April 20 in Vancouver was a beautiful day; Mother Nature gave the 20,000+ in attendance the perfect weather to rally against unjust and unethical governmental policies in place against marijuana use. The vibes were positive and the crowd was just as you’d expect, social, friendly and stoned.
At first, our booth was seemingly far away from the epicenter of the festivities, but as the afternoon progressed, and the clocked ticked closer and closer to 4:20, the traffic was inevitable. Chris and I spent the afternoon explaining to interested folks about our organization, how Canadian policies vary from other countries, and re-affirming the need for policy change. I was engaged in a few in-depth discussions with folks who were generally curious as to how Canadian laws worked, and our conversations always pointed to larger societal issues and policies surrounding all drug use and the public health considerations. That was great! That was what CSSDP was there to do. However, it is worth mentioning that the only people even remotely interested in what we were there to do were not the youth we so deeply wished to engage.
During my walk around the parameter, I couldn’t help but feel that the real reason we were all meant to gather was lost. It seemed a sea of disengaged youth there for the novelty and ‘cool’ factor. It was as if our consumerism and the government who pioneered it had infiltrated our protest. It felt like a marijuana mall, full of people looking to buy shit. They wanted t-shirts, edibles, stickers, but not information. They wanted the experience without the need of social engagement. The theme of the event this year was on point, “Grow the Vote”, but I couldn’t help but feel that this message was shadowed by the amount of vendors. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for vendors to be there, I understand that it is a business, and I understand the usefulness of such vendors, but in the context it felt misguided. I am not the only one who felt this way either.
As for the hospitalization of 64 people, I think this news is something we can use to our advantage when rationalizing the need for regulation. When you consume too much of anything, you get sick, pot included. It was a hot day, people were packed in like sardines, consuming cannabis all day, it was inevitable that people would surpass their limits and begin to feel ill. Did that take away from the cause? No, as there are almost always hospitalizations at large scale events. Did it give leverage to the fear-mongering media and the legislations they support? Yes. I argue though, that this was simply another repercussion of over-consumption and that if proper regulations were in place (the fact we were there to promote!) most of these incidences could have been avoided.
This year’s rally left me with questions, how do we engage a population so disconnected from the politics and structure that they live within? How do we organize events where the message is strong and embraced? How do we combat the current policies with more than merchandise? We need to shift the movement from being focused on commercializing cannabis culture to promoting safe and responsible policies for legalizing and regulating cannabis.