Thousands of pot fans were drawn to the public squares around the Vancouver Art Gallery Saturday for the annual marijuana celebration and rally known as "4/20"

As in past years, marijuana users gathered on the steps of the gallery and in the public plazas on the block bounded by Robson, Howe, West Georgia and Hornby streets ahead of the big smoke-in at 4:20 p.m. PT.

Annual smoke-ins were held in cities across North America, where marijuana enthusiasts and activists gathered to smoke or ingest cannabis and call for loosening or eliminating marijuana prohibition laws.

Increasingly, the large rally in Vancouver has become an open-air marketplace and street fair where vendors — some without permits — set up tents or booths or simply wander the crowd selling their wares.

This year, in addition to joints, pipes and bongs, entrepreneurs were offering cookies, brownies or banana bread made with marijuana oils, vaporizers, and marked-up accessory goods such as lighters and eye drops.

Dispensaries handed out promotional materials and T-shirt vendors, face-painters and even secondhand vinyl record sellers set up shop.

Police watched from a distance and did not interfere.

Push for kush coming

Dana Larsen, a marijuana activist with the Sensible B.C. campaign, estimated that more than 20,000 people would drift in and out of the Vancouver 4/20 event, which he characterized as a "farmer's market."

"It's really a broad range of people representing all aspects of the cannabis industry, from the big players to the small guys wandering around with a bag of joints for sale," he said.

Larsen said over the years the smoke-in has become less controversial, and he thinks it is time for marijuana legalization to tackled at a provincial level.

A recent Angus Reid poll suggests that almost three-quarters of British Columbians would support further research into the taxation and regulation of marijuana.

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Dana Larsen, director of Sensible B.C., says he's gone to every 4/20 rally in Vancouver since the first one in 1995. (CBC)

Sensible B.C., which will be attempting to put marijuana legalization forward as a referendum question in 2014, conducted polls that show British Columbians want to see legalization tackled as an election issue, Larsen said.

"There was no demographic group that didn't have a majority in support, so your guess is as good as mine as to why our political leaders in British Columbia refuse to really jump on board with this issue when it has such strong public support," Larsen said.

In Ottawa, legalization activists rallied on Parliament Hill with renewed optimism after two U.S. states voted in November to legalize the drug.

Erb gives $125K for 4/20 events

In B.C., 4/20 rallies were also held in Victoria, Kamloops, and for the first time, Terrace — home to a pot activist who is also one of B.C.'s newest millionaires. 

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Bob Erb, of Terrace, B.C., donated $125,000 of his lottery winnings to support 4/20 rallies in Canada this year. (CBC)

Terrace's Bob Erb, who won $25 million in November, said he plans to donate at least $1 million of it to the Canadian marijuana legalization movement between now and the next federal election in late 2015.

"I didn't cap it at a million, that's the least I'm going to spend," Erb said.

Erb already wrote a cheque for $125,000 to go toward 4/20 events across the country this year, which includes $60,000 that was spent on a national website for 4/20.

Despite the monetary boost for the cross-Canada smoke-ins, not everyone's 4/20 plans were on track. On Thursday, a raid on a home near a Surrey high school netted 8,000 pot cookies police say may have been destined for the 4/20 rally in Vancouver.

The 4/20 tradition is believed to have originated in the 1970s at a California high school where students would gather at 4:20 p.m. every weekday to smoke pot.

Last year, some parents and drug prevention officers in the Metro Vancouver area said not enough was being done to keep teens away from the event.

With files from the CBC's Emily Elias