British Columbia

'We will never ever permit this event': Park board votes to give 4/20 the boot by 2020

The Vancouver Park Board has passed a motion with the potential to alter the future of the city’s controversial 4/20 pot festival.

Board also directs staff to attempt to control the illegal sale of cannabis onsite this year

A man smokes an exaggerated joint at the park during a Vancouver 4/20 event.
The Vancouver Park Board has voted to have the annual 4/20 pot festival moved from Sunset Beach, where it has been ever since relocating from the Vancouver Art Gallery three years ago. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The Vancouver Park Board has passed a motion with the potential to alter the future of the city's controversial 4/20 pot festival.

The first part of the approved motion, which was introduced by NPA commissioner Tricia Barker,  will see the board direct park staff to control the illegal sale of cannabis products during the 2019 festivities.

The second part of the motion was to direct city council to find a better location for the event outside of city parks.

"We do not allow smoking in parks [and] we will never ever permit this event," said Barker.

4/20's illegal sales

Last year's cannabis celebration/protest for legalization attracted more than 40,000 attendees and around 300 unlicensed marijuana-vendors.

Organizer Dana Larsen says his event will never work without the sale of cannabis.

"Using cannabis and making cannabis available is what 4/20 is about," said Larsen.

He says he would love to see the day where all vendors are licensed and in compliance with federal laws. 

"The reality is that day is many, many years away," he said. "Even the few companies that are allowed to sell cannabis certainly can't do it at an outside event like this."

As for enforcement, Barker says it's something the board will have to look at leading up to the event, although, she admits park rangers will likely be too busy managing crowds to issue bylaw infractions.

"We just want to keep it really, really safe," she said. But not all park board members agree that park staff should wade into enforcement.

COPE commissioner John Irwin was one of two votes against directing park staff to control illegal sales, the second came from fellow COPE commissioner Gwen Giesbrecht.

Irwin says enforcement is a job for police.

"They have the jurisdiction and the responsibility to do that and I feel like we would be overstepping."

He says park rangers shouldn't have to deal with illegal activities, just bylaw infractions.

Jason Robillard with the Vancouver Police Department says they are in contact with 4/20 organizers but don't have any information, at this point, about how they intend to police this year's event.

"I can tell you that our priority will be to ensure the safety of the public," said Robillard.

New location by 2020

The City of Vancouver has been looking at alternative locations for 4/20 ever since it moved to Sunset Beach from the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2016.

Although Barker says she doesn't know where that could be, she's adamant it won't be in a city park.

"The city has got to find another place that is going to be appropriate," said Barker.

Larsen says he is open to finding a better location, he's just not confident one exists.

"They bring this up every year but no one knows where this other mythical, better spot can be," he said.

One thing Barker begrudgingly acknowledges is this year's 4/20 celebration will likely be at Sunset Beach.

With files from Clare Hennig