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4/20 pot rally draws tens of thousands in Vancouver

The annual 4/20 pot rally is winding down in Vancouver, but police say at its peak 25,000 revellers were blowing a haze of smoke over English Bay.

Event relatively incident-free, although one man tried to swim across English Bay to Vanier Park

Police said about 5,000 people were still left at Sunset Beach as of about 8 p.m. PT (@nessamielke/Twitter)

The annual 4/20 pot rally is winding down in Vancouver, but police say at its peak 25,000 revellers were blowing a haze of smoke over English Bay at the event's new Sunset Beach location.

Authorities say there were minimal incidents at the annual marijuana protest and festival this year. Vancouver Coastal Health said as of 7 p.m. PT, St. Paul's hospital in downtown Vancouver had a total of 16 patients show up at emergency due to pot-related illness, but "nothing too serious."

"Patients are stoned, a little dizzy‎ and feeling off," said spokesperson Laurie Dawkins, adding all had been released or were expected to be shortly. 

Vancouver police Sgt. Randy Fincham said first responders dealt with about 25 medical incidents as of 8 p.m.

He said 20 people with suspected gang affiliations were either blocked or kicked out, but otherwise the only major incidents they dealt with involved people cooling off in the water on a day that saw temperatures rise to 20 C. 

Fincham said one man had to be rescued after trying to swim across English Bay to Vanier Park. Officers also had to deal with an "overloaded dinghy" with no safety equipment on board. 

This year's 4/20 rally, which moved to Sunset Beach for the first time, is the biggest one yet in Vancouver, claims organizer Dana Larsen. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Biggest 4/20 in Vancouver

Organizer Dana Larsen claimed the crowd had grown to 50,000, and called this year's celebration the biggest 4/20 rally the city has seen so far.

Larsen said the larger, more open location of Sunset Beach was safer than the previous location at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

"I could not be happier today with how things have turned out," he said.

A smoker takes a hit off his pipe at the 4/20 event at Sunset Beach. (Chris Corday/CBC)

"Moving to Sunset Beach was a great idea, it allows us to deal with the many tens of thousands of people who want to come and participate in this event."

This year, the annual event, which also attracted tens of thousands to downtown Vancouver last year, has split into two locations — the main event, which has moved to Sunset Beach, and a breakaway protest at the original Vancouver Art Gallery location.

Last year, 4/20 crowds spilled onto the streets around the art gallery and caused traffic chaos in the downtown core. One hundred people ended up in hospital, some as young as 15, mostly due to consumption of edible cannabis products, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.

Free joints at 4:20

Many of the tents set up were selling marijuana products, but at 4:20 p.m. PT, organizers also threw free joints into the crowd, making people sit first so there wasn't a stampede.

Some gathered were soaking up the sunshine and 20 C temperatures along the beach, puffing from a bong or pipe, or capturing selfies of the event.

With the federal government today announcing its marijuana legalization legislation is coming next year, many called this year's rally more celebration than protest.

As of 4:20 p.m., Vancouver police said they had made no arrests, despite the widespread open use and sale of marijuana.

"Our goal throughout the day will continue to be public safety," Const. Brian Montague said in a statement.

A young woman takes a hit off her bong at the 4/20 rally. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Edibles for teenagers?

One controversial aspect of the event is the participation of teenagers, both skipping school and consuming — or, in some cases, over-consuming — pot.

This year, Vancouver Coastal Health's chief medical health officer, Patricia Daly, asked organizers not to sell edible cannabis products to minors — something the organizer of the Sunset Beach rally said she agrees with.

But today at the Art Gallery rally, volunteer Rod Woodruff gave out edibles on stage, handing a THC-laced lollipop to a teenager who told CBC News he is 16.

The teen, whom we are not identifying, told CBC reporter Greg Rasmussen that his parents were fine with his participation in the event.

"Sixteen, I think that's old enough," he said.

When asked about the teen's age, Woodruff accused Rasmussen of "attacking" him and going after a "hit piece," and questioned what proof there was of the teen's age, or of the content of the lollipop.

Some pot sellers did have signs up saying they don't sell to minors.

Rally volunteer Ron Woodruff appears on stage at the art gallery event, handing a THC-laced lollipop to a young male (identity concealed), who told CBC he is 16. (Greg Rasmussen/CBC)

With files from Jeremy Allingham, Lisa Johnson, Anita Bathe and Rafferty Baker