4/20 bankrolled by B.C. lottery winner Bob Erb

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

As the pungent scent of marijuana wafts over communities across Canada to mark 420 Day on Saturday, Bob Erb will be smiling.

Erb — yes, that's his real name — is the B.C. man who won a $25-million Lotto Max prize last fall and pledged to use it to campaign for the legalization of marijuana, including bankrolling the unofficial day to celebrate the joys of weed.

The 60-year-old resident of Terrace, B.C., who's been smoking up since the the late 1960s, will doubtless be sparking up a fatty.

The reason for the significance of April 20 is clouded by, well, you know. A Toronto Star article suggests the origin lies in a group of California teens who lit up every day a 4:20 p.m., which is when many of the public commemorations begin.

If you wander down to a place like the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday, you'll likely get a second-hand high long before then. The Vancouver Province says organizers expect 20,000 people to vote with their lighters.

“April 20 is a day of celebration and protest around the world,” said Jodie Emery, wife of Marc Emery, a the so-called "Prince of Pot" now serving prison time in the U.S. for mailing seeds to American customers, told the Province.

“Prohibition is an expensive, ineffective policy that wastes millions of tax dollars on policing, courts and prisons."

[ Related: B.C. lottery winner using money to help legalize marijuana ]

Erb has funded the pot-legalization campaign with $1 million from his half-share of the $50-millio Lotto Max prize and is perhaps the leading financial backer for 420 Day, according to the National Post, which interviewed him this week.

"The 420 events I’ve watched on television for years and years; I have only attended a couple of them because I’m way up in the northwest of B.C.," Erb told the Post. "I always thought that they were underutilized vehicles for getting across all of the wrongs with marijuana prohibition."

Erb said the 420 events could be better used to reach out to the public via the media about the reasons legalization makes sense. Right now, he said, all you get is brief interviews with stoners and B-roll footage of "20-year-olds blowing smoke rings."

"It's a mixed message," Erb told the Post. "I put $125,000 this year to organize the 420 events, $60,000 for web design, the other $60,000 accommodation, probably $40,000 in merchandising hats and buttons."

[ Related: Marijuana legalization: Is Canada missing out on billions? ]

Erb said the money has gone to co-ordinate events in more than 40 cities this year and the aim is to have up to 200 cities involved next year.

Erb fervently believes that legalizing marijuana would have economic and social benefits. Taxes from B.C.'s estimated $12-billion annual pot industry would go a long way to funding healthcare, education and other programs, he said.

"Not only that, there would be a huge drop in crime of all types," Erb told the Post. "Of course that’s not good news for police because pot crime is their bread and butter."

I suspect the cops quickly would find other things to do but no matter, Erb is confident that ending pot prohibition is the right move.

"Pot smokers may be dope-heads, but they’re not dopey people," he said.

Now all he has to do is convince Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservative government stiffened the marijuana laws by imposing mandatory-minimum sentences for growing small amounts of pot, as The Canadian Press reported last fall.