4/20 organizer aims for a pot festival in Denver

DENVER - As downtown prepares for one of its biggest festivals of the year, The Taste of Colorado, there are plans in the works for another event at Civic Center Park.

The organizer of Denver's 4/20 rally, Miguel Lopez, wants to turn it into a 4/20 festival in 2015.

Talk of a marijuana festival is already sparking debate.

Imagine a 4/20 festival much like others held in the city, with tents full of vendors, concessions, and thousands of people coming to Civic Center Park to smoke pot.

Lopez says it's a way to contribute to the city.

"Being proud of who you are and coming out," Lopez said. "We've always maintained the primary function of a political assembly."

Currently, the 4/20 rally is exempt from paying fees to the City and County of Denver for use of Civic Center Park.

An assembly permit is free in Denver. A festival permit can run up to $3,700 a day, plus an additional damage deposit.

Assemblies are intended to be smaller, often last-minute events, such as protests and demonstrations. The 4/20 rally has grown significantly in recent years.

Denver Parks and Recreation spokesman Jeff Green says the 4/20 rally already has many characteristics of a festival.

"It has the festival element," Green said. "A day to set up; a day to tear down."

Green says last year's rally left Civic Center Park in good condition.

"Our biggest concern is protecting the park," Green said.

There are also safety concerns.

4/20 organizers plan to add more security next year after a gang-related shooting disrupted the rally.

Gang violence also hit another large festival, Jazz in the Park, in June of 2012.

That's not stopping marijuana opponents from taking aim.

"In light of [the 4/20] shooting, I don't think that we can promote a huge marijuana smoke festival in the middle of our city," Gina Carbone with SMART Colorado said.

Carbone says her group has serious concerns.

"The effect it has on our children, particularly, and the messages that are sent," Carbone said.

Denver District 6 City Councilman Charlie Brown says an outdoor marijuana festival would encourage illegal behavior under Amendment 64.

"There's a bigger issue here," Brown said. "No public consumption of marijuana."

Brown is proposing an indoor 4/20 festival, for adults over 21, at the convention center.

"Where no smoking is allowed, so they can showcase their wares which they certainly have a right to do," Brown said.

Lopez says pot smokers will continue to gather on 4/20, festival or not, the political focus of the event remains the same.

"[Marijuana is] still federally illegal," Lopez said. "Some people feel that we're not contributing enough. We are eager to contribute."

The coming months are a critical time for both sides of the marijuana debate. The first retail pot stores are expected to open in Denver on January 1.

Many are waiting to see how officials handle the issue of smoking marijuana in public. It is against the law; the question is how much will the city allow.

The proposed 4/20 festival is certainly a big part of that debate.

Amber Miller, spokesperson for Denver mayor Michael Hancock, says the city is currently evaluating the process of issuing permits for events like the 4/20 rally.

"It's not solely work around 4/20. It's a group working on revamping the city's entire permitting process because it hasn't been updated in years and doesn't support the mass amount of events that occur here which seriously increased since the DNC in 2008," Miller said. "We are in the middle of the review of our entire process right now. It is not about any one event or assembly or permit. No decisions have been made."

Nonprofits that have attained 501(c)(3) status are entitled to a 50 percent discount on the cost of a festival permit.

However, because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, 4/20 organizers would not qualify for such a discount.


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