4/20 party organizers lose their mellow

Members accuse leader of stealing money from event

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The organizing committee behind the subdued 4/20 cannabis celebration expected at the Manitoba Legislative Building this Saturday has been torn apart by internal political rifts over the past year, as former participants accuse head organizer Steven Stairs of embezzling money meant to fund the event — allegations Stairs vigorously denies.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/04/2019 (1325 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The organizing committee behind the subdued 4/20 cannabis celebration expected at the Manitoba Legislative Building this Saturday has been torn apart by internal political rifts over the past year, as former participants accuse head organizer Steven Stairs of embezzling money meant to fund the event — allegations Stairs vigorously denies.

Tracey Cecchini, who identified herself to the Free Press as a member of the Winnipeg 420 Organizing Committee, said other committee members and event sponsors “all pitched in money” to help fund the event last year.

“Unfortunately the money was never put into the treasury, the money was mishandled,” said Cecchini.

Winnipeg 420 Organizing Committee head organizer Steven Stairs camped out overnight to be first in line when cannabis became legal last year. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“He was using it to throw parties at his house, he was paying his rent, he wasn’t putting it back into the 420 (Organizing Committee) for our permits, and (for) what we were going to do for this year.”

Cecchini said she and others have since left the Winnipeg 420 Organizing Committee. They’ll host their own “4/20 Spring Clean-up BBQ” on Saturday afternoon at 410 Pritchard Ave., which she said is meant as a community-friendly alternative to the gathering at the legislature.

“We don’t want (Stairs) speaking for us anymore,” she said. “He’s made a bad example in the community, and that’s not what we want.”

Asked about the allegations on Thursday, Stairs said the claim he took money inappropriately from the group was “completely inaccurate”. He also said Cecchini was a volunteer, and never a member of the committee.

Stairs acknowledged spending some committee money on rent, which he said was appropriate because the organization was run out of his home. The only party he ever threw with committee money was a single volunteer appreciation dinner, he said.

Former committee member Thaddeus Conrad said his business Med-Man Brand, which describes itself as a weed-seed-feed company, has helped fund the last three 4/20 events by paying for insurance and permits.

Steven Stairs has been a longtime cannabis advocate. He is denying accusations he used money destined for 4/20 celebrations for his own use. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Conrad said he donated more than $15,000 worth of product to the Winnipeg 420 Organizing Committee to sell for fundraising purposes last year, but alleged Stairs spent the profits on parties. Conrad cut ties with the committee last October, and said many others have also left in the past year.

“There was always just a lot of conflict, where people weren’t appreciated or treated properly,” Conrad said.

For his part, Stairs said the group never received the $15,000 in donated product from Conrad, which led to a dispute.

Stairs, who is facing assault charges related to an incident in Osborne Village in January, said it’s true members of the organizing committee have left in the past year, but others have stayed on.

“I didn’t embezzle anything,” said Stairs, who added that the Winnipeg 420 Organizing Committee was run transparently and always posted meeting minutes online. He described the allegations against him as “purely a smear attack.”

“I would gladly open up receipt books… I have so much proof that shows (the Winnipeg 420 Organizing Committee) was struggling to maintain itself as an organization, that there was no money for me to be blowing on parties or trips or whatever,” said Stairs. “It’s absurd.”

There will be competing 4/20 events this year after some members of the organizing committe left the group over allegations of financial irregularities. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

 

solomon.israel@freepress.mb.ca   

@sol_israel

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