Pubdate: Sat, 20 Apr 2013
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2013 Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press
Page: A1


DENVER - As tens of thousands of people gather to celebrate and smoke 
marijuana in Denver, police will be out in full force.

But it's not the pot smoking they're concerned about at the yearly 
event, billed as the nation's largest April 20 celebration. Instead, 
police say they're focused on crowd security in light of attacks that 
killed three at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

"We're aware of the events in Boston," said Denver police spokesman 
Aaron Kafer, who declined to give specifics about security measures 
being taken. "Our message to the public is that, if you see 
something, say something."

Organizers say the event - which drew 50,000 people last year - could 
bring a record 80,000 this year, since it's the first celebration 
since Colorado and Washington voted to make pot legal for recreational use.

Even with the legalization, Colorado law bans open and public 
marijuana use. Still, authorities generally look the other way. The 
smoke hangs thick over a park at the base of the state Capitol, and 
live music keeps the crowd entertained well past the moment of group 
smoking at 4:20 p.m.

Group smoke-outs are also planned Saturday from New York to San 
Francisco. The origins of the number "420" as a code for pot are 
murky, but the drug's users have for decades marked the date 4/20 as 
a day to use pot together.

Denver's celebration this year also features the nation's first 
open-to-all Cannabis Cup, a marijuana competition patterned after one 
held in Amsterdam.

Similar to a beer or wine festival, pot growers compete for awards 
for taste, appearance and potency of their weed. Denver's event, 
sponsored by High Times magazine, has sold out more than 5,000 
tickets. Snoop Lion, the new reggae- and marijuana-loving persona for 
the rapper better known as Snoop Dogg, will receive a "Lifetime 
Achievement Award" from High Times. And the hip-hop group Cypress 
Hill was set to perform a sold-out concert this evening in Colorado's 
iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

The celebration should be especially buoyant this year, organizer 
Miguel Lopez said, because it marks the first observation since 
Colorado and Washington voted to defy federal drug law and declare 
pot OK for adults over 21.

Both states are still waiting for a federal response to the votes and 
are working on setting up commercial pot sales, which are still 
limited to people with certain medical conditions. In the meantime, 
pot users are free to share and use the drug in small amounts.

Lopez said the holiday is more than an excuse to get high - it's also 
a political statement by people who want to see the end of marijuana 

"You don't have to smoke weed to go to 4/20 rallies. You don't have 
to be gay to go to a Pride festival. You don't have to be Mexican to 
celebrate Cinco de Mayo," Lopez said.

"That's what this is. It's a celebration, it's a statement about 
justice and freedom and this movement."

Colorado's weekend celebrations drew plenty of marijuana activists 
from out of state.

"Never have I ever imagined I could do this on American soil," said 
Eddie Ramirez, an Austin, Texas, pot user who attended a "420 Happy 
Hour" Friday at a downtown Denver hotel. "Being a smoker my whole 
life, this has been on my bucket list - go scuba diving, go deep-sea 
fishing and go to the Cannabis Cup."

One place pot-smoking won't be as evident this year is the University 
of Colorado in Boulder. The school once was home to the nation's 
largest group smoke-out on April 20. More than 10,000 people showed 
up in 2010, and in 2011 Playboy magazine cited the celebration and 
named the campus the nation's No. 1 party school.

Last year, school officials closed the site of the party, Norlin 
Quad, on April 20. They planned to rope off the area again this year.

Lopez conceded that many don't appreciate the April 20 smoke-outs. 
But he insisted they at least force marijuana critics to talk about 
the drug and consider its legal status.

"Not everybody likes everything in America. That's one of the great 
things, that we can express ourselves," Lopez said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom