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Mile High 4/20 Fest: Rebellion Fades, Celebration Continues

Getting ready for 4:20 on 4/20.
Getting ready for 4:20 on 4/20.
Jacqueline Collins
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The smoke has cleared, and Denver is still standing. Looks like another 4/20 has come and gone without damn potheads burning down the city — not that some of you didn't try on Friday, April 20.

There was no shortage of joints bigger than Shaq's fingers at Civic Center Park during the Mile High 420 Fest, a new event that took over for the Denver 420 Rally after a back-and-forth battle between current and previous planners. Promising to promote more culture than politics, the new organizers delivered on their pledge of presenting a more expanded celebration — but fortunately for attendees, the "no smoking" policy was all talk.

With three stages of music and comedy to choose from, as well as a much bigger list of participating food trucks and vendors, the Mile High 420 Fest could be viewed as a more mature version of its older brother, which was known for being a little rough around the edges despite providing a solid concert lineup. Like many coming-of-age stories, however, the newer version owes a lot to its predecessor.

The new festival gained its existence thanks to shrewd maneuvering and good timing by the ownership of Euflora, a Denver dispensary chain and former sponsor of the 420 Rally. After some organizational gaffes in 2017, the City of Denver had suspended Denver 420 Rally director Miguel Lopez from applying for an event permit for three years. Upset with how their business had been treated and represented during the 2017 event, Euflora's Pepe Breton and Bobby Reginelli moved in as Lopez was fighting the suspension, and eventually won the battle for the April 20, 2018, permit after some dramatic tug-of-war.

Looking the other way at public cannabis consumption has become a tradition at Civic Center Park on 4/20.EXPAND
Looking the other way at public cannabis consumption has become a tradition at Civic Center Park on 4/20.
Kenzie Bruce

Most of the thousands of folks visiting Civic Center last Friday couldn't have cared less about who'd organized the event. As long as headliners Lil Wayne, Lil Jon and the Original Wailers showed up in the rainy weather (they did), and security lines and trash cans weren't overflowing like last year (they weren't), most attendees were going home happy.

Other than a couple more booths and sponsors — and a shitload of funnel cakes, the real winner on 4/20 — the look and vibe was largely the same as in years past. Although Euflora's organizers couldn't legally promote cannabis consumption at a public event, most expected that security would look the other way when the time came. And our hopes were answered, with sightings of police detainment and cannabis confiscation even rarer than in previous years.

The rain couldn't stop the fun at Civic Center Park on Friday, April 20.
The rain couldn't stop the fun at Civic Center Park on Friday, April 20.
Jacqueline Collins

"This is America! I love it!," screamed a man in his mid-twenties as he lit a blunt when 4:20 p.m. neared. No, man. This is Denver — and don't forget the distinction.

The vast majority of states still prohibit recreational cannabis sales, and good luck toking up at such a mass public gathering in other cities. Watching white, black and brown people of all social classes celebrate cannabis together without tension is always a sight to behold, and that celebratory atmosphere held strong even as the event went in a more industry-heavy direction.

Even with their warts, Lopez and his previous team are responsible for many of the freedoms we enjoyed on this 4/20. Along with now-deceased activist Ken Gorman, Lopez and other cannabis radicals sparred with the Denver Police Department and city officials for over a decade as they held smoke-outs at Civic Center and protests by the Capitol, in hopes of gaining rights for cannabis users. Their efforts snowballed to a level that government authority could only contain, not abolish, and we're still reaping the benefits today.

Just don't forget who got us there.

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