You walk into Civic Center Park, and immediately you smell it. Happy 4/20, everybody. You keep walking, slowly at first, like a teen at his first day of high school. Where to go first? There are so many people -- some smoking joints, some peddling hand-outs, all wearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf, or at least the color green, somewhere on their bodies. It's like St. Patrick's Day all over again, except Patrick now goes by the name Mary Jane.
As you weave your way through the crowd of people, the vendors and the puffs of smoke, you can feel it cover your clothes. Then your hair. Now there's even a film developing on the screen of your cell phone. Yes, this is it -- the place where Denver's marijuana users gather together, put aside their differences and light up.
Even hours later, the smell of Purple Kush still lingers on your fingers. Not a bad way to spend your day, or your afternoon, or a few hours after work.
Some attendees of yesterday's 4/20 celebration arrived shortly after they woke up -- call it a "wake and take and bake" -- while others came in just before the clock struck 4:20 p.m. Regardless, they all had something to be excited about.
Even Willie Nelson stuck around -- well, a cardboard cut-out of him, anyway -- at the booth for the newly and legally recognized Rocky Mountain chapter of Nelson's national Teapot Party, which is fighting for personal cannabis usage rights here in Colorado.
"I think the community needs to be aware that marijuana has always been around; it's about time we look at legalization," says Kimberly Matteo, a self-described master herbalist and naturopath. Matteo greeted people at the Teapot Party booth, then offered to take their picture with the Nelson cut-out.
"I think what's important is to get the message around the state, create little nuclei of groups that are passionate about legalization in 2012, so that we can make sure that we can finally get it done in the state," Matteo says, with a pot full of optimism.
Matteo and the majority of other attendees at the Denver 4/20 rally, whose ages ranged from two to 72, were hopeful about the prospect of legalizing marijuana for personal use in Colorado. So here they were, celebrating one little win at a time.
Other people, like Miguel Lopez, the director of the rally, and Hypnautic, a local hip-hop group that performed at exactly 4:20 p.m., took it upon themselves to fire up the crowd with words of inspiration and puffs of hope for 2012.
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With each call to action Lopez offered, the crowd responded with cheers, applause and fists in the air. With every political accusation aimed at the forces working against legalization, a collective "fuck you."
"This fight is our generation's civil war," said keynote speaker Rob Corry, a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in marijuana. "It's our Prohibition."
Again the crowd cheered, grabbed their pipes, joints and mask-bongs and inhaled. In unison.
Prohibition or not, at least one person at the rally seemed to reject Matteo and Lopez's budding hopefulness for Denver cannabis culture.
That man, who goes by Billy D, swears this will be the last time he spends his 4/20 in Denver.
"Look at the kids in fucking giant hoodies walking around with fucking nitrous beads. It's no longer about the stand," Billy D says. "That's my little gripe about this, which is why next year I'll be in Boulder. Because they haven't forgotten. It's us against them [the state government].
Moreover, Billy D hates the way the Denver 4/20 rally has become more about "advertising" than the "movement," he says.
"Marijuana started off as something so beautiful, and it's sad. I know Rob Corry and I know he's a good dude, but all this advertising, this isn't what it's supposed to be," he says. "As you look around -- look at this: psychic readings, things for sale. If I didn't know any better, I'd be thinking I was on Shakedown Street" -- the area of a parking lot where most vending at an outdoor music event is located.
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Yet by 4:15 p.m., minutes before the big smoke-out, none of the politics mattered. One of the 4/20 security marshals -- who would blend in with the crowd just as much as the next guy if it weren't for his staff t-shirt -- estimates 50,000 people are in the park. A maximum of 15,000 would be more accurate, but hey, why correct him when he's on a power high?
The bigger question here is not how many people showed up for the rally this year, but how many will return next year. Hell, will there even be a next year?
"Fuck you!" they shout in unison.
You can take that as a "fuck yes." Now, if you don't mind, pass the Purple Kush. Click here for more photos from yesterday's 420 rally in Civic Center Park. Follow us on Twitter! And follow writer Cory Lamz on Twitter, too!