After getting pushback from Vancouver’s city council, park board and other sanctioned events, the annual 4-20 celebration went ahead as planned at Sunset Beach on Saturday.
Tens of thousands of people descended on the park to take part in the pro-cannabis event, which also saw hundreds of vendor booths and several performers and speakers take the main stage.
California hip-hop group Cypress Hill graced the stage on Saturday evening as planned, despite a Vancouver Park Board motion calling on organizers to cancel the headlining performance.
WATCH: Thousands descend on Sunset Beach for 4-20 Vancouver celebrations
The event has been at the centre of controversy for weeks, with city officials and organizers of similar large-scale events like Vancouver Pride arguing that 4-20 has outgrown its protest roots and become a festival and so should act accordingly.
Organizers insist the event is a protest against strict laws surrounding marijuana under legalization as well as the rules that keep them from obtaining an event permit from the park board.
At the event itself, attendees were just happy to be a part of the celebration.
“Everyone here used to be protesters, but now I think they’re here to enjoy something positive,” Matthew Bridges said.
Jawad Aarji, who’s visiting from Morocco, said he was happy to be part of a positive event.
“I look around and I don’t see any fighting or anger; everyone is enjoying their time,” he said. “It’s 4-20, it’s a celebration and a big gathering, and that’s what Vancouver is known for.”
The celebration remains unsanctioned as park board rules prevent smoking at permitted events. 4-20 Vancouver also doesn’t pay policing costs, arguing that forcing protests to pay those costs goes against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A leaked memo from last summer showed that policing the 2018 event at Sunset Beach cost $139,699.
There have also been concerns about damage to Sunset Beach, which last year forced park board staff to close the area for days to repair and reseed the grounds.
Organizers paid thousands of dollars to lay tiles that protect the grass, but there were still not enough to cover the entire ground up to the main stage.
On Saturday, 4-20 organizer Dana Larsen said he was proud of the event going forward and that attendees weren’t being turned off by the controversy.
“4-20 is now what it’s always been: a celebration of the cannabis plant and cannabis culture and a protest against the stigmatization and criminalization of cannabis users and growers,” he said.
“That stigma is continuing to this day despite the quasi-legalization that we’ve been given.”
On Friday, Vancouver Coun. Melissa De Genova announced that she plans to file a motion Wednesday calling for vendors and contractors at the event to cover the costs incurred by the city.
“This is a large commercial event that doesn’t want to pay its fees,” De Genova told Global News on Saturday. “This ‘protest’ sells sponsorship packages for $25,000. That’s not a protest.
“The organizers hold themselves above (the rules) and choose what they want to pay, and I think it’s time to take a stand against that, considering cannabis is legal.”
De Genova also says organizers have not obtained insurance for the event, despite assurances from Larsen and fellow organizer Jeremiah Vandermeer that they have the proper insurance.
Earlier Saturday, cannabis advocate and event spokesperson Jodie Emery said the motion doesn’t make sense.
“Melissa doesn’t need to file a motion. We always pay the bill,” Emery said. “We pay for the aquatic centre closing, we pay for the concession closing, we pay for park staff and city staff, we pay for everything involved except policing.”
WATCH: Jodie Emery talks about the Vancouver 4-20 protest controversy
Emery said the 4-20 Vancouver Society will release the total costs of the event following Saturday, including how much they paid for medical and sanitation services.
De Genova said she won’t consider changing the park board rules to allow for smoking at a permitted 4-20 event, despite neighbouring municipalities like Seattle doing just that for their own cannabis celebration, known as Hempfest.
Speaking to the Canadian Press on Friday, Vancouver Park Board commissioner John Irwin said he would like to grant a permit for 4-20 but is facing resistance from fellow park board members.
“My approach is that we permit it,” Irwin said. “Logically, I think that takes some of the protest steam out of the event.
“The other issue I have with not permitting it is you don’t have as much control in the negotiations that occur. You can’t set parameters.”
Vancouver police said late Saturday they didn’t face any major issues, but had their hands full throughout the day, at one point recording a peak crowd of 60,000.
A statement from VPD said officers assisted paramedics with 14 medical emergencies. Police also issued more than 30 traffic tickets and are investigating three people for impaired driving.
—With files from Paul Johnson and the Canadian Press