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4/20 organizers react as Park Board works to have headline act removed

Last Updated Apr 16, 2019 at 12:48 pm PDT

The crowd comes together in Vancouver for 4/20 in 2018 (Darren Grieve, NEWS 1130 Photo)

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With just five days to go until the unsanctioned 4/20 event at Vancouver’s Sunset Beach Park, it appears the gathering could go ahead without its recently-announced headline act.

At least one member of the Vancouver Park Board is trying to stop Cypress Hill from performing on Saturday.

The event has gotten many around the city talking about whether or not it should be allowed to go ahead.

“It’s very strange to see that such a successful, popular event in our city — one of the biggest, safest, mass events — does not get embraced or welcomed the way that other events do in the city,” cannabis advocate Jodie Emery tells NEWS 1130.

Organizers have been holding the event every year on public land without city permits. Emery backs claims that the event is a protest, despite the legalization of recreational marijuana in October of 2018.

“Because we are still protesting the harms of continued criminalization of cannabis,” Emery explains. “Clearly the current discrimination and stigma against this event proves we still have a lot of work to do.”

Emery says organizers have tried to get the required permits in the past, but were unable to do so. She says other events around the city get “taxpayer handouts” while the 4/20 event is self-funded.

“People are so angry that 4/20 called itself a protest. If we could get permits like every other event does then we would be treated equally. But we did try to get a permit and the Park Board wasted taxpayers’ time and money, banning cannabis events from parks instead of embracing this event and giving a bylaw exemption like they give alcohol bylaw extensions so people can drink beer on the beach with children.”

She notes the gathering is also a celebration and festival, saying it brings together “like-minded citizens.”

On suggestions the 4/20 festival masquerades as a non-profit, Emery says the group has nothing to hide and could even open the books once all the costs are final.

However, she adds vendors that set up shop at the hundreds of booths are making money, but cautions there is a difference between the individuals and the event itself.

She claims 4/20 organizers have worked with authorities every year “behind the scenes.”

“Every year the City of Vancouver and Park Board ask us to pay for more — more toilets, more security, more first aid, more fencing, cover the ground, reseed the grass, pay for the cost of the Vancouver Aquatic Centre closing, pay for the cost of the concession stand closing, and the gall of the Park Board — they actually asked us to pay for the permit that they refused to give us.”

Motion set to be introduced at Park Board meeting

Saying the event has gotten too big, crowded and damaging to the relatively small area, Commissioner John Coupar said he plans to ask for an emergency meeting Monday evening.

“The motion asks for an urgent meeting to be convened of senior staff of all relevant agencies; the VPD, Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Ambulance Service, our Park Rangers and any appropriate agency to review the safety issues around this expanded, permitted commercial event, and that the Park Board staff contact the 4/20 organizers to request a cancellation of the Crop King Seeds act, which is the — they’re actually the promoters so that’s not the name of the band — in an effort to control crowd size and possible damage to Sunset Beach Park.”

The motion also asks that the Park Board “not provide supports, such as facilitating the set up of staging electronic equipment and booths for the purpose of providing entertainment, and booths for the purposes of selling cannabis and related products,” Coupar added.

It was announced last week the band would be performing at the event, which has been the topic of debate for some time.

When asked whether he has or has considered reaching out to the band directly, Coupar told NEWS 1130 that is not his role.

“My role is commissioner of the Park Board. Once the motion comes from the board, depending on whether it’s approved or not approved, then our staff would be the appropriate folks to make the contact.”

The timing of this year’s event, which falls on a long weekend and is the first since legalization, could mean larger crowds gathering in Vancouver’s West End.

“I’m obviously concerned — I have been for a number of years, and I think we’ve seen significant damage, we’ve seen costs to the taxpayer, we’ve seen escalating costs around policing the event,” he said.

Coupar has said he’s disappointed in the “lack of leadership on this issue by the mayor previous and present.”

This comes after current Mayor Kennedy Stewart told NEWS 1130 that the city had no plans to intervene in this year’s 4/20 event, saying council didn’t have enough lead time in the five months it’s been in office.

Stewart said he sees this year’s gathering as a sort of “victory lap” following the legalization of recreational marijuana, and that the city would have a different approach to dealing with it next year.

-With files from Marcella Bernardo