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Vancouver 4/20 event sends massive clouds of smoke into rainy skies

With more vendors and the usual massive crowd of cannabis enthusiasts, the Vancouver 4/20 event went about as officials expected, even though the rain began falling just before the countdown at 4:20 p.m.

A light drizzle of rain didn't seem to dampen mood at annual event held at Sunset Beach

A man wearing novelty cannabis sunglasses inhales from a joint during the 2018 4/20 event in Vancouver. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Massive crowds of cannabis enthusiasts and vendors filled Vancouver's Sunset Beach, releasing a huge cloud of smoke as the clock struck 4:20 p.m.

It's the third year the event has been held at the seaside park without the approval of the Vancouver Park Board, and although the rain began to fall just before the countdown, spirits remained high.

Smoke fills the air above the thousands of people gathered around the stage shortly after the clock struck 4:20 p.m. in Vancouver on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

But this year, the celebration of cannabis culture was slightly different — it was the last 4/20 event before marijuana legalization.

According to police, approximately 40,000 people attended this year, higher than 2017's count of 35,000.

Event organizer Dana Larsen said more than 300 vendors paid a fee to have a spot reserved, but about 150 more set up around the fringes.

Larsen said the budget for the event was close to $200,000, the largest they've had by far.

Park board members argue the event does not have a permit, violates smoking bylaws, costs thousands in repairs to public property and is one of the biggest sources of complaints from residents.

Organizers say they spent $28,000 to lay floor covering to protect the grass at Sunset Beach. (GP Mendoza/CBC)

The city claims it spent more than $245,000 to clean up after two 4/20 gatherings last year, including one at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The park board had to close the grass area at the beach for a month to repair the turf.

"The mud last year was a real issue," said Larsen. "Last year we paid the $7,000 bill to have the park reseeded, but it still had to be closed for six weeks ... so we felt really bad about that."

But this year, organizers said they took steps to cover the costs and reduce the impact of the event, including spending $28,000 on floor covering to protect the grass from damage.

Vendor tents sprawl beyond the area set up by organizers. Dana Larsen, one of the organizers, estimated 300 vendors were selling wares at this year's event. (CBC)

"We believe we have a right to use the park, but of course we don't like to damage the park in any way if we don't have to," said Jeremiah Vandermeer, another organizer.

But organizers have no plans to pay for the policing costs, saying the event remains a political protest of Canada's laws prohibiting the use of marijuana.

"4/20 is still a protest, and what we are protesting is heavy-handed police authority and ruining lives over cannabis" said Vandermeer.

People clamour for the free cannabis giveaways as the annual 4/20 event in Vancouver reaches its climax. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Getting in on the action

This year, there were more non-cannabis-related vendors, drawn to the hordes of cannabis enthusiasts, who are generally known to contend with a combination of munchies and pasty, dry mouths.

"I think it's going to continue to evolve in that direction," said Larsen. "The heart of the event will always be cannabis, and cannabis protesting, but I feel that it's becoming more of a generic community festival."

Anything from pizza to popcorn could be found at Sunset Beach on Friday.

Josh Mussman (left) and John Merzetti sell popcorn to the event participants. "My caramel corn, it'll sell out," said Merzetti. "They get a sweet tooth by the time 4:20 rolls around." (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

There were even people selling Kripsy Kreme donuts as a fundraiser, and Girl Guide cookies. 

Lila Grierson, 10, and her father Bruce Grierson had a few crates of the cookies, which pot smokers were buying up fast, though Vancouver firefighters bought the first two boxes for their command vehicle.

"We have a lot of cases of Girl Guide cookies in the basement and we thought this was an opportunity to bring them where they were needed," said Grieson, who drove to Sunset Beach from the North Shore.

"We've never thought of this until this year."

Enterprising Girl Guides set up at Vancouver's 4/20 celebrations to offer cookies and water to those who got hungry and parched. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)
Lila Grierson, 10, hands a man three boxes of Girl Guide cookies. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Meanwhile, Langley resident Harmoni Cowan was selling water and gummy candies. 

"Everybody sells weed here, so we want people to stay hydrated. We want to help people out with their munchies," Cowan said, adding that she's been to the event for three years, but began by selling cannabis-infused items.

Harmoni Cowan sells water and candy, leaving others to compete in the crowded cannabis market at the 4/20 event. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Few serious incidents

Emergency Health Services attended to 23 medical emergencies and 10 overdose calls. It said eight people were taken to hospital for treatment.

However, St. Paul's Hospital said that 30 people were treated at the event site and at the first aid post it set up outside the hospital. The hospital said another 10 patients were sent to its emergency department.

According to police, there were no serious incidents at Sunset Beach, though there were two arrests. One youth was arrested for assault and weapons charges, and one man was arrested for breaching his release conditions.

A teen is arrested by Vancouver police officers after allegedly spraying bear spray at someone. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Battalion Chief Jeff Coroliuc said the event was one of the quietest 4/20 events he's attended, from a Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services perspective.

"In the past there's been no food and very little water, so there's dehydration and hunger," said Coroliuc.

A man smokes an especially large joint near a cannabis plant at Vancouver's 4/20 event on Friday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Have you heard about the 1971 Vancouver pot protest that started it all? Take a look:

Vancouver is famed for its annual 4/20 event, but the protest that put legalization into the popular consciousness didn't even take place on April 20. 2:40

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

About the Author

Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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