The 4/20 Vancouver Smoke Out is a controversial weed-themed festival that celebrates marijuana and pot culture. It takes place on April 20th each year.
The event started out years ago as a protest, but, especially now that cannabis is legal in Canada, it’s arguably really just a giant free festival.
Now called the “420 Vancouver Protest and Farmers Market”, the festival would have celebrated its 26th year on April 20th in 2020. However, due to the ban on large gatherings caused by COVID-19 the festival was cancelled that year. The 2021 event was also cancelled (although a couple of hundred people still showed up).
In years when it does take place, the event is one of many “4/20” events that take place around Canada and the world. All started out as protests against the illegal status of marijuana, and today the Vancouver event is the longest running 4/20 event on the planet.
420 Vancouver in 2020
In 2020 the 420 Vancouver event was supposed to take place at Sunset Beach on Monday, April 20th from noon until 8 pm. The event was cancelled due to the coronavirus and the ban on large gatherings.
420 Vancouver is always a large event and attracts thousands of people in normal years. Folk travel from all over to see it.
What to Expect
At the 420 Vancouver event you can expect to see thousands of people, hundreds of market stalls and all kinds of marijuana-related products, paraphernalia and souvenirs. There are t-shirts and tie-died clothing to buy, pot-infused edibles to check out, weed to purchase and clouds of smoke and smells in the air.
Bands play live music at the event, there are people openly smoking dope, and there is also a police presence (although officers are there primarily just to make sure nothing gets too far out of hand, not to arrest people).
Although an unsanctioned event involving illegal activities and banned substances, even today in Canada’s new world of legalized pot, 420 Vancouver is a safe and relatively well-run event. Despite the clear police presence, unless they do something really stupid, folk are generally no more likely to get arrested at this event than any other regular festival. This is Vancouver after all!
The History of 4/20 and the Vancouver Event
The 4/20 movement began in California in the 1970s as a pot-smoking social event among a small group of friends. It developed into a movement though, as a protest against laws criminalizing the use of marijuana. The event gets its name from the date the event has always taken place on – April 20th, or 4/20.
420 Vancouver is one of a number of 4/20 events that sprang up around North America. The first Vancouver 4/20 protest took place in 1995 at Victory Square in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. A couple of years later the event moved to the plaza outside the Vancouver Art Gallery where it remained until 2015.
At its new downtown venue the crowds grew from just over 1000 people in the first year or so up to over 30,000 by the end. In 2016 the event moved to its current location at Sunset Beach.
Why is it so Controversial?
420 Vancouver is a controversial event for a number of reasons. An obvious one is its theme. Pot and cannabis culture are controversial topics, and especially so until they were legalized in Canada in 2018.
In more recent years 420 Vancouver has been controversial because of the damage it causes each year, its costs to the city and its continued ignoring of municipal bylaws (like that of no smoking in public parks).
Each year, since moving to Sunset Beach, there have been thousands of dollars of damage to the park’s lawns because of the crowds of people involved. Especially in years with rainy weather, the lawns get trashed.
As 420 Vancouver is a “protest”, however, and not a “festival”, or so it still claims. As a result it has to-date managed to avoid these huge expenses (much to the frustration of some local taxpayers).
2019 was almost definitely the last year that the festival takes place at Sunset Beach for a number of reasons. One is because the venue is a public park where “smoking” isn’t permitted. A second reason is that the Vancouver Park Board doesn’t want the event held at the park because of the smoking issue, but also because of the damage caused by all the thousands of people that attend.
A third reason the event likely won’t happen again at Sunset Beach, now that cannabis is legal in Canada, is that it’s hard to argue that the event is still really just a “protest” and not a “festival.” As a festival, going forward, it will have to follow the rules (and obey bylaws including those of the Vancouver Park Board).
Who Goes to Vancouver’s 4/20 event?
A lot of the attendees of the event go for the weed and “pot culture”, and because they support the festival’s protest history and the camaraderie of the movement and the festival. Many also go to stock up on marijuana. At the same time, however, many attendees also just go because they are curious, or want to enjoy the free concerts and festive atmosphere.
Not everyone at 420 Vancouver is a pothead, and many in fact have never actually smoked a joint (although they are definitely in the minority).
Despite being a controversial event involving both illegal and semi-legal substances, and despite the fact that smoking in public isn’t permitted and that second-hand smoke can be harmful to one’s health – if you ignore all that – 420 Vancouver is a surprisingly family-friendly event. You’ll see people there of all ages, but especially young adults as well as older folk who enjoy pot culture.
Tips and Advice
Below is some extra information to help you make the most out of your 420 experience.
TIP #1: If you plan to consume cannabis don’t drive afterwards. Plan how to get home in advance. And even if you don’t plan to “consume” any products, consider taking public transit anyways. Parking will be difficult and, if you stay for any period of time, unless you plan to wear a gas mask, you’ll likely breath enough smells to make you legally impaired anyways.
TIP #2: Just because the event takes place in public and there are police in the area, and nobody is getting arrested, doesn’t mean that products for sale are legal. Many of them aren’t. Marijuana can only be sold legally at and by officially-licensed stores and distributors (which vendors at the event are not). It is also illegal to sell pot to minors.
TIP #3: If buying and using drugs, including recently legalized ones, do so carefully if at all. Even otherwise “safe” drugs aren’t always safe (as evidenced by Vancouver and North America’s current fentanyl crisis). Drugs are addictive and drugs can kill. Also, smoking anything has health consequences. To be safe, buy your pot from an “authorized” dealer.
TIP #4: Even if you don’t plan to buy or consume any weed yourself, don’t attend 420 Vancouver if, soon after, you plan to (1) attend a job interview, (2) visit grandma or your boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents, or (3) take an international flight or cross the US border. Odds are, at least until you bath and wash your clothes, you’ll smell of pot.
For more information about the event see the 420 Vancouver website.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Free Events in April
- Vancouver on a Budget
- Vancouver’s Top Beaches
- English Bay Beach
- Vancouver’s West End
- Lower Mainland Farmers Markets