Cannabis Day 2011 in Vancouver: Peaceful Pot Celebration Sharp Contrast to Drunken Hockey Riots

CANNABIS CULTURE – Hempy Birthday Canada! Thousands of relaxed and red-eyed Vancouverites converged on the downtown Art Gallery on July 1, 2011 for the city’s annual Cannabis Day celebration, an always-peaceful marijuana-themed blowout held on Canada’s national holiday.

The event was in stark contrast to the recent downtown riots that erupted in the city streets after the Vancouver Canucks lost Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals in June.

“It’s pretty apparent that when you have the Molson hockey riot in ’94, things are pretty bad; and when you have the Crown Royal hockey riot in 2011, things are worse,” long-time activist and Cannabis Day MC David Malmo-Levine told Cannabis Culture. “But every year we have thousands of people in the streets and when the event is sponsored by Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa people are just too relaxed and happy to want to break anything.”

Alcohol companies have long been the main sponsors of major sporting events in North America. For years, CBC Televisions’s main hockey program was called Molson Hockey Night in Canada, and now Crown Royal and other liquor companies spend top dollar to have their logos displayed and commercials played during every break. Hockey culture has become nearly synonymous with drinking booze and getting rowdy.

Alternatively, the non-violent, pot-centric Cannabis Day event was sponsored by The Vancouver Seed Bank, The Vancouver Medicinal Cannabis Dispensary, and Cannabis Culture Headquarters. Since its humble beginnings, the rally had been sponsored by Marc Emery, the Canadian marijuana activist and founder of the BC Marijuana Party now imprisoned in the US for selling marijuana seeds online. Over the years, the rally has always been a peaceful celebration of cannabis and hemp.

“The few disruptions we’ve had at our rallies over the past 15 years have come from drunk people,” Malmo-Levine said. “I think alcohol is related to aggression, and I think marijuana is related to thinking twice.”

There was no aggression to be found on Cannabis Day at the Vancouver Art Gallery, just a lot of high and happy people coming together to share their love of the cannabis plant and our country.

Gatherers enjoyed live music organized by Cannabis Day Music Director Adam Bowen (who also runs the BCMP Jams in the Key of Green) and a slate of guest speakers including Princess of Pot Jodie Emery, cannabis historian Chris Bennett, and End Prohibition National Director Nicole Seguin.

Vendors sold bongs, pipes, t-shirts, posters, rolling papers and all types of marijuana tools from kiosks set-up around the perimeter of the Art Gallery grounds.

More remarkable, however, were the large number of cannabis dealers openly selling a rainbow selection of bud, hash, and edibles.

“There were no problems with the police,” Cannabis Day organizer Jacob Hunter told CC. “Overall, it was a great day. We had about 6000 people on site. Everybody I talked to including vendors said they had an excellent time, and some said it was their favorite so far.”

Vancouver may be the only city in the world to host a completely open cannabis farmers market that sells to everyone, not just medical patients. (If you know of any others, please let us know in the comments section below this article.) This is due, in part, to a particular activist technique called Hug Power, developed by Malmo-Levine after watching protest footage of the 1960s.

At events in years past, if police officers attempted to arrest a member of the crowd who was smoking or selling marijuana, other crowd members were instructed by Malmo-Levine to surround and hug the suspect. This made it impossible for police to gain access or arrest the person without using aggressive physical behaviour on a large group – something Vancouver police were apparently unwilling to do. After a few years they decided to leave everyone alone.

“The police don’t want to be caught on film using violent force without justification,” Malmo-Levine said. “After the Rodney King incident, police were much more aware of the ramifications.”

The civil and respectful tone of the cannabis community was on display on Cannabis Day at 4:20pm, when crowds around the main stage parted to make several paths and sat down to receive thousands of free joints handed out by activists.

Click here to go to the Cannabis Day 2011 Flickr gallery by Jeremiah Vandermeer.

Hunter says another reason for the city’s relaxed attitude toward marijuana rallies comes from years of working closely with police and building positive relationships with city officials.

Activist Jodie Emery waves the Cannabis-Canada flag for thousands of stoney supporters at the Vancouver Art Gallery.Activist Jodie Emery waves the Cannabis-Canada flag for thousands of stoney supporters at the Vancouver Art Gallery.He said he sees a relationship between alcohol and violence but doesn’t think liquor was the determining factor in the riots, and he cautioned against blaming booze for the destruction caused in the city centre.

“In a way it is like comparing apples and aircraft carriers,” he said. “What happened at the hockey riots is very complex, and resulted from a perfect storm of problems that goes beyond mere alcohol consumption. One of the major differences is that some instigators came to the riots ready to cause trouble. We don’t have people who come to our rallies specifically to cause trouble, and we are a lot more organized to deal with anyone who does. As an organizer, I have nothing but sympathy for the city and whoever put that live site on before the riot, it was a very difficult situation to control.”

At sporting events in other countries like Portugal and the Netherlands, authorities have openly recognized the calming qualities of cannabis, and have even effectively encouraged crowds to toke up instead of drinking at sporting events to cut down on hooliganism.

Hunter said Vancouver police used a similar tactic during the recent Olympic Games held in the city.

“The Vancouver police made clear to the media and public on several occasions before the Olympics that marijuana was illegal, but they were not out to arrest people for it,” he said. “This resulted in a lot more cannabis than booze being consumed during the Games. If I worked at the city, I would seriously consider reiterating our lowest police priority concerning marijuana before all large city events.”

Jeremiah Vandermeer is editor of Cannabis Culture. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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