Things got big for Vancouver's annual 420 beach party along Sunset Beach, like real big.
The scenes along the few hundred metre stretch of beach and park on the edge of English Bay were phenomenal. Thousands, and I'm talking close to fifteen thousand people lined the foreshore of the city's west side downtown district on the toasty 25 degree spring afternoon.
It was all for one reason, weed.
As I was getting off the busier-than-usual city bound bus, the driver wished the commuters a 'Happy 420, stay safe!' and I walked with a mob of people flocking from all over the city in the direction of the beach.
The atmosphere was electric. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and everyone was already buzzing, some having been here all day. Roads were closed, traffic was at a standstill and police cruisers tried to crawl through the streets but were constantly blocked by the crowds.
The set up was insane. I felt like I was at a festival. A huge "420Vancouver" stage sat on the hill at the end of the park, and all I could see between myself and the stage was just people. Everywhere.
It wasn't what you would expect, however. Sure, there were a lot of completely baked odd characters walking around, offering free hugs, brownies, mushrooms, basically anything you could need at an event like this. Although, the majority of people were just local Vancouverites - families even - that either enjoy the occasional spliff or just thought they would come to support a cause that has grown to become a popular norm here in the city.
Weed stalls were everywhere, blokes with baskets full of hundreds of pre-rolled joints - 2 for $5 - wandered around aimlessly shouting their prices. Others just gave out bud for free.
Pot was everywhere, both the actual drug and the clothing, signs and symbols that came with it. Canadian flags with a marijuana leaf instead of the maple leaf were flying high and proud. One man walking on stilts was even dressed up as a giant joint.
My friends and I made our way down into the commotion, doing that awkward shuffle walk thing as we zig-zagged between jammed stalls. I was speechless, with every turn of my head I was thinking 'holy shit, that's a lot of weed.' Bake stalls were selling pot sandwiches, dispensaries - both legit and off the books - were selling dope by the joint, gram and the eighth.
Two fellas had a table with an A4 sign drawn in a green marker stuck to the front that read "Doobie Brothers Rolling Co." The unenthusiastic looks on their faces were as if they had both realised this wasn't the place where novices come to get a little high and their rolling business might need a rethink.
We found our spot on the hill to the left of the stage and sat among the revellers. Shoulder to shoulder, everyone was roasting in the unusually piercing Vancouver sun and the clock ticked closer to 4:20pm. The crowds grew tighter and louder, as at about 4:17 the MC on stage, already obviously stoned out of his mind began a rendition of the Canadian national anthem. His adaptation of 'Oh Canada' to 'Oh Cannabis' was comical for most, albeit predictable and lacking a little creativity.
In an unsurprisingly disjointed and sluggish fashion, someone began to countdown from 16 and those who weren't already smoking up got their lighters and joints ready.
A loud applause along with a few cheers and whistles echoed the city as the clock ticked over to 4:20, and in perfect synchronisation, large plumes of smoke erupted from the crowd. From the air, it would have looked like someone had started a massive bonfire but with fifteen thousand people around it.
Organisers with big bags of joints started throwing them out into the crowd and people scrambled for as many free ones as they could get. A generic reggae beat began blasting over the speakers and people enjoyed a little bounce or a dance with the person closest to them.
If you weren't blazing up yourself, you were definitely feeling the second hand buzz after 60 seconds. The entire crowd, especially those on the hill were taking a puff and passing it along. A joint that started 10 metres away would end up to you eventually and then you'd pass it right back down the line.
I took me a second to realise, but I was sitting on a hill overlooking a beach in Vancouver with fifteen thousand other people having the biggest sesh in the world. And nobody cared at all.
Vancouver Police Department officers walked around in teams of 5 or 6, some stood leant against trees, checking their phones and talking to each other. Vancouver is the kind of city where if a cop caught you walking the street with an open beer, you'd likely be booked or at the least stopped for a serious chat. If they saw you smoking weed, however, they probably wouldn't even think twice and continue with their day.
On my second day in Van, I was waiting to cross a road downtown and a man came up and stood next to me, enjoying a little dooban on his walk home from work. I was surprised at first, intrigued may be the better word, but it didn't take me long to realise this city has a passion - and that was marijuana.
Pot in Canada is a massive enterprise, British Colombia's "BC bud" in particular living up to the hype of its novel nickname. Recent polls that were fittingly released on April 20th reveal that 70% of Canadians support legalisation of marijuana and the freshly elected pretty boy PM, Justin Trudeau, has vocalised his support. Just today, Parliament announced its commitment to introduce a bill into legislation next spring, kicking off some actual progress in Canada's legal system over the issue.
Previous 420 events in Vancouver had taken place in the city's centre, in the square outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. It evolved from a few rebellious individuals and groups into a city-wide fiasco and spread like wildfire. While past 420 events have taken a rather overt protest against the law and the state, people couldn't help but notice that this year didn't have the same vibe.
It had a better one, it felt more like a beach party with your mates and some average music in the sun more than anything else.
And regardless, the uplift in vibes if anything made it more enjoyable and explained the overwhelming turnout for this year's event. This can only have positive effects for public support and political pressure over Canada's eagerness for legalisation.
What has usually taken the form of a defiant protest, a statement against the law and a push towards national legalisation ended up being the biggest and most chilled beach party the city had ever seen.
All over a shitload of weed.