Vancouver Pride Society tells 4/20 organizers to face facts: it’s a festival, not a protest

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Growing calls for crackdown on Vancouver 420 event
WATCH: Critics say the annual 4/20 event in Vancouver is no longer a protest, but a festival, and it's time organizers paid the same as other festivals. Jill Bennett reports – Apr 11, 2019

Critics of Vancouver’s upcoming 4/20 celebration say it’s time for organizers to “grow up” and realize their time as a protest has come to an end.

Recent announcements that this year’s pro-marijuana event could see as many as 100,000 attendees to check out hip-hop group Cypress Hill have organizers of other major Vancouver events calling for 4/20 to realize they’ve become a festival — and act accordingly.

“There is a difference between a protest, where you are showing up with signs and raising awareness about a political or important social justice [issue], and having paid vendors and entertainers and a main stage. That is a festival,” Vancouver Pride Society executive director Andrea Arnott said on CKNW’s Lynda Steele Show Thursday.

LISTEN: Lynda Steele talks to Vancouver Pride Society’s executive director about Vancouver’s 4/20 event

Arnott is speaking from experience. While the Vancouver Pride Parade still recognizes its presence it still rooted in protest — particularly with anti-LGBTQ views and policies still prevalent in countries around the globe — she says the society also recognizes their event creates enough of a disturbance in Vancouver that it obtains the proper permits from the city.

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“We’ve recognized that our events have grown so large that it’s a public safety issue, so we actually follow the processes and go through the permitting process and pay all of our fees,” Arnott said.

That includes paying policing costs with funds collected from vendor booths and major sponsors, something 4/20 organizers have pushed back against.

4/20 Vancouver organizer Dana Larsen has said he and other organizers have tried for years to obtain those same permits from the city but have been repeatedly denied. The Park Board doesn’t allow for cannabis smoking in public parks under event permits.

Speaking to Global News Thursday, he added the event still protests several aspects of the Cannabis Act he and other marijuana advocates find troubling, including the inability for cannabis users to smoke in many public spaces and heavy restrictions on legal pot shops.

“There’s many aspects of legalization that still need to be protested,” he said. “4/20 has always been a protest against the stigmatization against cannabis users that is still happening under the Cannabis Act just like before.”

Earlier this spring, a leaked city memo revealed the 4/20 event cost Vancouver $583,000 over the last two years.

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Larsen says the event pays its share of costs, which last year came out to around $60,000, but insists the event should not be on the hook for policing costs because it is a protest.

WATCH: (Aired March 6, 2019) Rumina Daya reports on the true costs of Vancouver’s 4/20 celebrations

Click to play video: 'True costs of Vancouver 4/20 celebrations released'
True costs of Vancouver 4/20 celebrations released

According to the memo, there were 482 vendor tents at the 2018 event. An earlier version of the 4/20 website showed 270 of those were paid for at either $500 or $750 per tent. Those sales would have brought in more than $160,000 to organizers, which Larsen said is all used to pay the Park Board and the city for costs incurred.

Other advocates are echoing Larsen’s points. Jodie Emery took to Twitter to imply taxpayers, who she says gladly pay for other public events in Vancouver but balk at the costs of 4/20, are being hypocritical.

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“What’s wrong with entrepreneurs & locals making money? That’s usually celebrated!” Emery wrote. “[The event] brings thousands of tourists & visitors from all across Canada and the world, spending millions of dollars in Our city. It’s a wonderful, successful, professional, safe event.”

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung has seen her motion approved to find a new venue for the event in 2020, which she said the city is fully supportive of and would grant permits as long as that venue is off parkland.

“I think 4/20 organizers need to step up and listen to resident concerns and move to a different venue,” she said.

“For years I’ve called this a commercial festival: they’re setting up booths, they’re selling goods and profiting. Now that legalization is here and that framework is in place, they need to act accordingly.”

WATCH: (Aired April 18, 2018) Pot enthusiasts say 420 protests will carry on despite legalization

Click to play video: 'Pot enthusiasts say 420 protests will carry on'
Pot enthusiasts say 420 protests will carry on

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said Thursday he’s hopeful the 4/20 celebration will transition away from the “protest” label on its own.

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“I think seeing [the event] as a protest may actually damage the industry as a whole,” the mayor said, adding he’d like to see it be deemed a trade show in the future that also focuses on “research and development.”

When asked about whether the province had a role to play in cracking down on the event, Premier John Horgan said it’s up to municipalities to figure out permitting and policing issues.

“The City of Vancouver is responsible for permitting events like that and they’ll take action they believe is necessary,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a role for the province in that today. There may be in the future, but not today.”

The premier added he has no problem with the event, as long as it’s carried out in a “more hopeful and positive way.”

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