This 4/20 was a real trip: thousands of cannabis-loving citizens rallying together for a day of peaceful protest and celebration – and on the same day, Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson appears from the shadows of Ottawa to re-announce the Conservatives’ War on Marijuana Culture.
The crowd at the Vancouver Art Gallery gathered much earlier this year, and I commented to several of my friends and fellow activists that there were more people assembled at 10:30am than last year at noon; the grey clouds looming overhead didn’t deter the many dedicated smokers.
“When I looked out the window this morning and saw that it was raining I thought, only the hardcore people are going to show up,” notorious 4/20 Master of Ceremonies David Malmo-Levine shouted to the crowd. “And it’s true, we’re all hardcore!”
Another thing that stood out as different from years before: the open sales of cannabis and cannabis edibles in dedicated booths and kiosks. In previous years, plenty of pot pedlars pushed through the crowd selling their wares but did not have tables or tents. This year, there were all kinds of goodies available on demand, and it didn’t take long before I treated myself to a bottle of cannabis-infused lemonade that tasted delicious and had me floating through the crowd taking photos.
I saw 4/20 event organizer Jacob Hunter in the crowd and he looked dishevelled as he told me the people with the sound system hadn’t shown up yet. I asked if there was anything I could do to help, and he pointed me in the direction of Randy Tait, a traditional dancer and storyteller from the Gitksan/Nisga’a Nation who was about to perform a smudging ceremony on the busy staircase of the Art Gallery. After clearing a spot in the crowd, Randy rolled out his traditional tools, including a bowl where he burned what looked like tobacco and other herbs and performed a ritual cleansing of the event. Other than a few wisecrackers, the crowd seemed to enjoy the mystical offering that successfully banished any lingering negative vibes.
By this time Rasta Mike and the sound guys had finally shown up and were setting-up on stage. Jacob grabbed me out of the crowd and told me the team from local radio station Classic Rock 101 were planning on going live on-location in five minutes, but needed a generator to send the signal. We quickly made our way to the other side of the Art Gallery where musicians were setting up for a day of live music and marijuana smoking. Adam, a rally organizer and friend, pointed us in the direction of a gas-powered generator that we hauled over to guys at the Rock 101 tent. As a reward for completing our task, Adam handed each of us a chocolate cup wrapped in silver foil.
“Be careful with that,” he warned me. “It’s an aphrodisiac.”
Without thinking about it, I munched half of what I thought was a delectable pot-treat. Just then I felt a few raindrops, which turned into a steady downpour.
I soon found my friend Miranda Nelson, a local editor who was covering 4/20 for Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, and my roommate Amanda. Neither had smoked and both wanted to get high.
“I’m already too fucking high,” I told Amanda as I started to see unusual colors and floral-like patterns in the corners of my eyes. “This must be some really good lemonade.”
A few minutes later I realized that I must have been unwittingly dosed with psilocybin – magic mushrooms. It was simply too strong to be a marijuana high and the familiar feeling quickly overtook my body.
“That is what Adam must have meant when he warned me about the chocolates,” I said. “I’m on shroomies!”
From then on, 4/20 took on a deeper significance, to say the least. Though my thoughts were entirely peaceful, I was hit with the realization that I was on the front lines in a growing cultural war. I envisioned millions of cannabis-lovers across the planet battling a gargantuan governmental war machine. We were freedom fighters for cannabis – representatives of all possible walks of life brought together under the banner of a plant, and mobilized with a message of peace and liberty.
I found Marc Emery at the Rock 101 tent wearing a headset and broadcasting live to thousands of listeners in Vancouver and abroad. After his segment, I approached DJs Dean and Hatch and tried to ask them some questions. They both gave me an odd look like they had no idea what I was talking about, which told me the mushrooms were working their magic.
I managed to spit out something like, “why are you down at the rally today boys?”
With a classically stoned expression on his face one of the DJs said, “I don’t know man… I don’t have a clue…” provoking laughter from onlookers. “Seriously though, several thousand people show up, there is something happening here, we want to be there to cover the action for those who will be unable to attend.”
“The other reason is we are in the tower right above,” the other DJ jumped in. “Last year we were down here with a cell phone doing cut-ins, this year we just decided ‘why aren’t we down here live on the air?’ It’s a cultural event, it’s a Vancouver happening, it’s something our audience has grown up with – Rock 101 is the home of Pink Floyd, so of course we’re going to be here!”
It was still a couple hours before 4:20 and already the crowd was packed so tight it was nearly impossible to gain any ground. I made my way to the stage after meeting up with my girlfriend Carina and a couple more friends to survey the crowd, which must have been close to 8,000.
Right next to us on the stairs were two photojournalists from Canada’s Canwest media empire. They were very nice guys who politely denied the joints that were passed in their direction. We had an interesting conversation, and some how I ended up photographed for The Province and Sun newspapers and Global Television smoking a little pipe passed to me by a friend in the crowd.
As the day went on, I listened to the rallying cries of some of the leaders of this cannabis cultural movement, like activist Jodie Emery, who warned the crowd about the dangers of the current political climate in Canada.
“Stephen Harper – he’s not my Prime Minister, but he calls himself the Prime Minister of Canada,” she said, “he wants you all in jail. So when the next election comes up, get your asses out and vote! If you don’t vote, you’re letting some backwards hick vote to put you in prison. If you don’t vote and say ‘I don’t deserve to go to jail’, someones going to vote to send you to jail.”
In the thick of the crowd, I managed to speak with Vancouver activist Neil Magnuson, who told me he was impressed with this year’s event.
“The last four or five years have been packed, escalating to this,” he said. “You can’t move anywhere near the Art Gallery, but it’s raining. It’s been raining all day and it is still packed. What a statement!”
When the clock struck 4:20pm, the fog didn’t lift for at least 10 minutes. A giant purple haze clouded the grounds of the Art Gallery as doobie after doobie was sparked and passed on; thousands peacefully celebrated cannabis with no police officers in site.
Later that night when the news reports began to flood in, I was amazed at the huge crowd present on the front lawn of Parliament Hill and other numerous locations across North America. I also learned that in the face of these thousands of Canadian citizens demanding justice and fair treatment as a legitimate cultural entity, Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson defiantly re-announced the Conservative Party’s draconian drug policy – an all out declaration of Cultural War on cannabis users – that includes mandatory minimum sentences for growing even one marijuana plant.
“We’re not the party that will be decriminalizing this,” he said. “We don’t encourage this kind of activity. But we have zeroed in on our drug bill, it targets people who traffic, people who import, export drugs, manufacture, people in the grow-op business.”
“That’s my advice to anybody here who’s smoking up, that they should tell their supplier that when our government introduces a drug bill, they won’t like it.”
My earlier feelings of cultural oppression flooded back, and I was reminded again of the words of activist David Malmo-Levine, who wrote, “We must not let the scapegoaters of today get away with their forced assimilation, their Gentle Genocide, just because they have figured out a way to destroy who we are without killing our bodies.”
Viva 4/20 and the cannabis culture!