the tab for the City of Vancouver is over $583,000 in just the past two years alone. 4/20 has claimed they’ve paid all costs aside from policing, but I’ve never seen an accounting or any kind of proof of what they’ve actually paid.

On this particular issue, they like to claim that other festivals – notably Pride and Celebration of Lights – get hundreds of thousands in grants to pay for policing. Well, if they refuse to pay their bill, continue staging the event and aren’t getting taken to court to pay it, that essentially amounts to a grant for policing costs. See, it’s all how you spin it.

2017-18 420 Vancouver costs to taxpayers (Global BC)

I would argue that a big weed smoking party on the beach with hundreds of vendor booths and product sales, particularly when the subject of your protest is now legal, isn’t exactly a protest. Adding a hip hop concert for 2019 only further suggests they’re at the beach for nothing more than a good time.

I’m hardly the only one who has problems with them. Many are taking them to task for apparently wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Park Board commissioners, Vancouver city councillors and media folk to name a few …

And, lest you think I just hate weed or don’t understand how people have been done in by shitty drug laws, you’d be wrong. I’ve wanted legalization since I was young, and I’ve had my share of problems because of a past possession conviction. 4/20 Vancouver in 2019 isn’t about that any more.

Complain, get called out, pivot, repeat

What I’ve found most frustrating about Emery and Larsen has been their hypocrisy, self-aggrandized posturing, endless whataboutism and pivoting. They position anyone who disagrees specifically with their tactics and approach, to be completely opposed to marijuana legalization and being in support of the very real problems drug prohibition has caused.

The following are actual tweets from Larsen and Emery (who is by far the more inflammatory and self-aggrandizing of the two):

They’re like Ghandi …

I like reading up on the history of other protest movements. I am inspired by people like MLK, Ghandi, Dennis Peron, and enjoy learning from their successes and failures. For instance, I see many parallels between our 4/20 protest and Ghandi’s Salt March.

They’re special and persecuted …

What is a culture? “The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” There is a #cannabis culture — a global social group — with our own beliefs, rituals, symbols, history, icons, holidays, music & more. And we are a persecuted culture.

They’re like the Olympics …

We spent hundreds of millions on the Olympics to promote tourism, and 4/20 does it even better for a pittance!

They flat out lie …

Cannabis isn’t legal actually. See #FakeLegalization and #NewProhibition for the facts. And go to for the answers to your questions.

They twist the truth to suit their narrative …

FALSE. The @420Vancouver_ event DOES have insurance. Despite being contacted by organizers with the facts, the authors of this @cbcnewsbc article did NOT change the misleading, inaccurate and false headline. Irresponsible journalism is unacceptable. @clare_hennig

This one, in particular, requires some unpacking. Since they won’t actually answer the question about how much and what kind of insurance they have on Twitter, I have to assume they have insurance for Cypress Hill, who would likely only appear if they do. As for at least $2 million in public liability insurance all licensed events must have in City of Vancouver venues, I very much doubt it. No one underwrites insurance for events which can’t obtain a permit.

They don’t believe bylaws that predated their illegal occupation of the beach should apply …

The Park Board can change the no-smoking bylaw at any time to allow public cannabis events. In the context of legalization, it makes sense to revisit it.

They believe even addictive drugs should be unregulated and free …

My end goal is to end the entire global war on drug users, which I see as an ongoing genocide and war on many of the natural plant medicines of indigenous peoples. Coca leaves, opium poppies, cannabis flowers, psilocybe mushrooms, peyote cactus, I want them all legal and free.

They cherry pick info about weed …

Firework smoke is very toxic and harmful. It’s a very serious issue, unlike pot smoke.

I retweeted the nugget above, asking …

Well, some people are actually studying second hand weed smoke Dana. Not harmful you say? Um …

A little more unpacking here. Many people are beginning to study the impact of second hand weed smoke, and it hardly appears to be benign. Also, note again how, if you question their tactics and approach, you must be in favour of something else. They can’t fathom that some people simply think they’re wrong.

They hate being judged, but have no problem judging others …

Yeah beer stinks. Beer drinkers pee everywhere and leave broken glass around.

They threaten to sue elected officials trying to enforce bylaws …

I wonder if John Coupar likes being sued? It’s kind of like a protest, against misinformation and intentional lies.

More unpacking. In addition to pointing out their flawed logic Coupar had the nerve to point out that suddenly announcing a Cypress Hill concert in the last week before the event was blindsiding officials. It’s easy to do that, though, when you do whatever you want and have no proper insurance, licensing or permits for your event (and I’ll gladly rescind any of these assertions if one iota of proof I’m wrong is produced).

From the No you don’t, and this is a big reason why you can’t get a permit file …

We get a day off from the no-smoking bylaw, thanks to our principled mass civil disobedience and a responsible policing policy from the VPD.

And, yeah I believe they put a ton of planning into their event, to be fair …

THREAD: We received this email today from the Park Board’s Supervisor of Special Events. I hope this makes clear the extent of the planning and effort that goes into making sure 4/20 is a safe and responsible protest festival.

But all of the points above are completely beside the point and purposely repeated ad nauseam to obfuscate the main issue.

4/20 Vancouver doesn’t want to follow the law and pay

It’s understandable that weed smokers eat up the protest line. After all, they want a day to party on the beach like anyone. Given several hundred booths of vendors selling all manner of weed products, an open smoking mob, a concert and nary a law to actually protest any more, it simply doesn’t wash.

I have zero problem with 4/20 holding a weed festival and concert. While I no longer smoke dope, and don’t think it’s healthy, that doesn’t mean other people can’t enjoy it. I have massive problems, however, when a festival in every way claims to be a protest for no other reason than to skirt costs, hold their event wherever they want regardless of bylaws, avoid permits, full liability insurance, and willingly subject others to second-hand smoke, to name a few.

If they want to lobby to change the bylaw, I’m behind them completely. To simply go ahead and do their thing, bail on paying the full costs, while telling anyone who disagrees that they’re bigots, intolerant NIMBYs or any number of other things simply isn’t cool. Announcing a big concert just before the event is about as unprofessional as it gets.

Finally, to be completely fair to 4/20 Vancouver, city hall isn’t doing the issue any favours. Someone needs to really lead from council and work with them to find a location where they can get a permit, and ensure they have appropriate public liability coverage. Anything else for 2020 and this debate is assured to continue unabated.

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