Colorado’s first legal ‘420’ rally marred by gunfire

UPDATE 7:07 pm CT: Just minutes after the rally's keynote speech was completed, three individuals were shot by an unknown assailant. None of the injuries were described as life-threatening, with two of the victims being grazed by gunfire and a third individual shot in the leg. Approximately seven gunshots were heard shortly before 5pm. As the gunfire erupted, the surprised crowd, still numbering in the thousands, began to flee in all directions. It was initially reported that two people had been shot, along with one of the individual's pet dog. However, the Denver Police Department tweeted that a third individual, a juvenile, was grazed by a bullet and escorted himself to a nearby hospital.


DENVER, CO. - Ten years ago, Ken Gorman, the founder of Denver’s annual “420 Rally,” stood inside the city’s Civic Center Park with about a dozen supporters as they pushed for marijuana legalization.

Today, an estimated 80,000 individuals gathered in the same location as they celebrated Colorado voters’ decision to legalize the recreational use of cannabis last November.

“This is what freedom smells like,” attorney Rob Corry told the crowd, as he counted down the moments until 4:20pm CT, at which point literally thousands of people simultaneously exhaled marijuana smoke into the air, creating a haze that was visible for blocks away.

“You’re going to be in the Guinness Book of World Records,” rally organizer Miguel Lopez told the crowd, eliciting a roar of cheers and laughter. “More people will have smoked pot at ‘420’ in this location than anytime, anywhere in the history of the world.”

The day's events formally kicked off at just past 10:00am on Saturday morning. And while it was readily apparent that many, if not most, attendees showed up simply for the novelty of smoking marijuana in a large public gathering, there were hundreds of people there to make money off the attendees.

Dozens of vendors quickly set up shop, offering items ranging from marijuana smoking pipes to various food offerings like "giant turkey legs." And one didn't have to walk far without being offered several varieties of marijuana for sale, which is still illegal under Colorado law.

In November 2012, more than a million Colorado voters (55.32 percent) supported the passage of Measure 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana in the state. However, the consumption of the drug remains illegal under federal law.

A similar bill passed by a broad margin in Washington State.

And while the thousands of pot smokers using the substance in public is technically a crime, Colorado law enforcement said they were more concerned with ensuring public safety in light of the recent terror attack in Boston.

“We're aware of the events in Boston," Denver police spokesman Aaron Kafer, told the Associated Press. "Our message to the public is that, if you see something, say something."

Lopez and a number of other leaders of the legalization movement said they remain unsatisfied with what they consider the limited scope of Measure 64, which along with forbidding consumption of marijuana in public spaces, contains other restrictions, such as driving while under the influence of cannabis. In addition, Lopez said those individuals imprisoned for past crimes involving the sale, use and distribution of marijuana should be released from jail.

On Monday, several of the event’s organizers will hold another rally outside the Colorado state capital in which they will speak out against the “Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis Bill,” which aims to set a legal limit for the amount of THC a person can have active in their bloodstream while driving. The bill passed the state House in March and is scheduled to be taken up for consideration by the state Senate.

Despite the jubilant mood amongst the rally’s participants, the event was not without its critics.

Smart Colorado, a group that opposed the legalization bill in 2012, released a statement saying the open use of cannabis set a bad image to individuals looking at Colorado.

“We encourage Coloradans to pay attention to the 4/20 rallies by marijuana advocates. These events, which will be covered by national media, will send a clear message to the rest of the nation and the world about what Colorado looks like in the wake of the passage of Amendment 64 last fall,” Henny Lasley, head of Smart Colorado, said in the statement.

“Does the behavior of the participants in these events reflect well on our state? And do they respect the limitations outlined by Amendment 64, which does not allow public and open consumption of marijuana or the use by anyone under 21 years old?”

In addition, there were a number of dubious claims made about the alleged benefits of medical marijuana. While the substance has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of several illnesses, one organizer described the substance as a “cure” for several serious medical conditions, including Crohn’s Disease, arthritis and even cancer.

A second day of similar events is scheduled to take place on Sunday in Civic Center Park but is expected to draw a much smaller number of participants.

"We have the law, the science, we have the people," Lopez told the crowd. “But the war is not over.”