4-20 takes over Nathan Phillips Square despite lack of permit

Cannabis activists gathered at Nathan Phillips Square to light up on 4-20, but it was not without controversy.

Security officials at city hall say organizers did not have a permit to use the square, so they were not allowed to use the stage, sound system, or sell anything related to 4-20.

The event had been held at Yonge-Dundas Square for the past seven years, but promoters decided to change venues because last year’s event was too big.

Last month, they shared a letter they received from the city that denied their request for a permit.

“Through research and in speaking with Yonge-Dundas Square and Toronto Police Services staff about the previous events held at (the square) over the last several years it is clear that smoking of cannabis takes place at this event,” the city stated in its letter.

“Current city bylaws prohibit smoking on City of Toronto public squares, including Nathan Phillips Square and in front of municipal buildings entrances like city hall.”

Below are the bylaws referenced by the city:

  • Smoking on City of Toronto public squares is prohibited under city bylaw (MCC 636/237) Article III
  • The City of Toronto smoking bylaw (MCC 709) prohibits smoking within nine metres of entrances and exits of any building that is used by the public


The city went on to say that at this time, cannabis is still listed as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, and that federal cannabis laws remain in effect.

However, two weeks ago organizers said they were still planning to go ahead with 4-20 celebrations despite being denied the permit.

“4-20 Toronto … is still going ahead at Nathan Phillips Square, even though we don’t have a permit. … We will try and have a sound system on stage with a generator,” they wrote on Facebook.

The gathering, which is one the city’s longest-running events that supports legalizing marijuana, was the last one before the planned legalization of pot in Canada later this year.

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Toronto was far from the only locale in Canada where 4-20 was being celebrated. Gatherings took place across the country, from Vancouver to St. John’s, N.L.

Clouds of marijuana smoke erupted over Parliament Hill as pot enthusiasts of all ages gathered in the shadow of the Peace Tower for the annual cannabis celebration.

Young people and older medicinal users alike were well represented among the sea of marijuana paraphernalia spread out across the west lawn in the heart of the parliamentary precinct.

Tyler Graydon, a first-time 4-20 attendee, said he and his friends are “excited” to see pot becoming legal. Graydon, 17, is closing in on the minimum age for legal consumption – it will vary from province to province, but 18 or 19 seems to be the ballpark, likely following on existing alcohol restrictions.

Graydon, however, doesn’t think it will make much difference.

“As soon as it’s legalized, it’ll be in too many hands to really stop it,” he said. “They’ll get their hands on it somehow. They’ll get it from their parents or from the jar in the cupboard. It won’t be hard.”

By mid-afternoon, police were reporting a mellow vibe with no incidents.

For Alex Burridge, 20, this year’s celebration is a particularly meaningful one – he just picked up his first prescription for medical marijuana, which he’ll use to alleviate back pain from a sports injury. Legalization, he says, has been a long time coming.

“It’s something that people have been looking forward to for generations and we’re finally on the brink of it. I feel like it’s something that puts our country ahead of a lot of others.”

Fourteen-year-old Emma Boniface, whose mother also uses marijuana for medical purposes, delivered the day’s keynote speech – part of an effort by organizers to emphasize the importance of including young people in the national conversation about legalization.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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