4/20 pot rally setting up at 2 Vancouver locations
A break-away group is setting up at the Vancouver Art Gallery
Despite plans by organizers of Vancouver's annual 4/20 pot-legalization rally to move the event to Sunset Beach in Vancouver's West End, a break-away group is still setting up this morning outside the old location at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Organizers of the main event decided to move the rally to the seaside location after 20 years in downtown Vancouver, because the outdoor plaza on the north side of the art gallery is closed for construction.
The breakaway rally is still going ahead on the south side of the gallery, and police were blocking traffic on Robson Street early Wednesday morning as organizers set up for the all day event.
Vancouver police say they plan to monitor both sites, but they have no plans to shut down either event.
"Our focus will be public safety — that includes the safety of those attending, residents, anyone impacted directly by the event and all first responders," said a statement released by police.
Breakaway protest has political aims
Robert Moore with WorldCannabis.net says the breakaway event is being organized to keep the pressure on the federal government to legalize marijuana.
On Wednesday Canada's Health Minister Jane Philpott told the UN in New York that Canada will introduce legislation to legalize pot in the spring of 2017.
Last year, tens of thousands of people attended 4/20, causing traffic chaos throughout the downtown core and raising concerns about safety.
But Moore says those who attend the event are taxpayers and deserve the right to protest.
"The city officials and the police have been pretty cool. They just want to make sure there are no public safety concerns."
Not welcomed by park board
Meanwhile organizers of the Sunset Beach event also say they have been meeting with police and city officials to organize what remains an unsanctioned event.
"We do meet with the city, and police and fire and B.C. Ambulance," said Jodie Emery, who says organizers didn't apply for a permit because they didn't believe they would have been granted one, due to the nature of the event.
Emery says everything from bringing in toilets, security, fencing, garbage collection and more have been discussed with various officials.
But the Vancouver Park Board, which operates the city's beaches, says the event isn't welcome, and the board has concerns about safety and access to the area for other park users.
Chair Sarah Kirby-Yung says Mayor Gregor Robertson wanted the event moved out of downtown Vancouver and "dumped it in our lap."
"We are inheriting the event, and the mayor has said, 'Hey, park board you speak to the organizers,' but this is not something we wanted, and we have made that very clear."
Kirby-Yung says the park board is concerned about damage to the grass in the area, and swimmers at the event, so it has added lifeguards to the beach today.
The nearby Vancouver Aquatic centre is also closed because of concerns pot smoke will be drawn in by the building's ventilation system.
Concerns about youth
Earlier this week Vancouver's chief medical health officer, Dr. Patricia Daly, asked vendors at 4/20 not to sell edible marijuana products to minors after more than 100 people were admitted to hospital during the event last year.
The Vancouver School Board has reminded parents and students that April 20 is still a school day.
The worldwide event takes place on the same day every year, and culminates in a mass marijuana light-up at 4:20 p.m. PT.
Even though Canada's federal health minister has promised new legislation, the recreational use of marijuana and the sale of marijuana for non-medical use is illegal in Canada.
With files from Farrah Merali and GP Mendoza