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At Denver's 4/20 Rally, the message goes up in smoke

Elsewhere: See a video from Denver's 4/20 rally and read a dispatch from the Boulder version.

When I left Denver's 4/20 Rally in Civic Center Park yesterday, I was confused -- and not for the reasons you would suspect. I spent five hours of a gorgeous Mile High day meandering around the crowds, listening to the music and observing the event unfold in its own completely organic way. I saw a lot of people in all shapes, ages, sizes and stages of highness. They were smoking, coughing, laughing and dancing. It was a trip.

What I didn't see was anything resembling a clear message -- a focused intensity on one shared purpose and the practical, determined vision of how and why we needed to attain it.

The event was engineered by well-known Denver community organizer and pro-legalization stalwart Miguel Lopez. Unquestionably responsible for the impressive turnout, Lopez's feat was extraordinary.

But this is where it gets frustrating.

The City of Denver was deferential enough to allow the event to occur -- an event that blatantly showcased a currently unlawful activity being performed in public by people of all ages, many of whom appeared to be awaiting high school. They provided the venue, supplied security and agreed not to interfere unless people got (really) stupid. The media even covered the hell out of it. The stage was set. This was the chance to speak to Denver, to the country.

But like everyone there, the opportunity was totally wasted.

If laws are ever going to change, events like this are going to have to get serious and organized. Yesterday's hip-hop extravaganza/smoke-out isn't going to do anything but reaffirm the pre-existing stereotypes people already have about recreational marijuana users -- namely that stoners like to play Hacky Sack, listen to poorly written hip-hop, and eat anything with a Keebler label on it.

Meanwhile, anyone interested was left wondering what the event was even about. Was it about promoting awareness of legitimate medicinal uses of marijuana? Was it about educating people on how legalization could generate millions in tax revenue that could be used directly for rehabilitation and anti-drug programs targeted at young children? Or was it just about our God-given right to get fucked up? I couldn't tell, and neither could anyone else who was there with a clear head and open mind.

Miguel didn't need to deliver a Periclean oration from the Greek Amphitheater's stage. He already had the thousands on his side. He also didn't need to parade a clan of topless, questionably young girls out on stage to have pot leafs painted on their bodies in front of the howling masses. What does that have to do with anything this rally is trying to accomplish? How is this going to change laws, or even perspectives for that matter? It only detracted from the transmission of their message.

And what was that message again?

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A handful of knowledgeable, engaging speakers tried to tell us. But their lightning-fast, ten-minute time slots, interspersed among a six-hour barrage of local rap music, just weren't cogent enough to spark any real understanding.

Early on, I briefly left the rally to grab a drink at the convenience store on 14th and Tremont. As I stood at the intersection, two older businessmen in suits walked up, glanced over at the park, and pretty much summed things up.

"Oh look," one said to the other. "It's that dumb, stoner pothead thing."

Sadly, he couldn't have been more right.

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