Sunset Beach may have gone to pot last week, but pot most certainly won’t be going to the PNE next year.
Or the year after that.
That’s according to PNE spokesperson Laura Ballance, who spoke to the Courier five days after the annual 4/20 smoke-out tore up fields near the beloved beach and was the subject of widespread media derision.
Ballance confirmed that rally organizers met with the PNE board earlier this year and were told the smoke show was a no go for a litany of reasons: liability and insurance issues, union considerations, non-smoking regulations and “100 per cent” neighbourhood opposition.
“We looked at their business case and we looked at how that would work as an event at the PNE and we said no to the event at that time,” Ballance said. “To be perfectly honest, we don’t see that ever changing.”
That sits just fine with a number of Hastings-Sunrise residents who contacted the Courier en masse, out of the blue on Wednesday. A torrent of unsolicited calls and emails came into the Courier from those living within walking distance of the PNE. All of them were opposed to the rally taking place there, and most were opposed to the notion of cannabis use in general.
They cited concerns around the influx and type of people the rally attracts, how it would affect the area’s greenspace, noise and just about anything else.
“We do not need more trouble,” resident Kathy Cool said in an email. “Please do not promote 420 celebrations here as we are trying to cut down on drug-influenced people hanging out on and near our properties.”
Roy Tang called the Courier to say that while he hasn’t been to any of the past rallies, they seem “unsafe.”
“The 4/20 protest, based on the previous protests, it seems to be very messy,” Tang said. “There are a lot of people and it seems to be unsafe.”
Fellow Hastings-Sunrise resident Vicki Donoghue fears the rally would have grave impacts on what little greenspace there is in the area. Instead, Donoghue says it should be held at the Malkin Bowl or somewhere else in Stanley Park.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why in the name of goodness would they put an impactful, horrible event like the 4/20 celebration in our neighbourhood?’”
The reefer madness that played out Wednesday was eerily similar to what happened to Vancouver city councillors and rally organizers alike in early March. Within 24 hours of the PNE being floated as a location, absolute opposition wafted into councillor inboxes like few other issues this year.
4/20 co-organizer Dana Larsen said that opposition is more philosophical than practical — those opposed to the rally are intrinsically against marijuana, its impending legalization and the culture surrounding the plant. That said, he doesn’t doubt some are upset by the traffic tie-ups and field damage that came about this year.
“There are certainly people who don’t like cannabis, who don’t like our event and think we are bad folks,” he told the Courier. “But aside from all these hand-wringing editorials, most of the feedback I get directly is positive.”
Larsen’s group says the PNE is the ideal location because of its history in staging large-scale events — the port-a-potties, staging equipment and other infrastructure needs are already there. The money his group would typically spend to rent items would instead go directly to the PNE.
“It has the services we need, it allows for better crowd control for age limitations… in every way it seems like an easier space to control,” he said.
As for the damaged field at Sunset Beach, Larsen said his group will “happily pay” those costs as long as the bill isn’t inflated to include anything beyond those specific expenditures. He expects to receive a bill from the park board for the re-seeding and associated labour that should be somewhere around $5,000.
“Not only did we offer, but we agreed beforehand that we would cover those costs,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s made to sound like there is some sort of hostility involved. We are more than happy to cover the park seeding costs.”
Larsen also countered board chair Michael Wiebe’s claim that organizers were mandated to lay down a protective surface across the fields. Instead, Larsen said that idea was opposed by emergency services due to safety concerns.
The park board has yet to tabulate the final cost of the field damage.