CANNABIS CULTURE – Every year on the first of July, thousands of ardent marijuana-lovers gather in downtown Vancouver for Cannabis Day; a patriotic, pot-infused celebration that has over time developed into an open marketplace for THC-laden treats of all types.
Designed to coincide with Canada’s national holiday, the event is held at the Vancouver Art Gallery and is one of the two largest protest rallies in the city (4/20 is the other) and this year featured music and speeches by well-known Vancouver activists like David Malmo-Levine, Dana Larsen, and Jodie Emery, wife of Prince of Pot Marc Emery.
The first microphones and joints were sparked at Noon, with a large crowd already gathered and several vendors ready to sell their pipes, t-shirts, seeds, and more. Organizers estimate roughly 7,000 people in attendance throughout the day, and by the time of the huge smoke session at 4:20, the crowd had overflowed from the Art Gallery grounds onto surrounding streets.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the successful rally was the non-confrontational police presence and response in the face of open public marijuana sales – a stark contrast to the actions of baton-wielding, head-smashing police at the G20 protests in Toronto, but something Vancouver’s cannabis community has come to expect and appreciate deeply.
“I think Vancouver police are the standard to which all police across Canada need to hold themselves to when it comes to dealing with peaceful protest,” Cannabis Day organizer Jacob Hunter told Cannabis Culture. “I frankly think VPD should be conducting training seminars for every other police department in the country on how to deal with peaceful assembly.”
Police numbers at the rally were few, with officers occasionally patrolling the crowd and walking casually past tables stacked with large glass jars and small plastic baggies filled with green buds. Off to the sides of Gallery grounds sat a dozen tents and kiosks selling marijuana by the bud or joint, and a wide assortment of cannabis-infused edibles including brownies, cookies, lollipops, and lemonade.
Many members of the crowd approached officers to shake hands and give their thanks. Police smiled and held up the two-finger ‘peace sign’ and were the picture of politeness.
Hunter says activists have a long-standing, positive relationship with Vancouver police, which is the result of open and honest communications and mutual understandings.
“The Vancouver police know the difference between real crimes that harm people and marijuana sales between adults that don’t,” Hunter said. “It is an understanding among police that there are better things to spend their time on. We really owe the VPD our thanks for showing discretion and restraint.”
Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find another place on the planet where large groups of protestors have had the courage to sell cannabis on the streets so openly, which forces police to temper themselves or make mass arrests.
“It’s unique in that dealers all over the world, including Holland, are facing persecution and the closing of shops,” said Cannabis Day MC David Malmo-Levine, “while here our marketplace is flourishing and anyone can come out and deal with little fear of retribution from authorities.”
I spoke with several of the sellers with tables to find out if they were afraid of being arrested – and to sample some of their fine products, of course (I downed a tasty cannabis-infused lemonade and was flying high after a few minutes).
“There are so many people participating and openly selling,” a pot-seller who preferred to remain anonymous said, “If they arrested me, why not arrest everyone else as well. There is a lot of power in numbers.”
It’s true: there’s power in numbers, and Vancouver police know this. At Vancouver’s Global Marijuana March last May, activists successfully subverted the arrest of one of their own by using “Hug Power”, a technique where several protestors hug the arrestee until police stand down. At each rally, Malmo-Levine addresses the audience and explains the technique, asking for support from the crowd.
“I don’t know anywhere else in the world where smoke-in participants will pledge to physically protect their pot dealers from arrest through non-violent civil disobedience and Hug Power,” Malmo-Levine said.
So how did this open marketplace get started? At a rally in 1996, Malmo-Levine, founder of the Vancouver School of Drug War History held a bud raffle, giving away an ounce or two. Activists also throw free joints to the crowd at 4:20 at most rallies. Seeing the public transfer and open smoking of pot, others began to walk through the crowd selling. Over the years this progressed to hand-made signs and menus and then eventually to tents and kiosks.
Sellers told me Cannabis Day and 4/20 are usually their busiest days of the year, but that it “isn’t all about the money”.
“I am out here for more than the money,” the anonymous pot dealer told me, “and I try to convince as many other dealers as I can to sell here as well, so that people know there is nothing wrong with cannabis. At the moment in British Columbia, you won’t get in much trouble for it, but that could change if we don’t stand up for our rights. We have to keep that mindset going, especially now that Marc Emery is in jail.”
Emery is the Vancouver marijuana activists and former publisher of Cannabis Culture famously extradited to the United States for an expected five-year prison sentence for selling marijuana seeds on the Internet. Emery funded Cannabis Day rallies and other global cannabis activism with millions collected from seed sales, and this is the main reason (according to the DEA’s own press release) that he is now behind bars.
“Free Marc” Campaigners were out in force at the rally collecting petition signatures to bring Marc back to Canada through the Treaty Transfer process, wearing the signature Free Marc shirts and sweaters, which have now been worn by famous supporters like Tommy Chong.
Emery’s wife Jodie, a BC Green Party Director-at-Large, gave an inspiring speech asking for support for her husband and warning of the dangers of the Conservative Government of Canada’s tough-on-crime drug policies.
“It’s true this is the first time Marc Emery, my husband, the Prince of Pot, has not been with us,” she said, “and it’s certainly sad, but we need to use this tragedy to motivate us to action. Because it is not just Marc who is going to be sitting in a prison cell if this government stays in power, a number of you will be put in prison. Every one of you selling marijuana – which is a beautiful, wonderful thing – this government wants you to be in prison, and they are a very dangerous threat to what Canada means.”
Since Emery was extradited, Canadian activists have staged over twenty Conservative Party Office Occupations, some resulting in arrests and police brutality. Protestors have shown up at the offices of several high-profile Conservative lawmakers including Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson appears to be rattled by the protests, sending RCMP officers to homes of cannabis activists and hiring personal body guards.
Emery was released from solitary confinement last week, where he served three weeks for recording a telephone message to supporters. He is currently awaiting sentencing at SeaTac Federal Detention Center in Washington. [Click here for more info on Marc Emery]
“The Cannabis Canada Flag that you see around,” Jodie Emery told the crowd, “that’s the flag that makes me feel pride. When I see our flag flying … that’s freedom. And the Canadian flag will soon be worthless if you don’t get involved, help bring Marc Emery home, save your friends, save yourself, save our country. Peace and pot, Happy Cannabis Day, Free Marc Emery!”