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Vancouver 4-20 celebration and protest a no-show at Sunset Beach amid police crackdown

Sunset Beach in Vancouver is seen on April 20, 2024, after officials set up fences to deter 4-20 protesters and police cracked down on unlicensed cannabis vending. (CTV News) Sunset Beach in Vancouver is seen on April 20, 2024, after officials set up fences to deter 4-20 protesters and police cracked down on unlicensed cannabis vending. (CTV News)
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Cannabis enthusiasts and would-be protesters who went to Vancouver's Sunset Beach expecting a 4-20 festival this year were met instead with fences and police officers.

The Vancouver Police Department shared a photo on social media of a one-page handout it said officers were distributing to 4-20 protesters "throughout the city." 

"The Vancouver Police Department has clearly communicated to event organizers that the right to assemble and protest will be supported, while there will also be consideration of the need to enforce applicable laws, including laws governing the sale and possession of cannabis," the document reads, in part.

"If you are considering selling cannabis at this event, we encourage you to communicate with police officers present to ensure that you are in compliance with the law, including the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act that requires an individual to hold a valid licence and demonstrate that any cannabis is legally sourced."

Online event listings advertised an event at Sunset Beach with vendors and a stage, but none of that could be seen Saturday. 

Instead, blue metal fencing had been set up around the area where the gathering was planned.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation issued a statement Friday calling the 4-20 gathering "unpermitted" and "non-sanctioned," and promising to fence off certain areas of the park "to prevent ground and turf damage."

The park board said it also planned to close the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, the Sunset Beach washrooms and the parking lots for Sunset Beach, English Bay and the aquatic centre.

"Park rangers, the Vancouver Police Department and City Protective Services will be present throughout the day to support public safety," the statement reads.

Fences were also set up at Thornton Park, according to longtime Vancouver 4-20 organizer Dana Larsen, who was not involved in planning events held this year or last year, but did endorse a gathering that took place in Thornton Park last year.

Larsen wrote on social media that the park board and the VPD had "aggressively worked to shut down any 4-20 events this year," calling the move "pathetic." 

With the planned gathering at Sunset Beach essentially shut down, many 4-20 revellers relocated to the south plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery at Robson Square.

Just outside Robson Square, Sgt. Steve Addison with the VPD told CTV News officers were at Sunset Beach “first thing this morning” to hand out the notice to vendors.

“We spoke to a number of people who were arriving to set up and when we informed them that their products could be seized due to a contravention of the CCLA, a number of people chose not to participate,” he said.

“Certain people chose to relocate here; other people chose to just go home,” he said. “Ultimately the major 4-20 gathering that we saw in downtown Vancouver today happened here at the art gallery.”

Shortly after 4:20 p.m., the VPD shared a photo of numerous bags of dried cannabis and other products it said officers had confiscated from a vendor "who refused to stop illegally selling" outside the art gallery.

Addison said that police issued “some” tickets for selling cannabis without a permit, but told CTV News he couldn’t specify how many tickets were handed out or how much product was seized. 

In years past, especially before the COVID-19 pandemic, annual 4-20 protests at the art gallery and later at Sunset Beach drew thousands of participants, including numerous vendors selling cannabis and cannabis-related products.

Police have generally refrained from seizing vendors' products during previous 4-20 events.

Addison maintained the VPD’s approach this year was similar to previous 4-20s since the legalization of recreational cannabis—namely, “educating people about the CCLA.”

“Our role here is public safety; our role here is to facilitate a peaceful and lawful protest,” he said, adding that no major issues arose at the events.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Kaija Jussinoja

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