Vancouver police ask parents to talk with their kids about 4/20

The authorities say they will keep a close eye on vendors at this year’s cannabis protest

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The authorities say they will keep a close eye on vendors at this year’s 4/20 protest, according to a release this morning (April 17) from the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).

The statement, which can be read in full here, reminds event merchants that providing cannabis to anyone under the legal age, in any capacity, is against the law—and officers will be on site to sniff-out infractions.

It reads: "Booth operators are encouraged to make it a priority to identify minors and to post signs in front of each booth that discourage sales to young people."

In a later statement to the press, media spokesperson Sgt. Jason Robillard says, like any other large scale event, the VPD’s focus will be on the “safety of the attendees, general public, and first responders”, but special attention is being paid to vendors selling to “those who appear to be minors”. 

During the news conference, he urged parents talk to their teens about the legal risks of purchasing illicit cannabis, as well as the risks of attending large unsanctioned events.

Under federal law, it is a criminal offence to give cannabis to anyone under the age of 19 in any manner. Those charged could face up to 14 years in jail.

“We’re asking parents to have the tough conversation with their kids about many things. This weekend is going to be a large scale event. It’s over the weekend, the weather appears to be favorable, there’s going to be a free concert, a large crowd, and this is a cannabis event,” he said. 

“We want parents to talk with their youth, with their teens, about the dangers associated to cannabis, and or other drugs, and or large unsanctioned events.”

In an interview with the Straight last year, the curriculum-development manager for Toronto charity Skylark Youth, Danielle Sutherland, provided tips for parents interested in having the “pot talk” with their children. She suggested  addressing researched and well-founded concerns, rather than assumed fears. Here suggestions can be read in full here.

David Malmo-Levine, a local cannabis activist and longtime 4/20 volunteer, has campaigned heavily in favour of youth access to cannabis. Having benefitted from consumption himself at a young age, he states both on his educational website, PotFacts.ca, and in his book, Vansterdam Comix, that the therapeutic properties can alleviate a number of issues associated with teenage hormonal changes and social pressure.

“We have to stop this idea that pot makes kids stupid and crazy,” he told the Straight during an interview earlier this month. “It doesn’t. It helps them deal with the realities of life and keeps them away from the harder drugs.”

He suggests cannabis be regulated like a soft drug, citing fair-trade organic coffee, and the age restriction revisited.

Malmo-Levine has said warnings, like the VPD’s statement earlier today, are used to elicit “parental hysteria”, guiding consumption decisions through fear tactics rather than informed conversation.

There is also a growing body of anecdotal and scientific evidence that cannabis, specifically cannabidiol (CBD), can help alleviate seizures in childhood epilepsy, as well as a number of other diseases affecting youth.

When a reporter asked about vendors generally lacking a sales licence or distributing illicit products, like infused edibles, Sgt. Robillard responded: “We have to weigh officer safety, the safety of the public, with enforcement action…We have to look at the portionality of what is happening in front of us with whether or not it creates more of an unsafe environment for us for any large scale event.”

Sgt. Robillard also says officers will be on the lookout for incidents of impaired driving in the surrounding area.

In late 2018, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould approved the Drager DrugTest 5000—a portable field kit used to detect the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in saliva.

In response, the chief of Vancouver police, Adam Palmer, has said his officers will not rely on the device as “it doesn’t meet our [the VPD’s] requirements”. The main concern is the lack of evidence connecting cannabinoid levels to impairment.

THC can be stored in fat cells, blood, and saliva for several weeks, even months, which means anyone using cannabis is vulnerable to testing positive on the device long after discontinued use.

Instead, officers will rely on traditional field sobriety tests.

Lawyer Sarah Leamon has written extensively on the changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws over the past year, including recent cases relating to cannabis and how to legally transport the plant in your vehicle.

She writes: “It does not matter if you’re parked or if you have no intention of actually putting the vehicle in motion. The prohibition against consuming cannabis in motor vehicles extends to all vehicles—regardless of whether you are driving or not.”

Adults, however, can lawfully carry cannabis—up to 30 grams or four plants—while operating a motor vehicle in B.C., but cannot drive impaired.

The Straight reached out to the VPD for comment regarding park board commissioner John Coupar’s recent statement suggesting the authorities block access to the park this Saturday (April 20), and whether or not police are working with 4/20 organizers to reduce youth exposure. There has been no response.

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