By 3:30 p.m. on April 20 in recent years, Civic Center Park was a zoo. Packed to the gills with people and a heavy, healthy cloud of smoke hanging over everyone.
But at 3:30 p.m. yesterday — April 20, 2015 — the park was empty. The only person I could see smoking a joint in Civic Center was quickly stopped by three Denver cops on bicycles and ticketed for public consumption.
“I don’t understand what is going on,” the guy told the cops, who clearly didn’t believe or care about his feigned ignorance of the law.
So Civic Center wasn’t the place to be. But across Broadway thousands had crammed into Lincoln Park to celebrate the day. It was a much smaller, much less commercial affair than past years. One that harkened back to the early days of the 4/20 rally, when politics was the focus.
But only sort of.
For the most part, everyone was there to simply be there. To smoke pot in public. To people watch. And to fight, as evidenced by two women arrested by Denver police; they spent most of the rally in handcuffs cursing at one another.
But were they also there to listen to speakers wax on about the injustices still facing cannabis users in Colorado and the U.S.? Not really.
I walked up around 3:40 p.m. and didn’t hear anyone talking to the crowd until about 4:50 p.m. when activist Robert Chase stood in front of the obelisk and began speaking into a bullhorn.
“Who the fuck is this?” some twenty-something in a group of friends near me asked nobody in particular as Chase ranted about the felony status of cannabis in Colorado and the push for DUI cannabis before meandering into a protest against American consumerism and Porsche Carerra sports cars. The twenty-something was far more entertained and interested in a half-baked, horribly obnoxious fat white comedian who had walked up to them trying to drum up laughs by chugging mini bottles of vodka.
About three minutes into Chase's address, someone manning the stereo system turned up the music to drown him out. Chase tried to speak over the racket for a while, but then someone in the crowd passed out, starting a commotion. “Would someone shut him up, please!” a person at the center of the storm yelled. The word got back to Chase, who cut off his meandering talk mid-sentence.
After that settled, attorney Rob Corry picked up the bullhorn and began a fifteen minute talk about how Colorado needs to continue fighting against prohibition – especially laws that keep people from enjoying cannabis in public. Corry was much more to-the-point than Chase, but aside from a few in the front row, nobody cared.
“Who is this dude?” the man behind me asked his friend.
“Some guy in a suit preaching the word,” his buddy said with a laugh, a blunt in hand.
It was overly crowded at that point, shoulder to shoulder in the center of the park. More space was available behind the speakers and up on the lawn of the Capitol across Lincoln. By 4:15 p.m., the smoke had begun to rise and the real point of everyone congregating came to fruition as the clock ticked.
By 4:19, the cloud had become a fog over the crowd and bystanders stood by and took photos. State troopers seemed to turn a blind eye for a few minutes as joints, pipes, bubblers and oil rigs were lit up and passed around. Cops standing on the Capitol steps chuckled and made jokes about stoners while a handful of state lawmakers congregated on the balcony of the building to gawk at the scene. You know you’re in Colorado when lawmakers take a 4:20 break – even if they were more interested in viewing everything like a visitor in some strange zoo. Sadly, though, the lawmakers were the people that the rally was meant to influence – and all they seemed to care about was snapping a few photos to post on social media. They couldn’t even hear the speakers over the drone of traffic.
By 4:25, the cloud of smoke had lifted about three stories above the crowd of probably 2,500 people and attendees began to disperse, walking south down Broadway and north into downtown. Within fifteen minutes, the swarm of stoned zombies had pretty much cleared the park, leaving chip bags, blunt roaches and other garbage scattered around the field. One man tried desperately to clean up the trash, but he seemed to give up after collecting two handfuls and realizing he hadn’t made a dent.
Which, really, sums up the rally as a whole. There was a whole lot of noise, a whole lot of smoke – but really, did it make a dent in public policy?