Vancouver 4/20 Celebration Gets Political
CANNABIS CULTURE - This year's 4/20 rally in Vancouver was arguably the largest in size and scope the city has ever seen. It was also the most political, with organizers and speakers focused on one important message: voting Stephen Harper and Conservatives out of power in the May 2 federal election.
Organizers estimate that about 15,000 people crowded onto the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery for the annual event, which happens in major cities around the world every April 20.
4/20 is a celebration of cannabis culture, where peaceful citizens gather together and protest the drug war by getting high - by smoking, vaporizing, and eating or drinking a hell of a lot of cannabis and cannabis-infused goodies.
Armed with an official permit from the city for the first time, organizers set up two stages and a pair of massive sound systems, and the event featured live performances from a lineup of local musicians and hip-hop crews (including a cool band called The Wizards - watch a video clip from their set below).
But this year's event had a decidedly more political edge, and the message was loud and clear on the lips of speakers and written on large signs draped above the main stage: "Stop Stephen Harper, Vote May 2"!
"This government has been building mega prisons and promising very tough, US-style drug laws that would imprison many of the people here," activist and 4/20 organizer Jodie Emery told a journalist from News 1130 radio, "but we are harming nobody."
Jodie and other speakers – including David Malmo-Levine, Jacob Hunter, and Dana Larsen – drilled the message home with mantras about Harper's plans to enact mandatory minimum prison sentences for minor, non-violent marijuana offences.
Also in attendance was a special guest speaker – Deputy Leader of the NDP, Member of Parliament Libby Davies – who warned the crowd that Harper and the Conservatives are a very serious danger to the marijuana community.
"I've been one of the people in Parliament who's been speaking out and saying that the drug laws we have in Canada - not only are they not working but they're actually harmful," Davies said. "We know that one of the things Harper said he's going to do when the Parliament returns if he gets elected, is that he's going to bring back minimum mandatory sentencing for drug crimes ... this is not the kind of law we want to see in this country. So I say 'no' to the war on drugs."
Davies also spoke about Jodie's husband, imprisoned Canadian marijuana activist Marc Emery, who is currently being shuffled from prison to prison in the United States as he serves out a 5-year prison sentence for selling marijuana seeds on the Internet.
"I think it's really unfortunate that Marc Emery, that I know many of us have supported and followed, that he is still incarcerated in the United States and he just lost his first bid to come back to Canada," Davies said. "I want you to know that from day one we've supported him and wanted him to be able to serve his time in Canada - and he should never have been extradited in the first place. And when the DEA came to Canada and decided to make an example of him, we knew we had to stand up for Canadian sovereignty and we had to stand up for Marc Emery and his rights."
This year was the first without the Prince of Pot in attendance, but many in the crowd wore FREE MARC shirts or hoisted signs with images and messages about the activist – and a massive FREE MARC hung from above the main stage. Marc's contribution of millions of dollars to the marijuana legalization movement led to the organizing of the very first 4/20 rally, right here in Vancouver in 1995.
Jodie and other speakers discussed the issue with members of the media, and several press reports mentioned the political message of the day. Most of the mainstream media was there - click here to read some of their stories.
At 4:20 the crowd lit up as music organizer (and musician) Adam Bowen played Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" as a tribute to medical marijuana activist Michelle Rainey and all those lost in the drug war.
With the help of MC David Malmo-Levine's crowd-calming techniques, hundreds of free joints were tossed to the audience and a giant cloud filled the entire block at 4:20pm. The smoke signal was clear: Vote out the Cons on May 2!
Check out the photo gallery of the event below or on Flickr.
All photos by Bert Easterbrook and Jeremiah Vandermeer.
Go here to find out more about the MAY 2 ELECTION and how to strategically vote out the Conservatives.