April 19, 2017 3:18 pm
Updated: April 20, 2017 10:40 pm

Thousands smoke up at Vancouver’s 4/20 rally at Sunset Beach

WATCH: A sea of people causing traffic chaos, and smoking pot, in Vancouver’s West End as the annual 4/20 festival went ahead as scheduled. Paul Johnson reports.

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Thousands of people have flocked to Sunset Beach today for Vancouver’s annual 4/20 rally.

People started showing up before the sun came up and by late morning the whole area was packed with smokers and vendors, selling everything from edibles to creams and drinks.

WATCH: The Global BC helicopter captured the scene, and smoke, of Vancouver’s Sunset Beach 4/20 rally. 

Even pot-themed kids books were for sale.

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In March, the Vancouver Park Board voted against issuing a special event permit to the organizer of the 4/20 rally, which included a request for an exemption to the bylaw that regulates smoking in Vancouver parks.

Last year’s event drew 25,000 people and cost taxpayers $148,000 last year.

This year, organizers handed out a 12-page booklet to all participants and say it is still a protest, not a commercial event.

“The act of selling cannabis is part of our protest,” said Dana Larsen, one of the organizers. “We want equality, to be able to buy and sell and use cannabis openly and that’s what we’re protesting for.”

But Sarah Kirby-Young with the Vancouver Park Board said the event is an organized festival.

READ MORE: Canada to legalize pot by July 1, 2018: report

The 2016 rally was not sanctioned and special event permits were not granted, although no major violations occurred. But because of the large number of participants, the smoking bylaw was not enforced during the event.

After the 2016 rally, park board staff worked with the City of Vancouver’s legal department to explore ways it could prevent the rally from returning to Sunset Beach Park or any other park in the city and to identify a more appropriate location for the event.

WATCH: The annual 4/20 pot celebration is underway – with thousands of supporters gathering at  Sunset Beach 

Vancouver councillor Adriane Carr said in March many residents of the West End have expressed their opposition to the 4/20 event at Sunset Beach due to the amount of smoking and the impact it has on air quality and grassy park lands, in addition to increased noise and trash levels.

Vancouver Police are also warning the public of potential traffic disruptions during the event around Sunset Beach and the Art Gallery today. Traffic will likely be disrupted on Beach Avenue between Burrard and Broughton Street for most of the day.

Police, fire, City of Vancouver, Park Board and BC Ambulance Service staff are on hand to monitor the event.

“Public safety remains our top priority,” said Const. Jason Doucette in a release. “We will continue to weigh the rights of individuals to have their voice heard, while working to minimize the impact that has on others.”

As of 1:45 p.m., the VPD said there have not been any serious incidents reported at Sunset Beach or the Vancouver Art Gallery but police anticipate the crowd will continue to grow throughout the afternoon.

-With files from Yuliya Talmazan

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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