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Legalization takes some fire out of 4/20 celebration

Province turns down event application because smoking in public is illegal

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/4/2019 (415 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Saturday will mark the first 4/20 celebration of the legal cannabis era, but the annual smokefest on the front lawn of the Manitoba Legislative Building could be a slow burn compared to previous years.

Last year's April 20 event for marijuana enthusiasts featured a DJ and booths offering everything from cannabis accessories to free hits of concentrated cannabis. Those attractions will be gone this year, according to event organizer Steven Stairs.

The provincial government denied the 4/20 event request because smoking marijuana in public is illegal. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The provincial government denied the 4/20 event request because smoking marijuana in public is illegal. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Stairs said legislature authorities didn't formally approve his event plan for 2019, and told him they wouldn't provide portable toilets.

A government spokesperson confirmed the event request was denied, but noted "Manitobans have the ability to hold rallies on the legislature grounds."

"They have concerns about the fact that now public (cannabis) consumption is illegal — and it's not like it wasn't before — but now there are rules written around it, so therefore they have concerns about allowing an event like that to be held," Stairs said.

Ottawa legalized cannabis six months ago, but Manitoba law makes it illegal to smoke or vaporize the drug in public, which is what cannabis aficionados tend to do on April 20. Public cannabis consumption is punishable by a $672 provincial fine, but Stairs expects people will spend Saturday lighting up on the legislature grounds regardless.

"It'll be a peaceful gathering of civil disobedience, regarding and protesting the current cannabis legislation. I'm sure you'll see people sitting around, gathered up on blankets or chairs… there'll be bongs and pipes and weed smoke all over the place."

From left: Gavin Wolf, Brayden Chartrand, Dylan Johnson and Joseph Lajoie hang out during last year's 4/20 celebrations at the Manitoba Legislative Building. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

From left: Gavin Wolf, Brayden Chartrand, Dylan Johnson and Joseph Lajoie hang out during last year's 4/20 celebrations at the Manitoba Legislative Building. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The Winnipeg Police Service is aware of the 4/20 event, and doesn't plan to interfere.

"Based on the legalization of cannabis, we would look at this as a very low-risk public demonstration where we will, essentially, know that that activity is taking place, but (we) are not going to be taking enforcement action relative to anyone smoking cannabis in public," said Insp. Max Waddell of the organized crime unit, adding police will take action if they observe more serious crimes.

"But as far as just individuals consuming cannabis, just minding their own business and not causing harm to anyone else, we're just going to watch from a distance."

Although inspectors from the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba have the power to issue tickets, the retail cannabis regulator said those inspectors only enforce those laws in licensed spaces, such cannabis stores or events with a liquor permit. As the legislature grounds aren't a licensed space, LGCA inspectors won't show up, said a spokeswoman.

Stairs said the Winnipeg 420 Organizing Committee's planning efforts were less effective this year due to internal political turmoil. Plus, businesses that used to support the event have been hesitant this year, citing concerns over Canada's new cannabis laws.

"Even big supporters that have been involved in years past, like Delta 9 (Cannabis), had to take a hands-off approach this year," he said.

Police will observe Saturday's rally, but won't take any action if they see people smoking. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Police will observe Saturday's rally, but won't take any action if they see people smoking. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

April 20 cannabis events in Canada tend to be part counterculture festival and part political demonstration. Stairs said cannabis advocates can still "acknowledge the fact that there's still so much more to be fixed," citing issues such as provincial laws that leave some cannabis users no place to legally use the drug.

"There's all these little things that there is definitely (a) need to protest still."

Stairs estimates about 1,500 people showed up to last year's 4/20 event at the legislature. He expects anywhere between 1,000 and 2,500 on Saturday, depending on the weather.

solomon.israel@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sol_israel

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History

Updated on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at 2:37 PM CDT: Clarifies Steven Stairs' role in the event.

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