Longform

Three years after his murder, memories of Ken Gorman -- Colorado's most vocal pot activist -- have gone up in smoke

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"Basically, his cousin was in jail around April 2009, and he heard another person at that time bragging that he had killed Ken Gorman," Alvis explains as he snakes through the growing crowd just before noon. As the west end of Civic Center Park begins to fill with pot-wielding enthusiasts who congregate in small circles to pass joints and pipes, a Grateful Dead throwback band entertains the hordes as police watch on.

"He said he would meet us at the Marijuana Radio booth," Alvis yells as he navigates a narrow strip of tightly packed vendors slinging everything from medical marijuana to doctor referral literature to T-shirts and bumper stickers. Alvis is impressed by how commercialized and commoditized the movement has become in Denver. Once at the booth, he asks around for his man, only to find out that he's out in the crowd. Alvis waits.

Sporting a blue fleece, slicked back hair and glasses, Alvis doesn't exactly blend in with the mix of hippies, thugs and high-school kids who ditched class to toke up on the lawn behind the row of vendors. Though a zealot for the repeal of marijuana prohibition, Alvis is first and foremost a businessman: After waiting for an hour, he becomes impatient and pulls out a stack of blue business-card-sized magnets and walks toward a cluster of precarious-looking teenagers. "Congratulations! You just passed your drug test!" he tells each of the six young men individually and confidently, sure to place a magnet advertising his detoxification business, TestClear, in their hands. It's unfair, he says, for businesses to snub potential employees for failing a test for a drug that, in many states including Colorado, is considered medicine.

"It's a lot of fun, you know," he says as he moves on to the next group of pot smokers, careful to double back to the rendezvous point. In the background, Miguel Lopez, Gorman's successor as director of the 4/20 rally, leads the crowd in a marijuana-rights anthem: "I say marijuana, you say power!" Another band, a low-budget fashion show and a marijuana lawyer take the stage in succession. When Gorman was around, the fest was about pot; today the rally is more like an industry conference.

Several hours later, as the countdown to 4:20 draws near, there's still no sign of the informant. In the distance, a group of high-school kids circles around a BMX bike turned upside down. A kid in the center of the circle with long, curly hair, held back with a bandanna, demonstrates how he managed to turn his front wheel's center bore into a pipe. "It's a smokin' ride," he says, as he retrieves a baggie of pot from his hoodie.

Impressed by the sheer ingenuity and novelty of a bike wheel THC delivery device, an elderly man asks to try out the "Bong MX." "You wanna hit this?" the younger boy asks, gesturing toward the billowing front tire. As the elder man hits it, a friend to his side laughs and snaps photos.

Gorman would have liked the scene. But Alvis says people have forgotten what it took to lay the tracks. "If you pulled someone off the street, they probably wouldn't know the significance behind this. Not knowing who Gorman was — it's like not knowing George Washington was a founding father."

He hangs out until nearly everyone has left. His mystery man never shows.

"I guess he just didn't want to talk, or maybe he didn't actually know anything," Alvis says before heading back to his hotel room to prepare for an early flight back to Seattle. Aside from handing out a few business magnets, the trip was a bust. Yet another dead end, and no closer to finding Gorman's killer.


Gorman's only child, Valency, says her father knew he would be killed one day for his outspoken support of marijuana and blunt criticism of those who stood in the way of its legalization. "He wasn't worried about getting old, because he just said he'd piss off enough people, he'd get shot," Valency says. "He knew that he was on to something big."

Born Kenneth Calvin Gorman on July 12, 1946, Gorman was one of six children. Jan Kennedy, Gorman's ex-wife, says he often talked about his upbringing as an Air Force brat in a Catholic family and how he and the bunch moved frequently, including a tour in Japan. The family later moved to Modesto, California, and then to Denver, where Gorman graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1964.

After graduation, Gorman joined the U.S. Air Force, like his father, and became a military air traffic controller. He was first stationed at a base in Tucson, Arizona, where he studied hypnosis as a hobby. Later, he was stationed in Japan, tracking missiles during the Vietnam War.

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J. David McSwane
Contact: J. David McSwane