National Newswatch

VANCOUER, B.C. — Police in Vancouver are asking parents to have a "tough" conversation with their teenagers about the dangers associated with marijuana at a large unsanctioned 4-20 event while city and park board officials call on organizers to pay for policing costs.

Sgt. Jason Robillard said Wednesday the 25th annual event, featuring vendors selling marijuana, baked edibles and drug paraphernalia, is expected to be a big draw on Saturday because of a concert by California hip-hop group Cypress Hill.

Police will focus on arresting anyone selling marijuana to minors at the Sunset Beach gathering, which typically attracts several thousand people, Robillard said.

He said it's up to parents to talk to their kids about the overall risks of attending such a large event that may also involve other drugs. Enforcement will take into consideration the safety of the public and police officers, he added.

Jody Emery, one of the organizers behind the 420 Vancouver Events Society, said vendors are required to put up signs saying marijuana will be sold only to people aged 19 and over. Vancouver Coastal Health will have similar signage and the society provides pamphlets on the responsible use of cannabis.

"Because of all the scrutiny and fear mongering that 4-20 receives every year vendors know there are high stakes involved," she said. "To our knowledge, vendors are very compliant with requests for ID and age limits."

Emery said this year's event is expected to attract a bigger "pot tribe" on what's considered a holiday, celebration and protest against the stigmatization of marijuana use, featuring a Latino band known for its pro-cannabis political activism.

"It's a self-funded, non-profit event," Emery said.

"In order to pay for the cost of security, toilets, first aid and ambulances and everything else requested by authorities, our non-profit has to raise money so it makes sense to bring a group like Cypress Hill to raise more sponsorships."

She said the society was denied a permit by the park board last year and will refuse to pay for policing because unlike other groups, including the Pride Parade and Celebration of Light fireworks show, it does not receive subsidies from the city.

However, the city said Pride is among those designated as a civic parade, with funding to offset policing and traffic management costs. It said the Celebration of Light is run by a non-profit society and it is sponsored by the city. Unlike 4-20, it said all the events are held with a permit.

"We are holding the organizers of 4-20 liable for all costs incurred by the city," it said in a statement. "Our intention is to recover all costs."

The city said 4-20 cost it more than $237,000 last year and organizers paid the municipality and park board a total of $63,000.

"The city still has significant concerns regarding the commercial nature of the event and questions the characterization of that activity as a protest," it said.

Park board commissioner John Coupar said 4-20 organizers added the hip-hop band just last week.

"It's a huge expense to the taxpayer and people are making a lot of money off this thing," Coupar said. "It's no longer a protest but a significant commercial, profitable event."

He said the city could take action, including closing streets to prevent sound equipment from being taken into the park.

"I think we should see some more leadership from the mayor," Coupar said.

A spokesman for Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he wasn't available for comment.

— Follow @CamilleBains1 on Twitter.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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