Organizers are defending 4/20 as Mayor Michael Hancock orders a “thorough review” of city procedures

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Mayor Michael Hancock has ordered a “thorough review” into whether Denver’s 4/20 event complied with all the terms of the permit and whether the city has the appropriate policies in place to keep events safe.

Organizers think they’re being targeted and put their record up against other events of their size and scale.

“Seeing our Civic Center in a state of disrepair was for many in our city — including myself — deeply disappointing and discouraging,” Hancock said at a press conference Monday morning. “Our parks and public spaces are held in the public trust, and when organizers hold an event at one of these spaces, they have a responsibility to uphold that public trust. When organizers leave one of our parks trashed, they violate that trust.”

Hancock described the event as “under-resourced” and as presenting safety hazards. The level of disorganization requires an immediate city response, he said, but what that response will be remains to be determined.

Will 4/20 be permitted next year?

Hancock said he “doesn’t want to pre-suppose” the outcome of the review. If organizers didn’t follow through on the terms of their permit, they could be fined, and there could be consequences for future events. Hancock also said it’s possible the city could change some of its procedures or his office could recommend ordinance changes to City Council.

What exactly was the problem? The amount of trash left in Civic Center Park overnight got a lot of attention, but Hancock said he was also concerned that there wasn’t enough security, that people were able to break through the fence around the park and get in without going through security screenings, that there was behavior and language that might upset tourists and children in the middle of a weekday in the heart of the city.

“We want to always be mindful of not promoting lawlessness,” Hancock said. “When I look out from my office and see that plume, it bothers me.”

Two people were arrested after shots were fired near 4/20, but it wasn’t clear if guns were brought into the park. No one was injured. And of course, passersby found mounds of trash on Friday morning. Not all the trash was collected the night before, and many of the bags that were collected were torn open, their contents strewn about. Denver police issued 32 tickets for public consumption of marijuana, fewer than in years past, and 16 tickets for other violations, including two misdemeanor charges of distribution of marijuana. Among those 16 other violations, and likely to feature in the city’s review: Eight security guards received tickets for not having proper licenses.

Miguel Lopez, the longtime community activist who holds the permit for the event, had strong words for Hancock, accusing him of serving “white masters” in the business world and not the people of the city.

“The marijuana community comes from the Civil Rights Movement that smoked in public in violation of prohibition and in the face of police brutality,” he said.

Many in the cannabis industry have started to distance themselves from the event and its unregulated image, even as 4/20 seems to be drawing more people than ever before. This was also the first time the event was held on a weekday rather than the nearest weekend day.

Lopez said he’s prepared to defend the record of the 4/20 event against other major events in the city like Cinco de Mayo or the Broncos parades. At the same time, he doesn’t expect a fair hearing.

“Government and police typically fish for whatever justifies their ends,” he said. “They’ll come up with with what they need.”

Lopez said he deliberately extended his permit through Friday for “teardown,” which includes trash pick-up, and finished by power washing the area. He showed me video with a time stamp from Wednesday — before 4/20 started setting up — of trash strewn about the Greek amphitheater. His point: The area was trashed before we got it, and we left it cleaner than we found it.

He also said that he called Denver police for help when people crashed through the fence, and they didn’t respond.

The Denver Police Department does not allow off-duty police officers to provide security at 4/20 or other marijuana-related events, Chief Robert White said.

Allegra “Happy” Haynes, executive director of Parks and Recreation, and Katy Strascina, executive director of the Office of Special Events, said that the permit conditions require organizers to pick up trash on an ongoing basis throughout the event, and there shouldn’t have been so much trash left at the end of the night, even as they acknowledged that organizers had a permit that extended to Friday and had indicated they would finish cleaning up the next day. They also said organizers should have had security along the fence perimeter and enough people in place to process visitors smoothly.

“We have other large events here that are very well managed and don’t leave this sort of trash,” Haynes said.

“A skilled event planner understands these possibilities and over prepares,” Strascina said. “They were not prepared.”

Strascina said she expects to convene the heads of departments who were involved in the event on Friday. While city officials wouldn’t put a time frame on the investigation, they said they want to do it “quickly.”

Lopez said that he’s willing to listen and hear concerns and work to make the event better, but he needs to feel like the city respects the event and the people who participate in it.

“Marijuana consumers, not businesses, are the largest single tax contributors in this state,” he said.

“When these forces start to respect us, then we will respect them,” he said.

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Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.