Saturday’s 4/20 event shifts to lawn of legislature

Victoria’s 4/20 event is still blazing hot despite the end of cannabis prohibition, and organizers of Saturday’s festivities at the B.C. legislature say there’s still plenty to protest.

Cannabis users historically gathered on April 20 to smoke weed in unison at 4:20 p.m. in defiance of laws banning the sale and possession of the drug.

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The legalization of cannabis last Oct. 17 didn’t make 4/20 events obsolete, said Nikki Jackson, an event organizer and employee of the Victoria Cannabis Buyer’s Club. Cannabis users still need a venue to speak out against the flaws in the government-controlled legal cannabis industry, Jackson said.

“We are definitely celebrating the fact that legalization has happened, but we still believe there are reasons to protest,” she said.

The counter-culture celebration has been held at Centennial Square for the past 21 years, but this year, organizers wanted a more high-profile location, and plan to gather on the lawn of the B.C. legislature.

Legislature Speaker Darryl Plecas confirmed he gave the green light for the 4/20 event at the legislature, but said organizers have been reminded of the policy against smoking tobacco, cannabis or e-cigarettes.

However, that rule is unlikely to be enforced. The day it was legalized, people also smoked cannabis freely on the legislature lawn.

“The fact that we have nowhere we can smoke is one of the things we’re protesting,” said Ted Smith, founder of the Cannabis Buyer’s Club and the master of ceremonies at Vancouver’s first 4/20 event in 1995.

Organizers originally wanted to host a festival-type event with live bands at Royal Athletic Park, but it was impossible to obtain a permit because cannabis consumption would violate the Capital Regional District’s clean-air bylaw, Smith said.

Saturday’s event is “still very much a protest because everything they have done around legalization has been wrong,” he said.

The grassroots activists who fought for legalization have been left in the dust as the industry has been taken over by corporate interests, Smith said.

“They’re not trying to include the grassroots people who paved the way for legalization in the first place.”

Medical cannabis users are frustrated that it’s now harder for them to get pot from licensed producers because producers placed a priority on supplying recreational retail stores, Jackson said. The government-imposed excise tax means the price of recreational cannabis is out of reach for some medical users, said Jackson, who uses medical cannabis for Crohn’s disease and back pain.

“If I were to go to a legal store, I’d be broke so fast,” she said.

As a result, the Victoria Cannabis Buyer’s Club, open since 1996, making it one of the oldest compassion clubs in Canada, has seen a surge in customers since legalization.

The fact that Victoria’s 4/20 event received the go-ahead from the B.C. legislature puts it in sharp contrast to its counterpart in Vancouver. Members of the Vancouver Park Board have asked 4/20 organizers to cancel a planned concert by Cypress Hill due to fears it would draw an unmanageable crowd and cause damage to the park.

The annual toke-up has been held at Sunset Beach since 2017, despite the park board refusing to issue permits.

Victoria’s 4/20 revellers won’t be treated to a live concert, but can dance to DJ sets from Submersive Tribe Studios and compete in a costume contest. No cannabis will be sold on site, Jackson said, and vendors will be handing out educational information on medical and recreational cannabis.

Organizers are expecting hundreds of people to join the festivities, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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