Weather forecasts included a thick cloud of marijuana smoke over western Canada’s biggest city on Friday, as thousands of users gathered in downtown Vancouver for a massive rally.
The city closed a major road in the financial district for the day-long annual demonstration, in which attendees are urged to light up.
Organizers predicted a crowd this year of as many as 20,000, compared with police estimates of 4,000 attendees last year.
“We’re expecting a healthy-sized crowd,” police Constable Lindsey Houghton said.
Called “420” for the 20th day of the fourth month, the event has murky beginnings. It reportedly began decades ago at a California high school where a group of students lit up joints at 4:20pm, when classes ended.
The event has spread throughout North America and around the world.
While activists use the day to press for decriminalization or legalization of the drug, for others it is an excuse to party.
“Have a safe happy holiday my fellow stoners! I’m off to smoke a fattttttttttttttttttttty :)” posted the Facebook group 420, based in Vancouver and with more than 200,000 followers, referring to a sizable marijuana joint.
For more than a decade, this Pacific port city has tackled illegal drugs as a health instead of a criminal issue, bucking North America’s so-called “war on drugs.” Meanwhile, it has become a global center of the annual April 20 celebration of marijuana.
Most local activists for marijuana decriminalization or legalization say the herb should be regulated and minors should not smoke pot.
Drug researcher Tim Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia at the University of Victoria, said much scientific research supports legalization, or at least decriminalization for health and social reasons.
“In Australian, US and European jurisdictions where laws have been relaxed, the sky has not fallen,” he said. “It’s not a completely benign substance, but on a scale of harm, it rates below alcohol and tobacco, as well as cocaine and heroin.”