Dana Larsen: 4/20 permit hubbub explained

On March 6, the Vancouver park board voted 4-3 against giving us a permit for 4/20. This is the first time in 23 years that anyone has ever voted on the possibility on giving Vancouver’s 4/20 a permit, and it was a close vote, so I consider this to be progress.

Dana Larsen

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I’m one of the organizers behind Vancouver’s 4/20, and this is the story:

On March 6, the Vancouver park board voted 4-3 against giving us a permit for 4/20. This is the first time in 23 years that anyone has ever voted on the possibility on giving Vancouver’s 4/20 a permit, and it was a close vote, so I consider this to be progress.

A lack of a permit hasn’t stopped our annual 4/20 protest for the past two decades, and it won’t stop us now. We’ll be celebrating 4/20 at Sunset Beach again this year, and it will be weed-tastic! In 2018 Vancouver will elect a new park board, and we’ll be working to ensure the new board is more favourable to the cannabis community.

In a city that regularly sponsors all-ages beer gardens and promotes alcohol events, and where dispensaries are currently being licensed to sell cannabis, it seems strange that our annual 4/20 protest festival is so difficult for local politicians to accept.

The park board’s ‘no’ vote also went against the recommendation of park board staff. The only reason the board was even considering our permit application is because city and park board staff wanted them to approve it.

It’s worth mentioning that the park board didn’t just vote to refuse us a permit for Sunset Beach; it actually passed a motion banning all cannabis events from any park in the city. This puts the lie to their claim that they just didn’t want us at Sunset Beach, or else they would have tried offering us another location instead of banning us everywhere.

Green goes rogue

Our 4/20 permit application would have passed, if not for Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon going rogue and voting against it!

The Vancouver park board has seven seats. After the last election, there were four from Vancouver’s right wing party, the ‘Non-Partisan Association’ (NPA). There were two from the Greens, and there was one from Vision Vancouver.

The NPA had a majority until last year, when Erin Shum broke free and declared herself an independent. She supported the Greens’ Michael Wiebe as the new chair to replace the NPA’s Sarah Kirby-Yung.

While they all expressed concerns about 4/20, Vision commissioner Catherine Evans, independent commissioner Shum, and Wiebe all voted in favour of our permit application. The NPA only pulled off its ban with the support of a Green, Mackinnon, voting against his fellow Green chair.

Wiebe had actually put in considerable effort into developing a plan for 4/20, to keep the event contained on Sunset Beach and maximize access through the area for the local community. But his plan was never heard or discussed, as the vote to ban 4/20 entirely took precedence.

Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon (above) and three NPA commissioners denied a permit. Credit: Stephen Hui

Refusal to negotiate

I put in the event perit application for 4/20 last July, and spent all summer and fall trying to get meetings with park board commissioners to discuss 4/20. Mackinnon refused to meet with me, emailing me only to say ‘we have nothing to discuss’ and then ignoring my subsequent efforts to contact 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. 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!

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.

Last year was the first time that the annual 4/20 event was held at Sunset Beach. Credit: Amanda Siebert

Lessons learned

Despite the vote not going our way, the park board meeting was still worthwhile and informative.

The cost to the park board is only $25,000

First, park board staff revealed that 4/20 actually cost the Park Board just $25,000 last year, much less than other events of similar size. Another $25,000 was spent by the city on sanitation, traffic control, and emergency management.

The bulk of the cost, $100,000, was for policing. Yet this figure also includes policing costs for a separate and more disruptive event at the art gallery. The cost of policing Sunset Beach was about half of the total, at $50,000.

So the whole cost for holding 4/20 at Sunset Beach was roughly $25,000 for the Park Board, $25,000 for the city, and $50,000 for police. This $100,000 cost is on the low side for a massive public outdoor festival of this size. In comparison, Vancouver police recently spent $100,000 to protect Trump Tower during a recent protest.

We had actually arranged with city and park board staff to cover about half of the total cost this year, if we were able to receive a permit.

4/20 organizers work with city staff

The staff also explained to the board how we 4/20 organizers have worked closely with all the relevant departments and officials, from sanitation to park rangers, from paramedics to the VPD, to ensure that 4/20 is put on in a safe and responsible manner.

Cannabis permits can be issued

Staff made it clear that the park board could give us a permit to use cannabis at the beach that day, in the same way they regularly issue permits for amplified music, liquor sales, and beer gardens. Vancouver parks normally forbid alcohol, smoking, and loud music, but these and other bylaws can be waived through the permit process.

No permit means no insurance

As event organizers, we’d be happy to buy insurance for 4/20, and to help cover the costs to the city and park board. But as the staff pointed out to the board, those things can only be done when a permit is issued. Without a permit, our event is deemed a protest, making insurance difficult to obtain and making invoicing for expenses a challenge.

No permit is basically an event subsidy

As Vision commissioner Evans pointed out during the meeting, refusing us a permit for 4/20 is equivalent to giving us a subsidy. We had been working with park board staff on an arrangement which would have covered a substantial portion of the event costs, but without a permit that arrangement is in question.

Make your voice heard

Please take a minute to email Green party commissioner Mackinnon (stuart.mackinnon@vancouver.ca), to complain about his joining with the NPA to forbid 4/20 an event permit. He needs to hear that his vote was wrong, that cannabis users are citizens too, and that we have a right to use public parks for an annual event just like everyone else.

Despite the lack of a permit, our 23rd annual 4/20 will be bigger and better than ever this year. We will be back at Sunset Beach with excellent music, informative speakers, hundreds of booths, and 100,000 cannabis enthusiasts, to celebrate the cannabis culture and protest against the laws which still hold us down.

It’s going to be a wonderfully weedy day, and I hope to see you there!

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