Vancouver’s 25th annual 4/20 cannabis protest saw a record turnout

Despite weeks of the park board's political posturing, officials report no major incidents and organizers call 4/20 "magic"

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The saying goes “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” which turned out to be exceptionally true of Vancouver’s 25th annual 4/20 cannabis protest. Last weekend, quashing the concerns of the city’s park board, the only smoke at Sunset Beach Park came from the weed. And the only fire came in the form of the passion burning in thousands of cannabis advocates.

On Saturday (April 20), against the sunny backdrop of False Creek, organizers pulled off a full day of celebration and civil disobedience without any major incidents. For yet another unpermitted year, event facilitators said that more than 150,000 people showed up in total during the day to demonstrate support for Canada’s cannabis community.

The day opened with a traditional Coast Salish blessing performed by Kwitsel Tatel of the Stó:lō Nation.

“I would like to hold my hands up to you for making yourself present at this very important medicinal protest, social protest, political protest, spiritual protest,” Tatel said before performing a prayer to honour the unceded territory.

Kwitsel Tatel of the Stó:lō Nation.
CRAIG BARKER PHOTOGRAPHY/CANNABIS LIFE NETWORK

Then cannabis activist David Malmo-Levine explained “hug power”, a nonviolent arrest-resistance tactic.

“How many people are prepared to get busted on protest day resisting the genocidal war against the herbal autonomous people?” he asked the crowd as the majority held up their hands.

The main stage then pumped out the smooth tunes of singer Giorgi Holiday, the politically charged lyricism of Haisla Nation hip-hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and the counterculture-shaping tracks of rap legends Cypress Hill.

Speeches by B.C.–based advocates were also peppered throughout the performances, including from Chris Bennett, Freddie Pritchard, and Danna Rozek.

On April 20, 1995, Rozek organized the city’s first ever 4/20 at Victory Square.

“We ran extension cords, borrowed a PA system, speakers, and a microphone….The day was grey, but the people came,” she said.

“4:20 in the afternoon came and we lit it up. That grey April day was the spark that started the big blazing fire that we have today.”

Danna Rozek (pictured) and Cindy Lassu were employees at Hemp B.C. when they organized Vancouver's first ever 4/20 protest in 1995.
Piper Courtenay

The event is still run on extension cords—but rather than a few scrounged from local businesses, there are hundreds rented from production companies, along with dozens of volunteers, a fully equipped broadcast truck for the Cannabis Life Network live stream, and more than 350 vendors who make up the event’s contemporary “farmers market” billing.

The ’95 4/20 was both the first and last of the annual protests that Rozek would attend, until this year.

“As I look back, I feel like a mom who gave up her baby for adoption and found the right parents to grow and nurture it,” Rozek said. “I could not have imagined being here on a stage this size with so many people.”

As 4:20 p.m. rolled around, the crowd peaked at about 65,000—the largest turnout a Canadian 4/20 has ever seen.

Neil Magnuson, head of a harm-reduction program in the Downtown Eastside, led the crowd in a weedy rendition of the national anthem, “O Cannabis”.

“Four, three, two,” Malmo-Levine counted down as free prerolls were handed out. Then tens of thousands chanted “Happy 4/20!” in unison and lit joints.

4/20 organizers toss out free pre-rolls before the official smoke-in countdown.
CRAIG BARKER PHOTOGRAPHY/CANNABIS LIFE NETWORK

A giant cloud of cannabis smoke covered the entire park.

“It was incredible seeing that big crowd peacefully sit down, share joints, send up our smoke signal. For me, that was something else,” said activist Jodie Emery shortly after 4:20 p.m.

The Vancouver Police Department reported 14 medical emergencies, 30 tickets, and three impaired-driving investigations. Event organizer Dana Larsen added later on Twitter that no major criminal incidents were reported and no minors were admitted to the emergency room.

As the event wrapped up at about 7 p.m., the “green team” got to work. Sponsored by local dispensary Weeds, volunteers took to the park, picking up trash and roaches on the grass, walkways, and beach.

A view of Sunset Beach Park from the southeast, around 9:15 a.m. on April 21, 2019.
CHARLIE SMITH

At 9 a.m. the following day, the Georgia Straight reported a “spotless” landscape where the historic protest had taken place just hours prior.

“See, I told you,” 4/20 host Greg “Marijuana Man” Williams told a Straight reporter as the sun set over the park. “Every year, it’s magic.”

To check out more from the event, watch the CLN broadcast below:

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