B.C.’s annual 4-20 protest still relevant: spokesman

Most schools in Delta, Coquitlam, and North Vancouver will be closed Friday

Thousands are expected to attend the 4-20 marijuana smoke-in at Vancouver’s Sunset Beach Friday, and while the legalization goal of the annual Weed Day will soon be met, an event organizer says there is much more to protest.

This year’s event also features a unique wrinkle for organizers, police, and parents: professional development days are scheduled Friday for three Metro Vancouver school districts, meaning thousands of children won’t be in class.

Dana Larsen, the organizer of 4-20 Vancouver, says the annual “smoke-ins” will continue until all their goals are met. Larsen says he believes cannabis users are still discriminated against, despite the approaching legalization.

“I wouldn’t say we’re above the law. I’d say we’re under the law, in that cannabis users are unjustly punished by the law, and imprisoned, and treated poorly, and lose our jobs, and our children, and have other negative things happen because we choose to use cannabis, often instead of using alcohol.”

Larsen says organizers have met with the city’s police and fire departments, sanitation, ambulance services, and park rangers about Friday’s rally, and will ”act as if they have a special-events permit” from the park board.

Vancouver’s park board issued a statement Tuesday, saying the protest is taking place against its wishes.

WATCH: Crowds gather for Vancouver’s 4/20 celebration

The statement says the board is working “to encourage organizers to find an alternate location for the event in future years.”

“The park board does not believe this event is an appropriate use of park space because it violates our no-smoking bylaws and has negative consequences for park users and infrastructure.”

Last year, tens of thousands of people showed up to the beach-side event and left the fields a muddy mess.

The protest cost the city about $245,000 for issues such as policing and replacing the turf.

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“Park Rangers have gone door to door in the vicinity of Sunset Beach to hand deliver leaflets outlining plans for the event and to inform residents of significant crowds, traffic impacts and potential health concerns to those with sensitivity to smoke,” the park board says in a release.

Most schools in Delta, Coquitlam, and North Vancouver will be closed Friday.

Jen Hill, communications manager at the Delta School District, says they generally hold a professional development day on the third Friday of April, coming off the Easter holiday, and it has fallen on April 20 before.

Chris Atkinson, assistant superintendent of the North Vancouver School District, says it’s merely a coincidence the non-instructional day fell on 4-20 and he’s ”surprised this was a story at all.”

Hill, Atkinson and Larsen note that April 20 falls on a Saturday next year, and students would not be in school then either.

Vancouver police Sgt. Jason Robillard confirms the force is working with 4-20 organizers and booth operators this year, and will deploy a special detachment that manages policing around public events and protests.

He says it wasn’t the department’s position to comment on any decisions made by school boards, especially those outside of their jurisdiction, but says police are prepared for young attendees.

“We’ll look at all the possibilities, and if the event requires any additional attention during the time of the event that’s happening, we are prepared and can adjust our resources … as necessary. So if that means we need to look at enforcing laws surrounding selling to minors and things like that, that will be a game-time decision and we can adjust our resources as necessary.”

Larson says anyone caught selling products to minors will face serious consequences, including removal and a future ban from the event, along with any separate police action.

The history of “4-20” is foggy, though most agree it was started when a group of high school students in California met at 4:20 p.m. to smoke marijuana.

This will be the 24th instalment of Vancouver’s annual protest, and Larsen says he expects it to be the biggest rally they’ve put on yet, with peak crowds of up to 60,000 people expected at Sunset Beach.

Spencer Harwood, The Canadian Press

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