Pubdate: Mon, 20 Apr 2015
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Cassidy Olivier
Page: 3


20th Anniversary: Mass toke-up called "beautiful" celebration, but 
others say normalization a 'real threat'

In the small back courtyard of his marijuana dispensary on East
Hastings Street, Dana Larsen, a well-known pot activist, talks
candidly about a subject he knows well: B.C. bud.

It's four days out from one of the premier local events for marijuana
enthusiasts and Larsen, the author of several pot-themed books whose
past political involvement includes a run for the B.C. NDP leadership,
sketches out some of the preparations for the annual massive toke up
known as 4/20.

Monday's event outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, which marks the 20th
anniversary of the smoke-out, is expected to draw a crowd of 20,000 to

There will be bands, DJs, speeches, lots grass to buy from an expected
200 or so vendors, and, of course, an incredible amount of pot smoking.

It's a far cry from the first organized puff-up held at Victory Square
in 1995 that drew a few dozen local activists, said Larsen, a
dedicated attendee.

The event has become so popular that organizers have started thinking
about moving to a larger space to accommodate the growing crowds - a
reflection of the prevailing attitudes toward pot use.

"For me, it is amazing to see how it has grown from this small thing
to one of the city's biggest events - I think it is really beautiful,"
said Larsen, who believes he is the only person to have attended every
single 4/20 event.

"It is an extremely safe and positive event. It is not so much a
protest as a celebration of cannabis culture."

It's certainly an interesting time for the local pot legalization

South of the border, in Washington state and Colorado, marijuana is
being sold legally. And more recently, Alaska voted to legalize pot.

Local activists, politicians and anti-drug groups agree the impacts of
this push have been felt here.

Kerry Jang, a Vancouver councillor, said legalization in Washington
was quickly followed by an explosion of medicinal marijuana
dispensaries in the city.

Within the last year, the number of these outlets, which operate
illegally and without licences, has jumped from about 60 to 80, he

"I think many of them opened up, not so much to serve need, but really
they are trying to make a political statement and literally force the
federal government to change the pot laws," he said, adding the
dispensaries have proved a "regulatory nightmare" for the city.

"I think the federal government will eventually have to deal with it.
Their current laws aren't working and they are being challenged in

Jodie Emery, who is married to Marc Emery, the so-called Prince of
Pot, believes the proliferation of local dispensaries is tied to a
glut of B.C.-grown bud as a result of a drop in cross-border demand.

Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, she noted.

"There are so many people left with so much pot that has no demand in
Washington, so they are funnelling it through dispensaries to a market
that is willing and eager to peacefully make that transaction," she

"But there is no harm caused by it in the sense that nobody in the
community is seeing any negative effect of it."

Others, however, disagree. Pamela McColl, director of Smart Approaches
to Marijuana Canada, said events such as 4/20 and the lack of strict
enforcement on the dispensaries "says something about the
normalization of marijuana," which she said is the "real threat."

"I think that the fact that we have 81 illegal stores operating in our
city with not that much pushback from the public and certainly not
much coming back from city hall or the VPD, says something to the
normalization process that is going on here," she said.

"It sends a really bad message to the youth of Vancouver. We either
have laws and rules and regulations or we don't.

"And if you can openly flout the law in the face of public officials
and law enforcement, what does that say? For some reason, marijuana
gets this free pass. And it shouldn't. It's a very destructive drug."

Const. Brian Montague of the Vancouver Police Department said
dispensaries remain a low priority for police, who are more focused on
high-profile and violent crimes.

Their proliferation, meanwhile, hasn't resulted in any corresponding
spike in crime, he said.

As for the 4/20 event, Montague said it will be up to each officer's
discretion to enforce the law.

Jang said city staff are looking into the regulatory issues
surrounding dispensaries. One of the things they will consider is
whether the city has the power to limit where they set up.

Surprisingly, Jang said there have been very few complaints to

"We do get calls about the odd dispensary that is probably dealing out
the back door or marketing to children, and those are the ones our
staff and police go down to take care of," he said.

"We have raided a number of shops and closed a few. But by and large,
they've been fairly well run."

Larsen, meanwhile, has a simple answer for the criticism that has been
levelled at the 4/20 event for being a place that not only facilitates
but encourages pot use among teens. He said people are encouraged not
to sell to teens and to ask for ID. But given the sheer abundance of
pot being openly passed around, the odds are that teens will get some.

"If you want to eliminate that, legalize marijuana," he

"If teens want to get marijuana they can get it anyway. They don't
have to go to 4/20."
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