The smoke has cleared on another Vancouver 4/20 pot extravaganza, the first to be held at its new location at Sunset Beach.
Sgt. Randy Fincham with the Vancouver Police Department says it was a relatively calm affair, with no major police incidents. However, there were some medical issues.
“As of 8 p.m., first responders had dealt with approximately 25 medical incidents, and approximately 10 people had been transported to hospital.”
Fincham adds the VPD Gang Unit “dealt with” twenty people with gang affiliations.
“People that we have dealt with in the past, known associations to gangs in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. It’s certainly something they are accustomed to dealing with, people they are accustomed to dealing with. When you bring them mixed in with this event today certainly there is a recipe that something bad could happen, and we are monitoring that.”
He adds that paramedics and the fire rescue service also responded to a number of minor issues off-site afterwards.
Perhaps the most noteworthy was that one person had to be rescued after attempting to swim across False Creek from Sunset Beach to Vanier Park.
The General Manager of MedTech Emergency Services, Doug House, says medics dealt with a number of young people who overindulged.
“A lot of people who come here apparently aren’t used to the edibles, they usually smoke their marijuana, so they come down to try the edibles and don’t realize their bodies react to it entirely differently.”
Park Board chair Sarah Kirby Yung says officials are still assessing how the day went, and will be back at first light to clean the park.
Tens of thousands have gathered around the main stage off Beach Avenue for a countdown to the big toke-up at 4:20 pm.
Pot enthusiasts are enjoying the sunshine and live music, purchasing marijuana, edibles, paraphernalia, and other merchandise from the hundreds of vendors on site.
Organizers encouraged vendors to I.D. prospective buyers and turn away any minors.
One Maple Ridge mom who was selling pot with her sons says they have a strict 19-plus policy.
“Because I don’t want them all to end up in St. Paul’s Hospital, thank you very much. Emergencies as busy enough without people getting sick.”
But CKNW reporter Shelby Thom spoke with two brothers from Nanaimo, aged 15 and 17, who skipped school to attend the rally and were able to purchase pot.
Reporter: “Did he ask you for your ID”?
Reporter: ” And they saw you were 17 and still allowed you to purchase”?
Teen: “Well I didn’t really purchase too much”
Reporter: “What did you buy”?
Teen: “I don’t know, just a doobie or something”
Organizer Jody Emery calls that unacceptable.
“As we said from the outset, we don’t condone it and that is something we are definitely opposed to.”
The origins of 4/20, a timeline:
Overall, it’s been about as confrontational as a country fair.
Just a lot of stalls, people walking around, live music – and lots and lots of pot smoke wafting through the air.
But when it kicked off earlier today, organizers seemed keen to give it some kind of protest edge.
In fact one of the organizers kicked off the event at what he referred to as “High Noon”, and instructed the crowd of about 5,000 people on what to do if they witnessed someone getting arrested: Hug them, and if you can’t do that, hug the Paddy Wagon.
Organizers paying for some of the costs, but not all
About 400 vendor booths are selling pot and other cannabis products along the stretch of seawall and parking lot.
Organizer Jeremiah Vandermeer says every vendor paid $300 dollars to help cover the costs of the event, which will cost organizers around $100,000 for everything from port-a-potties to a medical and a security team.
As far as the controversy around the new location goes, Vandermeer says 4/20 has been caught in the middle of a political hot potato between the NPA dominated Park Board, and the Vision-majority city council.
“There is a lot of…blaming the other party for 4/20 and what’s happening, we are seeing the closing of the pool down there, which we think is kind of silly and ridiculous.”
Spokesperson Constable Brian Montague says policing costs last year totaled 50,000 dollars.
Vancouver Art Gallery secondary site
Meanwhile, the 420 smoke-in is well underway in downtown Vancouver, even though the official protest site is now at Sunset Beach after being held at the VAG for 18 years.
Booths have been set up along Robson Street, where vendors are selling edibles, and people are openly smoking pot while police keep a watchful eye from a distance.
21-year-old Nick Marisio says he gets high every day to help deal with medical issues.
“I do not like taking prescription painkillers, I am against them, how many people prescription painkillers kill, ya know. Weed’s a way better painkiller.”
Marisio, who’s unemployed, says he pays for pot with his disability cheque.
He says even when he was employed briefly in construction in Surrey, he still got high.
Could this be the last hurrah for the 4/20 “protest’?
This morning, Federal Minister Jane Philpott told the United Nations General Assembly in New York City that Canada will introduce legislation next spring to legalize and regulate marijuana.
If that happens before next year’s 4/20 event, organizers will be hard pressed to hide behind the “protest” argument when justifying why they don’t apply and pay for event licencing.
Even now, the event unfolding at Sunset Beach today looks to be more of a cash cow for retailers in the cannabis industry.
Vancouver Park Board chair Sarah Kirby Yung says the annual 4/20 protest has jumped the shark, and organizers are hiding behind the protest banner to avoid paying the same costs as other events around the city.
“I am actually down at Sunset beach right now and what I am seeing is a full on commercial festival not a protest.”
She says last year the pot protest cost taxpayers almost $100,000, and now this year there are two events
“As a protest this group gets away with a lot more, and I think it’s to their benefit to call it a protest when that is not what it is – it is a festival. The city, in my opinion has been working in the same way they do with justified events and has been providing incredible support in terms of operations plans, traffic management, medical, policing, and other resources.”
Kirby Yung also says from a safety perspective with risks to minors, this event is quote “a whole different ball of wax.”
LISTEN to the interview with Park Board Chair Sara Kirby-Yung (00:00-06:45), and Dr.Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health (06:45-13:28
Concerns regarding youth participation
Kirby Young isn’t the only one concerned about kids attending today’s event.
Earlier today, at least one police officer told a CKNW reporter that he hopes this year’s 4/20 protests don’t end with as many young people in the ER as last year’s event.
Last year, dozens of people went to hospital suffering symptoms ranging from upset stomach to acute anxiety and psychosis.
The youngest was a 15-year-old. Sixty-three people were treated, and 75 per cent of them had consumed edible marijuana products.
The Chief Medical Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, Dr. Patricia Daly, says they’ve asked organizers and vendors not to sell to minors., and to provide information to consumers of their products – particularly edible products.
“So far we’ve had no response. We are sending some public health staff down to the site as its being set up today, including one of our public health officers.”
She says VCH has signage the vendors can use saying they’ll ask for I.D., but it’s voluntary.
“This is a protest, not a permitted event so there’s not much that we can do other than ask for their cooperation.”
Daly says that dispensaries in Vancouver have been very cooperative in terms of not selling to underage kids.
“So I’m a little concerned that the organizers of this protest don’t seem to be willing to cooperate as the proprietors of the retails outlets in Vancouver have shown that willingness.”
The Vancouver School Board also sent a memo out to high schools students earlier this week warning them about cutting class to attend the event.