NPA councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung wants city to help park board find new venue for 4/20 cannabis protest and festival

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Vancouver is home to the world's longest-running 4/20 cannabis protest and festival.

It started at Victory Square in 1995, moved to the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1997, and found its latest home at Sunset Beach in 2016.

Much to the consternation of some park commissioners over the years, the event has taken place there even though smoking and vaping are illegal at city parks and beaches.

But if an NPA commissioner has her way, future 4/20 parties will take place in a nonresidential neighbourhood "with due consideration of City by-laws".

Sarah Kirby-Yung, a former park board chair, has prepared a motion on notice seeking council's support to "direct staff to consult with 420 organizers and the public" to identify a new location.

Her motion is on the agenda of the Tuesday (February 26) council meeting.

"Many West End residents have expressed grave concerns with the 420 event at Sunset Beach due to impact on air quality, noise, vandalism, and resulting multi-week closures of damaged sensitive grassy park space," Kirby-Yung wrote.

The 4/20 protest and festival moved to Sunset Beach in 2016.
Amanda Siebert

The motion comes after five park commissioners—three Greens and two NPA representatives—voted on February 11 to direct staff "to explore options available to preclude sale of cannabis and cannabis-related products at the upcoming 2019 420 event".

The only two commissioners who opposed this measure were COPE's Gwen Giesbrecht and John Irwin.

That same evening, all seven commissioners voted in favour of directing park board staff to write a letter to Mayor Kennedy Stewart and city councillors requesting "a continuation of the exploration of alternate venues".

This was so that 4/20 would "not cause disruption to West End area residents, seawall users, and Vancouver Aquatic Centre patrons, with the goal of having the event relocated by 2020".

NPA commissioners have traditionally been hardliners on cannabis in parks. But in the past, the Greens have been split.

For example, when Coun. Michael Wiebe was on the park board, he disagreed with Green colleague Stuart Mackinnon's opposition to cannabis-related events in Vancouver parks.

This year, however, Mackinnon's views on 4/20 were endorsed by new Green commissioners Dave Demers and Camil Dumont.

Last year, Vancouver park board chair Stuart Mackinnon said the 4/20 event led to a "troubling loss of park space" when the field had to be rehabilitated.
Vancouver park board

It remains to be seen if the trio of Green commissioners' opposition to the sale of cannabis and cannabis-related products at this year's 4/20 event will be echoed by the three Green councillors—Wiebe, Pete Fry, and Adriane Carr.

If the three Green councillors oppose Kirby-Yung's call for 4/20 to take place with due consideration to bylaws, it could be taken as a sign that the Vancouver Greens remain divided over whether cannabis-related events belong in city parks.

Back in 2017, Carr introduced a motion that attempted to get the city to look at three alternative venues: the Pacific National Exhibition site, the north side of False Creek, and Larwill Park. The latter is the large parking lot across the street from the Sandman Hotel on West Georgia Street.

But she also noted that cannabis advocates have a constitutional right to gather on publicly owned sites.

"The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the fundamental rights of Canadians including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which requires the City of Vancouver to accommodate non-violent public protests such as the 4/20 event," Carr's motion stated at the time.

In a commentary on this website in 2017, 4/20 organizer Dana Larsen pointed out that the city regularly sponsors all-ages beer gardens and promotes alcohol events in parks. He claimed at the time that Mackinnon refused to meet with him.

"NPA commissioners also refused to meet or reply to me, except for Kirby-Yung, who finally agreed to meet after I pestered her for three months," Larsen wrote. "She took the meeting only to tell me she would never vote to allow a cannabis event in any city park.

"Yet at the meeting where they refused to give 4/20 a permit, the NPA and Mackinnon all complained about how they were being pressured to grant a permit on short notice!" Larsen continued. "I was not allowed to speak at the meeting, and no public input was allowed. It was bizarre to be sitting there at the meeting about 4/20 and not be permitted to say a single word."

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