‘Free show. Free weed.’ Cypress Hill headlining Vancouver’s 420 celebration

Photo: Twitter@420Vancouver

Vancouver’s popular and controversial 420 celebration that typically draws tens of thousands of people is just days away, set of course for April 20.

It’s the event’s 25th anniversary this year and the first since cannabis was legalized in Canada last fall.

Organizers revealed on April 8 that Cypress Hill would be headlining the April 20 event at Sunset Beach.

The band took to Twitter to confirm they would be performing, inviting the public to “come blaze with us.

There has, once again, been controversy surrounding the unlicensed event, with the Vancouver parks board arguing the event is no longer a protest, especially given a major headliner is on board.

Organizers insist they follow all the rules around using park space other than the anti-smoking bylaw, and say they pay fees associated with using the space except for the policing bill.

Cannabis activist Dana Larsen, who helps organize the event, tells BotaniQ Magazine, that in 2018 420 paid “all civic and park board costs other than policing, to a total of over $63,000.”

“We are the only unlicensed protest in the city to pay of those costs,” he adds.

“Some of the huge figures in the media include things like policing costs at the Art Gallery, where our event used to be held until 2015. The city doesn’t want anyone doing an event there, so they send in a bunch of cops to guard it,” said Larsen. “This cost over $70,000 last year, and then the media adds that into the total and says we are responsible for this giant bill which includes things other than our actual event.”

Larsen says the “absurdity is that the $100,000+ policing bill is typical for many other protests in the city, but only with 4/20 is there all this media attention and complaints from pundits. With other events, no-one cares.”

After the 2018 event, there were headlines about the grass being destroyed during the event, but Larsen says “the actual bill to fix up the muddy grass is a few thousand dollars.”

“We paid that bill in both 2017 and 2018.”

Larsen argues that the “successful protest” is needed now more than ever.

“Despite legalization, there are still many problems with how cannabis users are treated,” he told BotaniQ Magazine. “Municipal, provincial and federal laws contain harsh penalties and overly restrictive control, especially when compared with alcohol.

“The controversy generated by 4/20 shows that this is a successful protest festival,” he adds. “A protest is supposed to be unpopular, to stir things up, to focus attention on an issue and generate public discussion. By this measure, 4/20 is a very successful protest.”

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Parks Board Commissioner Tricia Barker predicted this would be the protest’s final year.

She said the provincial Community Safety Unit that is tasked with shutting down illegal pot sales, as well as other enforcement bodies, will be more active in 2020.

“Everyone is getting used to the new laws, with another year under their belt they just won’t be allowing all the illegal sales that happen (at 4/20). By next year they will be ready and there will be no permitted seller of cannabis at this event,” Barker told the Vancouver Sun. “The bottom line is it’s legal now and you can’t smoke in a park. They’ve run out of arguments. This year’s event is in the middle of the Easter long weekend, we have to close the seawall, we have to close the concession.”

Last year an estimated 40,000 people attended the event.