Pubdate: Wed, 01 Jul 2015
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Mikle Hager
Page: S1


July 1 event will move to smaller south side of the Vancouver Art
Gallery this year, and will ban vendor booths and large stage

Organizers of the annual Canada Day marijuana protest are facing a
frosty reception from authorities this year after refusing a last
minute request from the city to move their hazy party from downtown

Every year on July 1, marijuana activists hold a protest event on the
north plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery. In a letter dated June 9,
deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston asked the Cannabis Culture
organization, run by pot activist Marc Emery, to cease and desist from
advertising the event. Mr. Johnston's letter said it could only go
ahead if the proper permits were secured.

However, organizer Jeremiah Vandermeer, editor-in-chief of Cannabis
Culture magazine, said the event is a protest and has never secured a
permit, though he and other activists often meet throughout the year
to discuss fire, safety and policing concerns with officials. On the
day of the event, he said, "We have walkie-talkies and radios: The
police get one of ours, the safety team gets one, the fire officials
get one."

Several weeks ago, after Mr. Johnston's letter was sent, the deputy
city manager met with Mr. Vandermeer and other organizers and asked
them to move the protest to an area below the Cambie Street Bridge
near the Vancouver Police Department headquarters.

"We just don't think asking us to move the whole production three
weeks beforehand was possible," Mr. Vandermeer said.

This year's event comes in the wake of city council's vote last week
to regulate an explosion of illegal storefront pot shops. And two
months ago, bureaucrats and public-health officials raised cost and
safety concerns over supervising the much larger 4/20 cannabis event
in April.

Mr. Vandermeer said he doesn't know why the city has taken a more
strident approach. He acknowledged that the protest upsets the
surrounding business community, and staff with the adjacent Pacific
Centre mall may have complained recently about the prospect of
protesters again using its bathrooms.

The city has said the art gallery's north plaza is off limits this
year because of a long-planned redesign of the space. On Tuesday
afternoon, the entire plaza was fenced off and one worker was
pressure-washing the area.

With that plaza fenced off, the protesters will move to the much
smaller south side of the property. Mr. Vandermeer said this year's
protest will include speeches, music and a "smoke-in" on the
art-gallery steps, but organizers will bow to a request from the city
to ban vendor booths and a larger stage.

Vancouver police spokesman Constable Brian Montague said his force has
become increasingly worried that what was once a legitimate political
protest has become unwieldy.

Last year, the force's biggest concern was activists handing out free
edible cannabis products to passersby "that weren't even attending the
event," said Constable Montague.

Anyone setting up booths this year for "large-scale selling
operations" could face arrest for drug trafficking, he added.

"We are hoping that this is a protest, as it's intended to be, and not
an open-air drug market," said Constable Montague.

"If there is a problem that arises within the middle of a crowd, in
such a tight venue, the ability of police and fire to gain access is a
big concern for us."

Last year, the police department spent about $8,400 on extra officers
to monitor the event and spent roughly $52,000 for the same services
during this year's 4/20 celebrations, said Constable Montague.

The city and police don't have any way to recoup extra costs from the
organizers of Cannabis Day, because they haven't gone through the
official permitting channels, he added.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt