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Marijuana: City expects 4/20 rally organizers to discourage pot smoking at festival

The literal high point of the annual Denver 4/20 rally at Civic Center Park comes at 4:20 p.m., when attendees light up simultaneously. But could this ritual be absent from the 2014 edition of festival? A few weeks back, rally attorney Rob Corry answered this question with a letter to Denver city officials that defiantly asserted attendees' right to smoke pot at the park. Then he retracted the document. And now, in an exchange with Denver City Attorney D. Scott Martinez, he back-pedals further -- although perhaps not as far as Martinez seems to think he has.

As we've reported, the original letter, shared here along with several other documents, asserts that Civic Center Park is the rally's home -- and since adults 21 and over in Colorado can legally smoke pot at home, they should be able to do so at the rally, too, despite a state law forbidding public consumption of cannabis.

Rob Corry at an anti-marijuana taxation rally last year.
Rob Corry at an anti-marijuana taxation rally last year.

An excerpt reads: "As the permit holder for Civic Center Park on April 19-20, 2014, and consequently the entity that 'occupies or controls' this property, my clients and I respectfully advise the City and County of Denver that we will be 'otherwise regulating' the 'possession, consumption, use, display, transfer, distribution, sale, transportation, or growing of marijuana' by permitting the 'possession,' 'consumption,' 'use,' 'display,' 'transfer,' 'distribution,' and 'transportation' of marijuana by adults age 21+, and by 'prohibiting' the 'sale' and 'growing' of marijuana in the permitted area of Civic Center Park on April 19-20, 2014 during the permitted periods for the Annual 420 Rally."

The letter didn't thrill city councilman Charlie Brown, who suggested that the city respond to the letter by denying a festival permit to rally organizers, even if it means picking a legal fight.

Councilman Charlie Brown at a recent hearing on marijuana banking.
Councilman Charlie Brown at a recent hearing on marijuana banking.

Brown's response was presumably a factor in Corry's decision to rescind the original letter. In a second missive, also shared here, he wrote: "We sincerely apologize if the misinterpretation of our previous letter caused any confusion. Our intent was to clarify, not confuse. Our letter, though inartfully drafted, was a reaction to provocative statements about an alleged Police crackdown this year at 420. We realize now that we should not have taken that bait, and instead should have conducted ourselves on a higher plane."

What followed was an exchange of correspondence between Corry and City Attorney Martinez; it's also reproduced below. In it, Martinez asks a couple of key questions, with the first of them reading: "You stated in your February 20 letter that persons could attend the event and publicly consume marijuana with impunity under the auspices of the permit. Do you no longer maintain this legal position?"

Corry's response? "Yes. As previously noted, we withdrew and rescinded in its entirety our previous letter that allegedly maintained this position, although the letter was misinterpreted and misconstrued. The Rally organizers will not be encouraging anyone to violate the law. Instead, we will make sure that all attendees are made aware that current law prohibits the consumption of marijuana in public."

Denver City Attorney D. Scott Martinez.
Denver City Attorney D. Scott Martinez.

The second Martinez question: "Can you assure us at this point that the organizers will explicitly foreswear any promotion of any unlawful activity at the 2014 event and will widely distribute information that the public consumption of marijuana at the festival is unlawful?"

In this case, Corry's reply is more nuanced. He essentially pledges not to promote illegal activity and to distribute information to those who go to the festival informing them that public smoking is against the law. But if that appears to give him and main rally organizer Miguel Lopez some additional wiggle room should revelers decide to blaze anyhow, Martinez attempts to reduce it through interpretation.

"Furthermore," writes Martinez in a March 7 letter in our document collection below, "you now deny that the event organizers will permit or promote the unlawful consumption at the proposed 4/20 event. On the contrary, you agree that the event organizers will affirmatively discourage the consumption of marijuana at the 4/20 event."

Miguel Lopez, organizer of the 4/20 rally, at a free-joint giveaway in Civic Center Park last year.
Miguel Lopez, organizer of the 4/20 rally, at a free-joint giveaway in Civic Center Park last year.

There's quite a distance between agreeing not to promote illegal public smoking and affirmatively discouraging such consumption -- but a face-to-face chat between Corry and Martinez to bridge the gap won't be happening. Corry specifically asks for a sit-down in his March 5 note, but Martinez maintains that "such a meeting would serve no useful purpose at this point as I consider the legal issues regarding this matter to be closed."

That's cold -- but does it portend tension and a possible crackdown on April 20? We'll find out in a little more than a month.

Continue to read three letters from Rob Corry and one from Denver City Attorney D. Scott Martinez.  

Marijuana: City expects 4/20 rally organizers to discourage pot smoking at festival

Rob Corry's March 5 response to Denver City Attorney D. Scott Martinez:

Scott,

Thanks for your response. We still hope for a meeting with you and your client. You conditioned such a meeting on answering your previous written questions. Here are the answers:

"You stated in your February 20 letter that persons could attend the event and publicly consume marijuana with impunity under the auspices of the permit. Do you no longer maintain this legal position?"

Yes. As previously noted, we withdrew and rescinded in its entirety our previous letter that allegedly maintained this position, although the letter was misinterpreted and misconstrued. The Rally organizers will not be encouraging anyone to violate the law. Instead, we will make sure that all attendees are made aware that current law prohibits the consumption of marijuana in public.

"...can you assure us at this point that the organizers will explicitly foreswear any promotion of any unlawful activity at the 2014 event and will widely distribute information that the public consumption of marijuana at the festival is unlawful?"

Yes. The safety of the public attending the Rally is the highest priority for the event organizers. The organizers will refrain from any promotion of any unlawful activity at the 2014 event, with the exception that there may be certain marijuana shops licensed by the City of Denver promoting the sale of marijuana at their licensed facilities, which is a violation of Federal law more serious than petty public consumption. (However, given the City's own encouragement and taxation of that particular "unlawful activity," we assume that that one is not your concern.) The organizers will, in the interest of public safety and welfare, widely distribute information that the public consumption of marijuana at the festival is unlawful. In fact, we would be happy to distribute material with content authored by the City just so there is no doubt about legal phrasing or terminology. We do not wish for potentially-dangerous confrontations with Police, and hope Denver shares this goal.

We previously requested a meeting with you. We still believe a face-to-face meeting yields more respectful and productive dialogue than dueling written interrogatories, especially with regard to such a subtle and evolving legal landscape as marijuana law. Miguel and I wish to continue our collaborative relationship with the City, one that we have built over years. Miguel is a direct descendant of Denver's Chicano Movement and will be a Denver institution for many decades hence. Although you are new to the position of Denver City Attorney, now is as good a time as any to create a more friendly relationship. In person, we can more meaningfully convey our positive approach to the 420 Rally, answer your questions and any followups, and perhaps ask a few questions of our own. Miguel has arranged for a professional management company to take over some of the logistics for the Rally so it runs more smoothly and professionally. We would like you to meet the principals of this minority-owned company and hear their exciting vision for this Rally.

We believe that the 420 Rally is an incredibly positive economic and cultural asset for Denver, and will be for many years to come. We want to work with the City to further this institution and build it. We'd like to explore what realistic and reasonable things we can do to make the City more comfortable with the Rally. We'd also like to explore closing down to vehicles more of the streets surrounding the Rally in order to promote safety and reduce potential conflicts with traffic, as is done with similar events held in Civic Center Park.

Accordingly, Miguel Lopez and I respectfully request a half hour of your and your client's time for a meeting. My schedule is relatively open for the next few days, so please advise us as to times that work on your end.

Thank you again for your consideration.

Robert J. Corry, Jr. Attorney at Law Law Office of Robert J. Corry, Jr. and Associates 437 West Colfax Avenue, Suite 300 Denver, Colorado 80204 USA

D. Scott Martinez response to Rob Corry's March 5 letter:

City Attorney of Denver Reply to 420 Rally Letter

Denver 420 Festival Letter Rescinded

Denver 420 Festival Letter

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa March 4: "4/20 at Civic Center's Rob Corry doesn't expect crackdown, but will be ready for one."


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