A few weeks back, former city councillor Peter Ladner came across a discarded wooden box that once held someone’s cannabis stash. On it was a note thanking the box for all the good times and a declaration that “our weeding days are over. … It just ain’t the same now that it’s legal. We be rebels ya’ll.” It was a humorous acknowledgment that marijuana’s counter-culture days are done.
Not only has legalization quashed the once illicit thrill, even worse it’s catapulted the drug out of the cool-kid crowd into the decidedly uncool 50-and-up cohort. Today, book clubs of women starting to ditch their hair dye instead debate the best THC/CBD ratio in pot gummies for a solid eight-hour sleep.
And yet, there remains a contingent of weed devotees who unlike the owners of the wooden box, can’t part with their weed-activist identities. And even though you can buy marijuana at dozens of shops across the city, they are planning yet another 4/20 protest at Sunset Beach. They’ll set up booths for sales and throngs of mostly young people will attend, not to make a political statement, but because it’s fun to blow off an afternoon of school or work to blow a joint. For one day the fresh ocean air will give way to skunky pot smoke and a tiny rebel thrill might even run through the crowd because smoking in parks is not allowed. And yes, the grass will get mangled. The park board will grumble about remediation costs then fix it up and we’ll all carry on.
Earlier this week, the Vancouver park board passed an utterly futile motion to examine ways to curtail marijuana sales at the proposed 4/20 event. Futile, because organizer Dana Larsen says he won’t comply. “We’re not interested in stopping sales at 4/20. That’s what the event is about.” He points out – probably rightly so – that Vancouver police, with whom 4/20 organizers have a reasonable relationship, aren’t going to want to “crack heads” to stop pot sales. They didn’t do it when cannabis was illegal, they won’t do it now.
Part two of the motion was to ask council to relocate 4/20 outside a park by next year. On that point Mr. Larsen is willing to talk, but notes he tried negotiating with the PNE in 2017 and it didn’t work out. If 4/20 gets the boot from Sunset Beach, it will probably migrate back to the Art Gallery space, which was too crowded and unsafe, Mr. Larsen cautions.
The annual 4/20 gathering draws tens of thousands of cheerful, bleary eyed attendees, a huge crowd by any measure. And unless it’s a riot, which compromises public safety, thereby demanding a punitive response, the best course of action for police with a crowd this large is to hang out, smile for selfies and make sure no one ODs on edibles. Any crackdown would only make martyrs of activists who would probably enjoy getting arrested to make their point. Although, exactly what that point is has become less clear post-legalization. What started as a protest against criminalization has morphed into an “event,” in the words of Mr. Larsen.
Mr. Larsen insists there is much left to protest. Pot users are still stigmatized, he says, pointing to the ongoing efforts to bar them from parks. Yes, cannabis is legal, he says. “So, shouldn’t there be more cannabis-friendly events, not less?” There is a certain logic to that. Still, it’s a far cry from the days when getting caught smoking a joint could saddle you with a criminal record. That battle has been won.
The park board commissioners who voted unanimously to move 4/20 off Sunset Beach are not on a moral crusade. At least one was a member of NORMAL, a legalization lobby group. They just abhor the smoking of any substance in parks and feel it their duty to enforce the rules 365 days a year. I doubt city council will pay them much mind. Let’s call 4/20 what it is – a mostly harmless, one-day party where stoners can get stoned and amble home, grabbing a one-slice along the way. Instead of mounting a fight they can’t win, the park board commissioners should join in. If they don’t like smoking, there are bound to be plenty of tasty alternatives on offer.