By Richard Farrell
In 1971, when marijuana was still firmly in the closet, a bunch of California high school kids used the term 420 as their private code for pot. This helped them to remember to meet at 4:20 p.m. when school was out, to share their hobby in the shadow of a quiet wall. The cryptogram spread to the extent that Denver now celebrates every April 20 with a 420 Rally.
This past weekend a crowd of 80,000 flocked to Mile High City’s historic Civic Center Park to celebrate marijuana freedom before colonnaded buildings whose founders probably never knew the stuff existed. “It’s kind of like being a part of history,” Karen Stevenson told CNN. “I used to want to go to Amsterdam. Now I don’t have to.” Instead, she bought the visit as a 65th birthday present for her husband.
The Cannabis Culture Music Festival showcased hip-hop artists ranging from Snoopdog, B.O.B. and Wyclef all the way to Pries and Rumtum. Throughout the day clouds of intoxicating smoke drifted high above the buildings. Although organizers were clear that they were “not trying to force people to smoke pot,” it was not easy to avoid feeling giddy unless you stood upwind.
All kinds of entrepreneurial types made sure they were on hand to cash in on the 420 action. The High Times sponsored a competition for the best cannabis, while non-profit Bus to Show offered free rides to the Expo, and a $20 hop-on, hop-of shuttle called the CannaBus along what it dubbed “The Cannabis Freedom Trail.”
The 420 rally attracted a full spectrum of pot connoisseurs ranging from corporate types in suits to grannies in rose-tinted spectacles. Unlike similar alcohol-infused events, CNN reported no incidents of violence, although a few individuals did get over-stoned, fall, and bump their heads.
The paraphernalia industry was out in force in booths, offering just about everything from a hydrocarbon extraction machine to a high-powered leaf trimmer. Academies signed up students for certification courses. There was even one hopeful touting a detox program on the spot.
Law enforcement officials generally took a laid-back approach to the public smoke, even though this flew in the face of the official embargo against public consumption. According to the Denver Post, police had handed out 47 citations for smoking on the fringe by the end of the first day. “Go into a crowd where we can’t pick you out,” an officer advised after handing over a ticket.
Compared to other Denver mass events, emergency services had it easy too. Of the estimated 80,000 fans, the hospital treated just fourteen on the first day. Three had smoked themselves into a stupor and needed to detox. The rest had taken too much sun. This made them dizzier than they ought to have been and likely gave them a thick head in the morning. For some, 420 may be an event they will never remember, and for others, it will be an event they will never forget.