Critics of the massive 4/20 celebrations in Vancouver are being blunt: organizers need to start paying their own way.
That’s after a leaked memo from Vancouver city staff to council showed the last two pro-marijuana bashes held at Sunset Beach cost taxpayers more than $583,000.
The memo, which was sent on July 13, 2018, breaks down the costs incurred by the city, the Vancouver Park Board, and the Vancouver Police Department in 2017 and 2018 before, during and after the unsanctioned event, which is set to return to Sunset Beach this April despite the city’s objections.
The lion’s share of those costs went to policing: $127,245 was spent in 2017, while the following year the cost went up further to $139,699.
That’s on top of additional costs for officers to set up outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, where protesters initially held the event for years as a pro-legalization rally before moving to Sunset Beach in 2017. Combined, $88,393 was spent over the past two years there.
The Vancouver Park Board has billed organizers $64,870 for their share of the costs, while the city has invoiced them a total of $170,796.
Organizers of the event say they’ve paid the Park Board costs, but add they shouldn’t be on the hook for policing because they consider themselves to be a protest.
“Protests do not pay for policing costs,” organizer Dana Larsen said. “The idea that you can’t hold a protest in Vancouver unless you give a huge amount of money to the police kind of goes against the idea of a democracy.”
But critics say calling the event a protest doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
“Protests don’t have booths,” Kris Sims with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said. “They don’t have commerce tents, they don’t sell t-shirts, they don’t have cookies for sale.
“This is a festival, and it should be treated as a festival, and by that I mean taxpayers should not be footing the bill for this.”
According to the memo, there were 482 vendor tents at the 2018 event. An earlier version of the 4/20 website showed 270 of those were paid for at either $500 or $750 per tent. Those sales would have brought in more than $160,000 to organizers.
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Larsen said that money went towards paying the Park Board and the city, and that he actually loses money by organizing the event.
“4/20 loses me money every year,” he said. “We spent tens of thousands of dollars ourselves on security, on first aid services, on emergencies. We spent a lot of money to make this event safe for the attendees and the community.
“The only way we can raise that money is by selling booth space.”
Last year’s event forced the park board to close Sunset Beach for 10 weeks to repair the damage caused by the event, which saw 40,000 people pack the area.
The damage and the costs incurred by the park board and the city has sparked debate over the future of the event.
Last month, the park board approved a motion to look for a new site. Vancouver city council is in the midst of considering its own motion supporting the decision, which would direct city staff to find a new venue.
— With files from Simon Little