A funny thing happened on the way to the Hyatt Regency Vancouver. Walking from Comfort Inn Downtown Vancouver to the Hyatt Regency Vancouver is about four blocks to the northwest. The direct route passes through Robson Square. Robson Square is home of the VAG – Vancouver Art Gallery.
I attended a party inside the VAG for the TBEX Travel Bloggers Exchange conference in June 2011. The 420 Vancouver party outside the VAG yesterday was about 50 times bigger.
420 celebrations are commonplace around many college campuses. The difference in 420 Vancouver is a celebration of cannabis in a non-sanctioned, but police tolerant day of open cannabis dealing on an entire square block of downtown Vancouver. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of pounds of marijuana displayed and being sold openly on tables, in jars, in bags, in carts and in cleavage as I witnessed from a young woman in a low neck white t-shirt who leaned over the table and pitched me the offer of “buy a doobie and take it from my boobies’. Thanks, but no thanks.
In a way, the scene reminded me of the movie The Purge, where anarchy reigns for 12 hours on one day of the year while police services are unavailable. 420 Vancouver is the cannabis equivalent in an intense, yet pretty mellow environment. The police presence was primarily in the streets surrounding the perimeter of the Vancouver Art Gallery to maintain crowd separation from road traffic. Emergency service ambulances were available too and a few people needed them after getting too high.
By all accounts, the 420 Vancouver event in 2015 was the largest ever with an estimated 15,000 to 20,000+ participants and more than 300 vendors. Two stages on either side of the VAG provided eight hours of music and political education. The event was truly a political rally guised in a haze of smoke and cannabis sales.
The issue that was pounded into the crowd between every musical set was a message to vote for Justin Trudeau as prime minister for Canada and vote out Stephen Harper’s conservative government, if citizens want to see more tolerant cannabis laws enacted in Canada.
Marc Emery and the beginning of 420 Vancouver
Marc Emery, the ‘Prince of Pot’ opened one of the first hemp stores in Vancouver, Canada in 1994 where he sold bongs and paraphernalia. Emery as a cannabis activist began selling marijuana seeds through his store in late 1994 and launched Cannabis Canada magazine, renamed Cannabis Culture in 1998. Much of the money Emery made from his businesses was funneled into pro-marijuana political campaigns. In 2009, Canadian police arrested Marc Emery on request from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as an international drug trafficker and he was extradited to the U.S. and sentenced to five years in federal prison. Emery was released from U.S. prisons last August 2014 and once again lives in Vancouver.
Marc Emery commented on how much larger 420 Vancouver had become during his time of incarceration.
He also commented how Vancouver cannabis products are the lowest priced in North America.
The crowd peaked at 4:20pm as the countdown began and the sky turned smoky. Peter Tosh ‘Legalize It’ blared over the loudspeakers on the Vancouver Art gallery steps, as crowds toked and danced. I closed my eyes, they were burning, and flashbacked to hearing Peter Tosh sing ‘Legalize It’ as a teenager in California at the Monterey Fairgrounds in 1979 and the cloud of smoke that night many years ago. I’ve read sense of smell is the strongest sensual memory.
After the 4:20 smoke out, it seemed appropriate to listen to an extended musical set from Vancouver reggae rockers RedEye Empire.
Tip for those of you who may attend 420 Vancouver in the future. Booths began breaking down at 6pm and the event officially shut down at 8pm. Walking around Robson Square at 7:30pm was bargain basement shoppers paradise. Many booths dropped their prices. One vendor yelled out 14 cookies for $20 when these had been selling 3 for $10. Another yelled out 10 grams for $30 when it had been $50. One guy offered his last 10 grams of weed for $10.
I mentioned the morning I left for Vancouver that I wanted to see some wild life in the city. 420 Vancouver more than met my expectations. A day of music surrounded by people having fun and receiving a liberal Canada political education were entertaining activities for free. Best of all was being able to walk back to the Hyatt Regency to rehydrate every couple hours after being sun-baked on the warm spring day.
I even picked up a souvenir from Marc Emery’s booth when I asked to buy a t-shirt. I was greeted with a ‘Happy 420’ and a free souvenir I can take home with no hassles from U.S. customs.
Today, I am traveling to Victoria, British Columbia in search of a quieter and healthier kind of Canadian wildlife.