A kind of internal culture war in the cannabis community is manifesting in the jockeying around the upcoming 420 event in Colorado’s capital.
Every year since 2006, there has been a cannabis-celebratory event in Denver’s Civic Center Park on April 20. This year, the newly dubbed Mile High 420 Festival will feature performances by such top-drawer talent as Lil Wayne, Lil’ John, the Original Wailers and Inner Circle.
But as local news site Westword reports, the permit for the shindig has changed hands this year, moving from longtime organizer Miguel Lopez to Euflora, a Denver-based dispensary chain. Euflora’s marketing director, Bobby Reginelli, said this year’s event “will be much more about the cannabis culture than politics,” in Westword’s paraphrase. And the name has changed — as it used to be called the Denver 420 Rally.
“It’s more diverse this year,” Reginelli told Westword. “We knew 30,000 people were going to attend this event regardless, so we wanted to reach out to the yoga community, bluegrass fans, people who like craft goods and anyone else.”
But this clearly means a de-emphasis of activism. Although they say they won’t stop those onstage from bringing up politics, Reginelli and his co-organizers affirmed that the new festival will focus on “entertainment and commerce.”
Organizers also say cannabis consumption will not be allowed, because public use is illegal in Colorado. They also note that city-owned Civic Center Park is barred from receiving permits for private cannabis consumption spaces. But as Westword points out, organizers of the old 420 Rally had always embraced consumption at the event, defying the police who routinely ticketed attendees for public use.
Westword also highlights that “as a licensed pot business, Euflora might have more to lose.” This raises questions about the implications entrepreneurs moving into what had been the activist sphere.
And this change in leadership comes about as a result of a city government policy decision. After last year’s rally, Denver’s Parks and Recreation department banned the original organizers from receiving a permit for the event for the next three years, and fined them over $11,000 for clean-up costs, as the city’s NBC affiliate, 9 News, reported.
An earlier report from Westword details the “giant clusterf*ck” as Lopez and Euflora wrestled for the right to hold the event. With Euflora emerging victorious, the report concluded, “now it looks like the ‘rally’ aspect might be history.”
Lopez and his attorney Rob Corry appealed the initial ban, but their efforts were rejected in November. Lopez is currently suing the city government over the affair.
Lopez claims that he is the chosen heir of the 420 event’s founder Ken Gorman, whose 2007 murder remains unsolved. A New York Times profile after he was shot in a break-in at his home that February noted that he provided cannabis to patients under Colorado’s medical marijuana law — but also advocated challenging prohibition by simply defying it.
A Westword retrospective on the storied activist quoted Larisa Bolivar, a consultant and historian for the (old) Denver 420 Rally, who recalled her mentor tearfully. “Ken came at this from a social-justice direction,” she said.
The fact that the 2017 rally left enough of a mess in the park for authorities to justify withholding a permit from the organizers is pretty good evidence that things needed to change at the 420 event. At the 2012 420 Rally, there was actually a brief eruption of gunfire, with one attendee shot in the leg.
And there is a sense that, with the battle to free the herb having now scored such big victories in the Centennial State, maybe the event’s traditional activist theme is outdated. Some people think the event itself should be scrapped. Westword highlighted a comment from one reader: “Cannabis is legal in Colorado. We’ve won. We don’t need the 420 rally anymore. We certainly don’t need the annual sh*t show of controversy.”
But a “social-justice direction” may still be mandated. In 2015, three years after Colorado legalization, the Drug Policy Alliance released a report finding that cannabis arrests had indeed declined in the state — but that racial inequalities in arrests continued. Blacks were still more than twice as likely to be charged with public consumption. Blacks were also much more likely to be charged with illegal cultivation, or possession in excess of the legal limit of one ounce. DPA’s Art Way told the Associated Press: “Legalization is no panacea for the longtime issues that law enforcement had with the black and brown community.”
It will be instructive to see if such realities are addressed from the stage at the Mile High 420 Festival.
TELL US, do you think 420 is an activist holiday? Or just a day for entertainment and consumption?