4/20 is Cheap, the Weed War is Expensive

CANNABIS CULTURE- Media coverage of Vancouver’s 4/20 protest festival is very different from that given to every other event in the city. While stories about festivals like Vaisakhi or the Pride Parade focus on the revenues generated by local businesses and the economic benefits these community events bring, our cannabis event s viciously attacked in the media as some kind of drain on civic resources.

Yet in fact the complete opposite is true. BC’s cannabis industry is one of our province’s biggest economic engines. The cannabis industry and associated businesses employ hundreds of thousands of people across the province, bringing wealth and prosperity to many rural and urban communities. Without the strength of their local cannabis industry, many regions of our province would have long since become destitute ghost towns.

The real waste of money is not the trivial amount spent hosting the 4/20 protest festival once a year. The true drain on city resources is the massive cost of enforcing cannabis prohibition!

Canada spends about 1.2 billion dollars a year enforcing our archaic and bigoted laws against cannabis. If we divide that figure up evenly across the country, we see that our share in Metro Vancouver is about $84 million a year, which comes to over $230,000 every single day!

Where’s the headlines about this massive waste of money? While newspapers fall over themselves to be scandalized by 100 grand going towards policing 4/20 once a year, they are silent about the much bigger expense of fighting the pointless war against cannabis plants and those who use them.

Vancouver owes its cannabis community a big debt of gratitude

The fact is that Vancouver’s cannabis activists have saved the city many millions of dollars over the years.

Vancouver used to waste major police resources raiding bong shops and busting people for selling vaporizers. Our activism put an end to that practice, allowing VPD to focus on solving real crimes that actually cause harm.

The same goes for cannabis possession. It was our community activism that changed VPD policy on cannabis, stopping the wasteful practice of making arrests for a few grams of bud. This has saved local taxpayers millions of dollars each year, as well as keeping our court system available for more important cases.

All of Vancouver owes a debt of gratitude to our local cannabis community. The bravery and sacrifice of local activists has saved our city many millions of dollars, and created better policing which benefits everyone in our city.

Local dispensaries also save taxpayer’s money as well, in several important ways.

Studies from the US have shown that access to local cannabis dispensaries reduces use of opiates and associated overdoses by about 25%. Given this information, we can determine that we’d have 25% more opiate overdoses in Vancouver without the presence of dispensaries. Given the high social and economic costs of the current opiate crisis, it’s clear that dispensaries are already saving lives, and saving money, by offering a safer alternative to opiate use.

Another way dispensaries save money is by reducing our health care costs. Recent studies have shown that medical cannabis users are able to dramatically reduce their use of pharmaceutical drugs, which are generally subsidized by . When a patient gets better relief from cannabis and is able to stop using pharmaceuticals, that improves their quality of life, and also saves our health care system a considerable expense.

Dispensaries also save money by providing a safer alternative to alcohol and other drugs. In the same way that many patients substitute cannabis for more expensive and dangerous pharmaceuticals, many users substitute cannabis for alcohol, tobacco and street drugs. When someone switches from alcohol, tobacco or street drugs and begins using cannabis instead, they are making a responsible choice, and they’re also saving us all significant costs to our health care system.

It’s time for Vancouver to recognize that the cannabis activists are right, and that the cannabis community deserves equal treatment. The real waste of taxpayer’s money is the ongoing cost of using our police and court system to harass, punish and imprison people over cannabis.

Dana Larsen
Dana Larsen

Dana Larsen is the author of "Green Buds and Hash" and "Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone" and a well-known Vancouver cannabis activist, businessman and politician. He served ten years as editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine, is the co-founder of the Vancouver Seed Bank, founder of the Vancouver Dispensary Society, and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Cannabis Dispensaries. Larsen was a founding member of the BC Marijuana Party and the Canadian Marijuana Party. In 2003 he joined the NDP, running as an NDP candidate in 2008. In 2011, he ran for the Leadership of the BC NDP. Larsen is also founder and director of Sensible BC, Canada’s largest grassroots cannabis reform organization.