Celebrating Vancouver’s Cannabis Culture since 1995
Vancouver’s 4/20 Cannabis Protest Festival is celebrating our 26th year in 2020, and our fifth year at Sunset Beach.
Vancouver’s 4/20 had humble beginnings on April 20, 1995, when a few dozen people gathered to share and celebrate cannabis at Victory Square Park at Hastings and Cambie. Since then, 4/20 has grown into a massive cannabis protest festival, with over 150,000 attending to buy, share and celebrate cannabis in an unparalleled farmer’s market, while enjoying a free concert with internationally recognized performers.
Vancouver’s 4/20 is a massive act of civil disobedience, creating a safe space for community cannabis access, and the opportunity for cannabis users to gather and celebrate without any shame or stigma.
The non-profit society which runs the 4/20 protest voluntarily covers all civic and park board costs other than policing. Every year, organizers work closely with all city and park departments in regards to public safety, traffic control, sanitation, health and emergency services, and so on.
We also raise funds for local charities, with three $4200 donations in 2019 going to the CKNW Kids Fund, the Variety Children’s Charity, and the Overdose Prevention Society. In 2018 we donated the same amount to both St Paul’s Hospital and the Firefighter’s Charity “Snacks for Kids.”
Vancouver’s 4/20 is the world’s oldest annual April 20 cannabis protest, but 4/20 is now celebrated in cities across Canada and all around the globe.
No More Drug War
Despite the festive atmosphere, 4/20 is first and foremost a political protest against the stigmatization and criminalization of cannabis users, growers and sellers, which persists despite the quasi-legalization passed in Canada.
We also stand in solidarity with the broader movement to end the global war on drugs. We support calls from public health officials and front line harm reduction workers, to decriminalize drug users and create a safe drug supply.
Cannabis can help some people to reduce or eliminate use of other, more harmful drugs, including alcohol and opiates. But we also recognize that there must be a legal and safe supply of other currently banned drugs, and that it is time for our drug policy to focus on health and human rights instead of punishment and criminalization. It is time to have drug peace instead of drug war.
Prohibition itself is the root cause of most overdose deaths, gang violence and money laundering. Prohibition and drug war are also largely responsible for overpolicing and mass incarceration, and are usually enforced in a racially-biased manner.
While 4/20 is focused on cannabis flowers, we call to end the prohibition of all the other prohibited medicine plants, such as psilocybe mushroom, coca leaf, opium poppy, and peyote cactus. All of these plants have millennia of social, medicinal, cultural and spiritual use, and it is time to recognize their benefits and safely reintegrate them into our society.
What Does 4/20 Mean?
The number “420” was first used in reference to cannabis in the 1970s by a group of high school friends in California. They called themselves “The Waldos” and met every day at 4:20pm after school to smoke cannabis.
They eventually popularized the420 term among the Grateful Dead community, which was then picked up and promoted in High Times magazine. You can read more about the history of the 420 term here.
Vancouver’s first April 20 protest was organized in 1995 by Danna Rozek and Cindy Lassu, who worked at Marc Emery’s revolutionary Hemp BC shop.
In 1997 the 4/20 protest was moved to the Art Gallery grounds downtown, and over 1000 people attended. The event grew every year, led for many years by local activist David Malmo-Levine who hosted cannabis raffles and a big joint giveaway at 4:20.
Malmo-Levine encouraged people to sell and share cannabis at 4/20, creating a safe space for dealers and buyers. People started bringing bags of joints and infused cookies to sell.
By 2007 there was over 7000 people at 4/20, packing the front of the Art Gallery. The event had grown to include day-long live music, public speakers and many tables openly selling cannabis products. Inspired by Vancouver, other 4/20 protests were becoming established in cities across Canada.
The 4/20 protest continued to grow exponentially in size and scope. By 2014 the crowds were surpassing 30,000 people, filling the whole Art Gallery and surrounding area, forcing the shutdown of Hornby, Howe, Robson and Georgia streets.
After consultation with city officials, the 4/20 organizing committee decided to move the protest to Sunset Beach in 2016. This larger venue allows for increased public safety, less disruption and a better event for everyone. While the Park Board voted with a one vote majority not to grant 4/20 a permit, the protest has continued as an act of civil disobedience.
From humble beginnings, 4/20 has grown into one of Vancouver’s biggest and most popular public events, drawing tourists from across Canada and around the globe.
We welcome you to join us, enjoy some of the world’s best cannabis products, celebrate the cannabis culture, and protest against the stigma and harassment which cannabis users still face in Canada and around the world.
Thank you and a have a great 420!