When I turned the corner of Burrard and West Georgia on April 20th, 2015, I could see an oversized joint proudly jutting to the sky, puffing away. The smell of a thousand burning joints got stronger and stronger with every step towards one of BC’s greatest art institutions, the Vancouver Art Gallery. A large banner parodying a package of Zig-Zag whites with a caricature of Trudeau’s face covered the current exhibitions banner. People had set up blankets and booths all over the gallery grounds.
Back when I first moved to Vancouver from Edmonton, I was really happy that when 420 came around: I could finally attend a world class smokefest. After only two months here I was still in awe at the amount of freedom we have in regards to publicly smoking. Back home, we had pretty small pot events on Canada day and 420, so I couldn’t miss an event where thousands of people gathered to smoke weed!
But even back then, the space seemed overrun. At that time there was still grass on that side of the art gallery grounds and there were the flower beds.
They were destroyed that day. Traffic was stopped. I wasn’t really inclined to go back in the years following.
This year, while it was nice to see some faces I hadn’t seen in a while, again I felt the message — the real purpose why we were there — was lost. We have a lot to say about marijuana legalization, but instead we were disrupting the entire downtown core at rush hour, just getting in people’s faces. There was no educating: it was too busy to hear anything, or even move for that matter. Add that to a relatively hot day? Well, it was unpleasant, I have to say. The gallery doesn’t want us there. The city doesn’t want us there. Calling it a protest was a joke: it was a party, a festival, a market even! But not a protest. Even the organizers saw that.
The pressure to throw an event of that size and reputation…well, attempting to maintain order while educating is not an easy thing with well over 20,000 people in attendance. There are expectations from people that it is a true free-for-all. Anyone was able to attend, including minors. People walked around with large signs advertising marijuana products. There were booths offering dabs for a fee and some booths sold to whomever asked. Not cool, Vancouver, we are a world class marijuana city and many people were watching us.
What about smaller, localized events? Why weren’t all the city halls, parks, and wherever else we can peacefully protest, in every ‘burb in the lower mainland, covered in potheads? We can only look to these organizers so much before we need to start taking matters into our own hands. I can’t help but feel that 420 would be a far more effective if we focused more on the message: there would be more coverage and dialogue.
What got me thinking about this was the really great event I attended the night before 420. The Great Northern Extraction Concentrate Cup was an event to which I feel I could have brought anyone who was at least comfortable with marijuana consumption. It was held at a pub in Gastown so was a 19+ event, which was nice. The beautiful ladies of Lost Girls Burlesque served tasty appetizers and magicians mingled with the crowd, much to my delight. A pleasant variety of live music and comedy entertained us through the evening. Alcoholic drinks were available, and while the bartenders weren’t run off their feet sales seemed steady and good for a Sunday. I gather that a lot of people really enjoyed alcohol being an option. And, happily for recreational smokers and lightweights, there was a designated marijuana smoking area so there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of second-hand smoke.
A few neighbours talked with me about the goings-on and they were either a) oblivious that anything out of the ordinary was happening or b) interested in knowing more.
I feel that the pot community was well represented that night, and made a far stronger case for the end to prohibition of marijuana than Vancouver 420. Even considering the main event was a concentrates competition, it never felt like a ‘stoner event’.
We are in such pivotal times right now: the marijuana political climate is ripe for change, and in our favour. We are a pretty intelligent and classy bunch; I think it’s time for our events to show that to mainstream voters. We can do this better.