To those familiar with drug culture, April 20th has long been known as 4/20 , a celebration marked by smoking pot and taking delight in all things related to cannabis.
In Vancouver, the swelling numbers of 4/20 participants required that the 2016 toke-fest be moved out of the downtown core to Sunset Beach and its surrounding neighbourhood. An estimated 25,000 people used the opportunity to purchase the latest marijuana products and collectively generate an enormous haze that hovered over parts of the city.
It may have been a blast for those lighting up, but that single day generated more complaints to the city than all other 2016 public events combined. Not all Vancouverites appreciated the smoke, illegal drug sales, noise, traffic congestion and huge piles of trash that were left on the beach.
It wasn’t much of a surprise when the city of Vancouver denied organizers a permit to host this year’s event at the same location.
But legal technicalities and the rights of others mean nothing to this group, and it immediately decreed that 4/20 would continue at Sunset Beach.
In doing so, 4/20 will most obviously be breaking a city bylaw that prohibits smoking on public beaches. No city permit also extinguishes the need for bylaw controls on vendors selling food, drugs or beverages.
To be fair, the webpage for booking booth space at 4/20 Vancouver states there should be “no selling alcohol” and “we ask that you please don’t sell marijuana products to minors.” But, like the city bylaws, these words aren’t much of a barrier to a festival that celebrates the using and selling of illegal substances.
There is an attitude of special privilege that underscores the activities of marijuana advocacy groups. When questioned, they claim a righteous civil disobedience because they believe that smoking pot should be legal. Over time, it generates the notion that marijuana users and advocates are above the law and, as such, they feel justified in continuing to flaunt the very laws and regulations that the rest of society is expected to follow.
For example, Vancouver has allowed the sale of medical marijuana by licensed dispensaries since 2015. There are now as many as 130 dispensaries on the streets, yet fewer than 20 are licensed and operating within the regulations. Many sellers were denied licences because they violated regulations, including zoning bylaws requiring them to be at least 300 metres from schools, community centres and homes.
These sellers have refused to pay fines and continue to peddle their illegal wares in flagrant disobedience of the law. Some medical marijuana stores even have doctors on hand to provide medical marijuana prescriptions to those who may not feel comfortable approaching their own family physician.
The large number of sellers raises the obvious question — where are they getting their marijuana?
Not from licensed producers. The amounts being sold can only be supplied by illegal sources. A recent report in a Vancouver newspaper conservatively claimed that Vancouver’s illegal dispensaries sell more marijuana in one month than all the licensed producers in Canada sell in three months.
So much for the promised regulated sale of licensed medical marijuana to only those who have legitimate marijuana prescriptions. In every area where regulations and laws have been changed to allow greater access to marijuana, advocates have abused the privileges granted to them.
This arrogance is growing tiresome and the public will react as its right to not be consumed by marijuana smoke is increasingly infringed upon. Landlords and property owners are making headlines by raising concerns about marijuana smoking in rental buildings and condos. Most buildings have a strict no smoking policy, but if a tenant has a licence to use medical marijuana, then the stage is set for the strata council meeting from hell.
The plan laid out by the federal government last week for the eventual legalization of marijuana ostensibly gives advocates what they want. But they are already complaining about too many regulations in the Liberal government’s proposed bill, and chances are slim that they will ever abide by the rules anyway.
Susan Martinuk is a Vancouver columnist.