02/16/2016 09:48 EST | Updated 02/16/2017 05:12 EST

Vancouver Should Embrace Its Growing Cannabis Celebration

What started with a handful of people at Victory Square Park on April 20, 1995, has organically grown into one of Vancouver's largest and most well-known civic events. Last year, Vancouver's 420 celebration brought in upwards of 40,000 people to the Art Gallery grounds throughout the day.

Harrison Ha via Getty Images
[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] A pot supporter holds up a flag to celebrate the International Cannabis Day in Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver's annual April 20 cannabis celebration is a peaceful, progressive event that embodies the city's ideals of tolerance and diversity. Vancouver citizens and city hall should embrace 420 and join in the celebration.

420 is a Vancouver institution

What started with a handful of people at Victory Square Park on April 20, 1995, has organically grown into one of Vancouver's largest and most well-known civic events. Last year, Vancouver's 420 celebration brought in upwards of 40,000 people to the Art Gallery grounds throughout the day, with the peak crowd stopping traffic for several blocks in each direction around the downtown core.

The City of Vancouver could have given the 420 organizers a permit for using the Art Gallery grounds any year, but they chose not to. We asked for a permit a few times early on, but we were always told we could not have a permit because of all the marijuana, and that the city would still work with us cooperatively to ensure public safety and a harmonious event.

As the 420 celebration has grown, so has the need for infrastructure and facilities. It is a free community event, and we organizers now pay for port-a-potties, security, fencing, stages, sound systems, emergency tents, medical services, free water and many other public amenities. For their part, the city has helped by blocking off streets and redirecting traffic to accommodate the massive crowds.

The 420 crowd spills out onto several major downtown streets

Wy move to Sunset Beach?

It has been clear for a few years now that 420 has outgrown the Art Gallery. The event has grown so popular and overcrowded that it is becoming unsafe and difficult to manage. This is why we need to move to a bigger location.

Also, this year the Art Gallery will be undergoing major construction, and the grounds will be closed off all spring. Staying at the Art Gallery under those conditions would create chaos in the downtown core.

Moving to Sunset Beach is the only real alternative for our 420 celebration. Vancouver simply doesn't have many accessible venues for massive, public outdoor events. Sunset Beach is pretty much the only place in the city where so many people can easily and safely gather together in such numbers.

The event has grown every year since we started, and over the next few years I fully expect attendance to more than double. We need a spot that can safely hold a huge crowd of up to a hundred thousand people, and that spot is Sunset Beach.

420 could be given a permit

The Art Gallery is controlled by City Hall, which is run by Vision Vancouver, who are pretty progressive on cannabis issues. However, Sunset Beach is controlled by the Parks Board, which is independently elected and is run by the NPA. The NPA is the political party whose city councillors have recently been calling for a total shutdown of all Vancouver's dispensaries.

The 420 organizers did apply for a special events permit for Sunset Beach last year, and eventually we were told that the Parks Board would not issue us a permit because we would be smoking cannabis and that is a violation of the city's anti-smoking bylaws.

Now it's also against city bylaws to drink beer in a park, but when the Parks Board regularly issues permits for beer gardens, they're making a special exemption for those events to go against the normal bylaws. That's what such permits are for.

The Parks Board could do the exact same thing with the 420 celebration and their anti-smoking bylaws. What would be wrong with the Parks Board issuing a permit for a special event that includes cannabis use, just like they do for many events that include alcohol use? This is completely within their power, and would be entirely appropriate.

If the City of Vancouver has figured out a way to license storefronts selling medical cannabis despite the federal prohibition, then surely the Parks Board can do the same thing in terms of licensing a popular public event that includes cannabis-related civil disobedience?

It's all good!

Although the Parks Board will not be giving the 420 organizers a permit, they have agreed to work with us for public safety, and I have been assured that the VPD won't be issuing any tickets for violating the anti-smoking bylaws during our event.

And on our side, we have pledged to meet all the requirements as if we were getting a permit (except, of course, for the cannabis stuff), and to work cooperatively with the Parks Board and the City to ensure the event goes off smoothly and safely for attendees and the local community.

So, it's all good! Everything will be fine on April 20! Sunset Beach will make an excellent new venue for our 420 celebration, and we're all getting along as best we can under the circumstances. Aside from the piece of paper that says "official permit" and the clouds of cannabis smoke, Vancouver's 420 celebration will be just like any other major public event that takes place in the city.

Perhaps one day we'll live in a country where cannabis celebrations are accepted like other cultural events, and where mayors and politicians vie to lead the pot parade down Main Street. But whatever happens in the future, one thing is for certain: Vancouver's annual 420 celebration is here to stay!

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