British Columbia

'They asked for legalization, and legalization is coming:' Is 4/20 pot festival obsolete?

The annual debate over the event is overshadowed by a larger question this year — what is the point of 4/20, an event that hangs its hat on civil disobedience — when legalization set to kick in?

Does the event still count as an act of civil disobedience if pot is legal?

A man lights up a joint at Vancouver's 4/20 event on Sunset Beach in 2017. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

As B.C. begins to fill in the details about how non-medical marijuana will be regulated and sold once officially legalized, the annual debacle around 4/20 — Vancouver's 'potestival' celebrating cannabis culture — is just kicking off.

The debate around the location of the event — which does not have a permit from the city — has been ongoing since it moved from the Vancouver Art Gallery to Sunset Beach.

Organizers say that 4/20 is a boon to the local community and the businesses that surround the site, a free, family-friendly event that causes minimal damage to property when compared to other events endorsed by the city.

Park board members argue the event violates smoking bylaws, costs thousands in repairs to public property and is one of the biggest sources of complaints from residents.

But the usual debate over the event may be overshadowed by a larger question this year — what's the point of 4/20, an event that bills itself as an act of civil disobedience — when pot will soon be legal?

Blunt questions

Park board commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung and 4/20 organizer Dana Larsen say they both support the regulations announced by the province on Monday.

But that's just about all they agree on.

"People are still being arrested every day for possession and cannabis offences in Canada, so we still have a lot to protest about," said Larsen. 

But according to Kirby-Yung, the event has long since lost its activist roots. 

"They asked for legalization, and legalization is coming," she said. "It's not a protest any longer. There are hundreds of booths selling products."

A woman wearing a pot leaf printed shirt looks down at the Sunset Beach 2017 4/20 celebration from the Burrard Street Bridge. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Larsen said that legalization wouldn't make 4/20 obsolete — if anything, it would strengthen the case for such an event. 

"Legalization should mean that there's more public cannabis events and that they get treated like public alcohol events do — we should be able to get a permit and participate in society like anybody else," he said.

"We should be celebrating the benefits of cannabis and the strength of Vancouver's cannabis activist movement and not have people attacking and insulting us every time we celebrate this very popular free event."

"I really don't understand the bigotry that we face," he said.

But Kirby-Yung says says it's not bigotry — it's just bylaws.

"We have a non-smoking bylaw in parks. So this event — even if marijuana is legal — would not fit," she said.

"They got what they asked for with legalization and now everybody needs to start respecting each other and the rules."