The annual 4/20 marijuana celebrations at Vancouver's Sunset Beach return Thursday, and despite gloomy spring weather, organizers are expecting a big crowd. 

Even though there are federal plans to legalize recreational marijuana in Canada, organizers of 4/20 here say the gathering is not a celebration of that development.

"4/20 continues as a protest and if the day comes when we've got the kind of legalization we want, then 4/20 continues as a celebration." - Dana Larsen, Sensible B.C.

"The criminalization is continuing, the government will not give amnesty or pardons, they will not stop arresting people for possession," said organizer Jodie Emery. 

Both Emery and Dana Larsen, director for Sensible B.C., which has advocated for marijuana legalization, say 4/20 will continue as a protest.

However, marijuana and pot products will be for sale at roughly 400 booths, and there will be plenty of entertainment such as headliner Raekwon, a member of American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.

Larsen said, "4/20 continues as a protest and if the day comes when we've got the kind of legalization we want, then 4/20 continues as a celebration."

Event organizers attempted to obtain a permit from the Vancouver Park Board, but were turned down.

The event moved from the Vancouver Art Gallery to Sunset Beach last year to accommodate bigger crowds.

Organizers like Larsen said they worked closely with city staff, park board, police, firefighters and paramedics to hold the event.

"We've never had a permit for this event in the 23 years, in fact this was the first time we even discussed the possibility of someone giving us a permit and it was a 4-3 vote against, so to me that means progress," he said.

Last year's event cost the city $148,000, and the park board has said the event is not welcome in city parks, citing concerns about policing, clean-up and smoking bylaws.

Vancouver police say they are anticipating large crowds to gather at Sunset Beach.

Traffic disruptions

Officers say traffic will likely be disrupted on Beach Avenue between Burrard and Broughton Street for most of the day.

2017 4/20 event organizer Dana Larsen

Dana Larsen says the organizers were allowed to set up early for the April 20, 2017 event even though they failed to obtain a permit. (Meera Bains/CBC)

The City of Vancouver says eastbound lanes of Beach Avenue will be closed from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. PT, while westbound travel lanes will remain open for local residents only.

There could also be traffic disruptions near the Vancouver Art Gallery because of another gathering at the site of previous years' events. The gallery event is called  4/20 Classic.

Meanwhile the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, which sits adjacent to Sunset Beach, will be closed for the entire day.

"Public safety remains our top priority," said Const. Jason Doucette in a release. "We will continue to weigh the rights of individuals to have their voice heard, while working to minimize the impact that has on others."

Drug recognition experts

Doucette said officers will be looking for drivers who are impaired by drugs or alcohol, and will have what they call "police drug recognition experts," along with officers equipped with alcohol-screening devices on the roads throughout the day.

Larsen said he expects up to 100,000 people to visit the site by the end of the day.

with files from Meera Bains.