Controversy around Vancouver's 4/20 only fuels protest's existence, says organizer

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Cannabis has been legal for many months now but the controversy over Vancouver's annual 4/20 weed celebration event hasn't subsided.

The Vancouver Park Board held an emergency meeting Monday night and passed a motion asking organizers to cancel a scheduled concert by Cypress Hill, in an effort to control crowd size.

"I consider that request to be ridiculous," said Dana Larsen, one of the organizers of 4/20. "Obviously, we're not going to be cancelling."

Despite cannabis now being legal, he's adamant the need to protest isn't over.

"One of the many things we are protesting is the lack of access of cannabis," he said. "Considering the amount of controversy and discussion [4/20] is generating, it seems to me like it's one of the biggest and most important protests in the city."

Safety concerns

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The park board also hasn't issued a permit for either the event or the concert happening this weekend — something that concerns those responsible for public safety.

"It's hard to plan for something when it's not licensed," said Jonathan Gormick, public information officer for Vancouver Fire and Rescue.

"I can't imagine the size of the crowd that a band like Cypress Hill is going to draw, and that's a big public safety concern."

He worries that emergency responders will struggle if anything goes wrong, whether a medical emergency or a collapsing stage or worse.

"It's going to be absolutely massive and crowds of that size are hard to deal with," Gormick told CBC's The Early Edition. "If we were to have something major … getting people out safely is highly doubtful."

Larsen brushed aside safety concerns, saying the event complies with all the necessary public health and safety standards and works with the city.

"We really comply with everything, including paying all the costs," he said.

According to the park board, last year's event cost the city over $235,000 because of public safety, clean up and other operational costs.

Organizers of 4/20 paid back about $63,000 of that, split between the city and the park board.

"That actually covers all of the costs to the park board and the city other than policing," Larsen said.

"The idea that you've got to give the police a bunch of money to have a protest seems kind of wrong to me, somehow."

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