Is 420 A Party Or A Protest? Actually, It’s Both by Russell Barth April 15, 2013

420 flagCFN – A full explanation of the origins and history of 420 can be easily found online, but the short version is this: In 1971 in San Rafael, California, a group of high school students known as The Waldos would meet after school at 4:20 pm to smoke pot together. They would use the term “four twenty” amongst themselves as hallway code for “Let’s get high today, usual time, usual place”, which was by the statue of Louis Pasteur on school property. Over the years, with the help of High Times magazine and The Grateful Dead tours, that story spread. 4:20 pm became a sort of marijuana-users daily “tea-time”, and gradually the date April 20 was commandeered as some sort of International Marijuana Day.

I know – it’s ridiculous. But then so are most annual events that humans still celebrate. Easter springs to mind. How did a story about the crucifixion and resurrection of a deity’s son 2000 years ago turn into hiding coloured eggs and eating chocolate bunnies? Well, that story can also be found online. You might want to look up “The Psychedelic Origins Of Santa Claus” while you are at it.

Every year for the past decade or more, Ottawa, like many other cities around the world, has had a 420 celebration of some sort. And in true Ottawa fashion, we don’t do it anywhere near the same as any other city. Most cities have a single central location that is agreed upon beforehand. Up until last year, 420 Ottawa was an organically-formed event where the majority of participants went to Major’s Hill Park (right across the street from that eyesore of a US embassy) for the huge party/drum circle that occurs there, while another crowd would form on Parliament Hill to break the law on the front lap of the seat of power.

Both locations have their appeal. Major’s Hill is a huge park with space and trees where the Ottawa Police Service have, up until 2012, let the whole thing carry on with very little supervision. It was free, open, and loose. But Parliament Hill is where our federal government is. Toking on the front lawn, while surrounded by dozens of Horsemen and god-knows how many CCTV cameras, sends a message: “We are protesting this unjust law. And we are not afraid.” It is called “civil disobedience”.

And no other city has this distinction. Nowhere on Earth do thousands of people openly break one of the country’s most-often-enforced laws this close to their federal government’s main offices. You don’t see this in Washington, London, Paris, Tokyo, Syndey, or Berlin. It doesn’t even happen in Amsterdam, as far as I know! Only in Ottawa.

Depending on the weather, each location can have anywhere from 1,000-3,000 people, and many people would drift back and forth between the two locations, as they are only a 10-12 minute walk from each other. But it wasn’t until last year that the two crowds came together to form the biggest crowd of stoners (approximately 5,500 people) that Parliament Hill had ever seen.

Usually, this event is under or mis-reported by Canada’s “media”. In 2010, I caught Kevin Newman reporting on Global’s evening news that “a few hundred” people showed up, and that “the police dispersed everyone” shortly after 4:30pm. What actually happened was, 2,500-3,000 people were there, and the RCMP did absolutely nothing to disperse anyone. Everyone just left by 5:00, like always.

But 2012 was the first year – that I know of – that anyone took it upon themselves to attempt to organize an actual event for 420 Ottawa. There have been many organized marijuana protests on Parliament Hill over the years, but no one had organized a 420 event for Ottawa before. Posters were printed and stuck to poles around the downtown, a permit for amplification and power was cleared with Hill security, sound gear was rented and set up, the press were invited, and a Facebook page was created and managed.

On Feb. 25, 2012, before this all happened, I put up a Youtube video, urging people to volunteer, make signs, and do whatever they could think of to get everyone to avoid Major’s Hill Park and go to Parliament Hill. I talked about “achieving critical mass” with one crowd instead of two. It was, I thought, a futile effort, like herding cats (stoned cats, at that) and that maybe only a fraction of the attendees would likely ever see the video. But as it turned out, there was a spike of over 1,900 views on that video for that day alone, and over 1,200 people had seen it in the 7 weeks just before the event. As to how many of the 3,000 viewers actually attended, and how many of those 5,500 attendees saw the video, I’ll never know.

Around 3:15 on April 20, 2012, my wife and I entered Major’s Hill Park expecting to see hundreds of teens and assorted freaks of various ages gathering early for the day’s fun. What we found was about 20 very-organized Ottawa cops telling small circles of kids to leave the park and go to Parliament Hill. Maybe the police saw my video and decided that one big crowd on the RCMP’s turf was better than (yet another) messy free-for-all in a city park.

Well, we can’t thank the OPS enough, because when we got to Parliament Hill a short time later, what we found was 1,200-1,500 people sitting in groups, chilling, while throngs of people continued to stream in for the next 90 minutes. There is even a time-lapse Youtube video from The Hill Cam showing a five hour period from about 1:15 to 6:15pm on that day, not to mention countless other Youtube videos from above, beside, and within the crowd.

