Vancouver Park Board commissioner wants pot sales banned at 4/20 event

There are just over two months left until Vancouver’s annual 4/20 smoke-in, and the perennial debate over the controversial “protestival” is already heating up.

Newly elected Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Vancouver Park Board commissioner Tricia Barker says she wants to see pot sales stopped at the event.

“One of things we’re looking at is having the Vancouver Park Board staff explore options available to stop the sale of cannabis and cannabis-related products,” she said.

“That’s in line with the new legal framework that we’re now working under since Oct. 17. Since those new laws have come into play, that’s going to impact the event on 4/20.”

Barker is also asking the board to send a letter to Vancouver’s mayor and council asking them to find a way to move the event from Sunset Beach by 2020.

The park board has resisted granting a permit to the event since it moved to Sunset Beach from the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2016.

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The board cites a violation of its bylaw prohibiting smoking in parks, disruption to West End residents and damage to the park as reasons the event is inappropriate.

“The local residents around there, they have to deal with the air quality problem, the noise, the traffic disruption. We close down the aquatic centre and we close down the seawall, we close down the concession stand,” said Barker.

Attempts to move the event from the beach in previous years have been unsuccessful. Discussions between the organizers and the PNE about a possible move in 2017 were fruitless, and a motion by Vancouver Coun. Adriane Carr to look at moving the event that same year also stalled.

However, Barker said even if the board did move ahead with banning pot sales, she’s not confident it will have much effect.

“I think they’ll just go ahead and do it. That’s what they’ve always done,” she said.

“It’s a starting point… If you stand up and say, ‘I’m going to smoke in a park anyway,’ there’s not a lot I can do. But I start with, ‘Well, you’re now breaking a bylaw; you’re breaking a rule against this.’”

Dana Larsen, a 4/20 organizer, told Global News that there are no plans to move the event from Sunset Beach this year or any year after.

“Sunset Beach is by far the only and best place for a large-scale event like this,” he said.

“When we were at the art gallery, we moved to Sunset Beach after consultations with the city health and safety officials and the police, and it was determined that Sunset Beach was the safest place to hold an event of this scale.”

Larsen also said he has no fear of authorities cracking down on pot sales, despite a new regulatory framework around retail pot.

“I would be very surprised if they would think that’s a good idea. I’ve been given no indication anyone’s going to do that,” he said.

“Keep in mind, of course, for the last 25 years of this event, they could do the same thing. It’s not like people couldn’t seize cannabis last year or the year before. In fact, the penalties were severe; you could have been charged with trafficking.”

Vancouver police said they were in touch with partners about the event, but could not share any information about their deployment. Global News was unable to reach the Ministry of Public Safety for comment on how it would handle 4/20 under legalization.

Larsen argues that it’s hypocritical for the board to single out 4/20 for pot sales when it sanctions events selling booze or point to smoke and disruption issues when it permits the annual fireworks show.

He said the event remains a protest against aspects of cannabis laws and the war on drugs.

Despite that, Larsen says, organizers still came up with $60,000 to cover sanitation, security, traffic control and other costs associated with 4/20 last year.

The park board will vote on Barker’s motion on Monday.

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