Skip to main content

Thousands attend a 4-20 event in downtown Vancouver, B.C., on Monday, April 20, 2015.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

An annual demonstration on Monday brought a haze of smoke and marijuana merchandise including pot-laced chocolates and marijuana mango slushies to downtown Vancouver, where police monitored an event that has grown steadily since its debut in 1995.

Political messages were also on the menu. Marijuana advocacy group Sensible B.C. was on site to promote its "grow the vote" campaign, an initiative to mobilize voters for October's federal election. The group, which failed in a 2013 attempt to force a referendum to end arrests for marijuana prohibition in British Columbia, has since turned its focus to the federal scene.

"This is going to be the first real election where marijuana policy is a significant election issue. We want people to make sure we don't re-elect [Conservative Prime Minister] Stephen Harper," Sensible B.C. director Dana Larsen said on Monday.

"We're very happy that [Liberal Leader Justin] Trudeau and the Liberals are talking about legalization, and the NDP are talking about decriminalization," he added.

Rather than backing a single party, Sensible B.C. will target four specific ridings in B.C., Mr. Larsen said. So far, the group has publicly identified only one: Vancouver-Granville, a new riding created through an electoral redistribution process that began in 2012 and will take effect in this year's election.

The two declared candidates are Liberal Jody Wilson-Raybould and Conservative Erinn Broshko. The NDP has yet to announce a candidate.

"Our goal is to elect the most cannabis-friendly candidates who have the best chance of beating the Conservatives so that won't necessarily be any one party," Mr. Larsen said.

Marijuana activist Marc Emery, known as the "prince of pot," was also at Monday's event. Mr. Emery, who was released last year after serving a five-year sentence in a U.S. prison for selling marijuana seeds, said he would be urging people to vote but said 4/20 was primarily "just a celebration."

"I'm going to mention that in my remarks but this is not a venue where they're going to listen very attentively – because really, I don't want to harsh their buzz, as it were," Mr. Emery said. "So today is to celebrate and then I've got until Oct. 19 to get them motivated to vote.

"Because it is true that fewer people in the cannabis culture vote than in the regular citizenry and we have to correct that if we want to influence the next government."

Jodie Emery, who is married to Mr. Emery and is also a pro-marijuana activist, had sought to become a Liberal MP in Vancouver East but the party rejected her as a candidate.

The Vancouver Police Department estimated about 15,000 people attended Monday's 4/20 event. The department did not disclose policing costs or how many police were working at the event.

From the city's point of view, the 4/20 demonstration is one of many events that require traffic changes and police supervision, Councillor Kerry Jang said.

"Spontaneous protests happen without a permit," Mr. Jang said. "The police have shut down streets to keep people safe and keep traffic flowing wherever possible."

A website for the event said vendors could reserve a booth for $250.

Mr. Larsen was hopeful the event would do more than provide an excuse to openly smoke marijuana.

"We need to do more than just come out on 4/20 and smoke some cannabis; we also need to come out and support cannabis and support those who use it and actually vote to change these laws," he said.