The most noticeable thing about the videos is the average age of the crowd. Other than myself and a handful of others, hardly anyone there was over the age of 19, from what I saw. The crowd consisted almost entirely of teenagers. Now, imagine if the police suddenly started arresting people. What do you think would happen?

Since this year’s April 20 falls on a Saturday, the event promises to be even bigger. The organizers have been busy postering and arranging guest speakers, buses full of people from other cities have been chartered, and if the weather holds, I think we can easily expect to see eight to ten thousand people in attendance.

This should not frighten parents. Their kids are probably safer in that crowd than they would be simply walking around the Byward Market. The RCMP are quick to get rid of creeps, and because of the high number of uniforms in the general area, the really bad guys seem to want to keep their distance anyway. If I had kids, I would feel a lot safer knowing my teenager was going to attend an organized and supervised 420 event on Parliament Hill, than I would be if they were just going to some gathering in a park, or a concert, or a house party.

In fact, if parents in Ottawa were smarter, they would come along. They’re the ones who are not only paying for the prohibition that their kids are there protesting, they’re usually paying for the pot their kids are smoking while they do it.

Russell Barth is an Ottawa area activist and educator.

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  1. The Prophet of Pot speaks words of folly -“If I had kids, I would feel a lot safer knowing my teenager was going to attend an organized and supervised 420 event on Parliament Hill, than I would be if they were just going to some gathering in a park, or a concert, or a house party”.

    As far as I know you don’t have children, and therefore your pot induced advise is worthless, and even damaging to well being of many youth, who are duped by your liberal, open mindedness.

    Why do you think it is called dope? Dope for dope heads!

  2. Yesterday CFN censored my response to Mr. Tom Newton, (RE: same-sex marriages) but here we are today, and I have to agree with him…

    There is plenty of evidence about the adverse effects of THC on developing minds of teenagers. Best not to indulge in pot until your brain chemistry is finished developing.

  3. So what time is the best to show up? Is there a permit for the event, because I assume another event will be there earlier than 4:20?

  4. I was walking along Rideau Street in Ottawa one afternoon, unaware of the date or the annual 420 event, and I feel I must share this observation…

    On the 20th of April, at 4:20 in the afternoon, a cloud of marijuana smoke rose from the lawn of Parliament Hill, hovered and built for a few moments, then rolled lazily down Wellington Street. No deaths, property damage, or injuries were reported, and the resulting carnage was confined to pizza and sausages – purchased at food establishments on nearby streets shortly afterward.

    The annual event which played out under the watch of RCMP and Ottawa Police saw no arrests made. This is not to say however that police don’t enforce marijuana laws in other places, or that lives aren’t ruined at the whim of law enforcement at other times. What it does say, is that the enforcement of law has become arbitrary.

    Our nation and culture stand on the “rule of law”, and even the textbooks in our schools explain that when a law becomes unenforceable or society’s values change, then the law must change.

    Sadly, given our Justice and Safety Ministers’ views of Charter Rights, and their blustering compatriots’ support for unequal and arbitrary application of the law, it is more likely that we will see the textbooks change.

  5. Lassie observation is instructive, she writes -“What it does say, is that the enforcement of law has become arbitrary”. And as one continues to lean towards the legalization of pot – more and more life will become arbitrary. The reason so is that more and more will be so drugged out that such will cease to care, and will also be unable to be level headed in anyway so that they might do anything about this state of arbitrariness. “Leave them alone” says the totalitarian state, “they can hurt anyone, and they can’t help themselves either. We have them where we want them. Lite up another one, we won’t stop you!”.

    Lambs to the slaughter – dope heads to the dung hill.

  6. True enough Tom, there is a down side; abuse is a problem, but that is the situation now, even with the weight of overzealous law.

    Much of the disinterest and lack of involvement I saw in the classroom (as a teacher) could be attributed to weed, and lax parenting.

    Too many kids with spending money, thanks to thoughtless parents, …too much free time and too little supervision; it made them prime pickings for the agressive marketing of criminals.

    Thanks to current law, it is criminals (with their greed and low morals) that handle marijuana distribution. And thanks to lacklustre parenting, it is juveniles that make up their market.

    Preaching and punishment isn’t likely to deter the immature among our children, from falling prey to career criminals.

    But if the government were to licence and control, what is already widely available and remove it from the control of criminals, use would drop overall, especially amongst minors.

    Marijuana and its derivatives are to be treated with caution… demonizing the weed only serves to limit common sense.

  7. “But if the government were to licence and control….” When has the government controlled anything and it turned out to be a good thing? Another sin tax, another legalized vice. No thanks!

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