Yoga, parkour and more security: New 4/20 event organizer seeks to shed disarray at annual marijuana celebration
For more than a decade, Denver city officials have winced as they’ve watched puffs of marijuana smoke rise above Civic Center park during 4/20 gatherings at the symbolically important time of 4:20 p.m.
After the legalization of recreational marijuana took effect in Colorado four years ago, those grimaces spread — finding a quiet echo among many on the business side who feared that such open flouting of the continuing ban on public consumption could harm the wider public acceptance of the fledgling industry.
This year, the industry has taken control of the event for the first time, after Euflora, a growing chain of dispensaries that started on the 16th Street Mall, won the right to step in for longtime permit-holder Miguel Lopez, a sometimes-combative pro-marijuana activist. Last year, Lopez earned city officials’ public scorn — as well as a three-year permit ban — after the city woke on April 21 to a disheveled, trash-strewn mess in the park.
For the free event that’s now called the Mile High 420 Festival, Euflora officials promise a more professionally run event. But don’t expect a Disney-fied version, as an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 spectators flock to Civic Center: The event, after all, remains a celebration of marijuana culture.
“We want this to look great for the city of Denver and state of Colorado, and we know the world is watching,” said Bobby Reginelli, Euflora’s marketing director. “It’s very hard to throw an event with contradictory messaging. … On the one hand, we’re celebrating cannabis, but our state’s laws haven’t caught up to the fact that you can’t publicly consume cannabis.”
In other words: Expect some smoke, despite signs reminding attendees of laws against public consumption.
But expect some changes, too, as Euflora — known for its tourist-friendly shops that take noticeable cues from the Apple Store — tries to tame the free-wheeling event, at least a little.
Among the first things it did in planning was hire Team Player Productions, which puts on the People’s Fair in Civic Center each June. On tap for 4/20 are more entrances, to cut down on fence-jumping; more security screeners and equipment to quicken the flow of lines; and new offerings, including beer gardens.
The festival, running 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., is even scheduled to start the day with yoga on the Broadway Terrace, with a 4 p.m. slot in the same location for a meditation-focused fitness event and a parkour challenge.
“We’re also doing a sunset yoga for half an hour to wind the event down,” Reginelli said, although rain in the forecast threatens to dampen things.
Three stages will feature an extensive lineup of local bands and comedians (the latter on the “420 Funny” stage, with headliners on the main stage that include Lil Wayne, Lil Jon, The Original Wailers and bluegrass band WhiteWater Ramble.
“We really believe in turning this around”
Reginelli says Euflora probably will lose money on the event, despite charging fees for dozens of vendors, but it figures to gain more name recognition in the competitive retail world.
“At the end of the day, we really believe in turning this around,” he said.
Kristi Kelly, the executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, which represents many Colorado business license-holders, credited Euflora for careful event planning.
“There are a lot of eyes on this event because this is the first evolution of what has been a very revered event among celebrators of 4/20 festivities,” Kelly said. “And they’ve done a lot to preserve the spirit of the event, while also balancing the community, city and industry interests — because they understand the weight and the privilege bestowed upon them in hosting the event.”
Previous 4/20 events have contended with challenges — including bad weather and, in 2013, a shooting that left three people injured in the park.
Even as the 4/20 rally became increasingly commercialized (rapper 2 Chainz performed last year), Lopez had maintained the event’s original protest vibe. At more recent events, he railed against continuing federal and state restrictions on marijuana, arguing that true legalization has not yet been achieved.
Lopez plans to attend this year’s event, as well as 4/20 events featured around the city. Although he’s still challenging his three-year permit ban, which was based on trash collection, security violations and unlicensed food vendors, he says he’s moving on to other pursuits.
But he takes exception to assertions that Euflora is professionalizing the Civic Center event — and to its approach.
“To have a celebration is wrong,” Lopez said. “That’s alluding to people that everything is OK — and it’s not. What are we celebrating, their economic success? How do you measure success, because I don’t measure success by the prisons still being filled by blacks and Chicanos and marginalized communities (for drug-related crimes), and by the businesses mostly being owned by white males.”
Change feeds resentment among some
Euflora’s takeover has bred some resentment among Lopez and some fellow activists.
He and allies have flooded Euflora’s social media pages with negative reviews and allegations that it stole the 4/20 event. Asked about this, Lopez said the activity amounted to applying “political sanctions” on Euflora for profiting off marijuana.
The theft allegation is rooted in unexpected twists in the permit process.
In the fall, Reginelli and Euflora co-founder Pepe Breton announced that company employees would camp outside a city building for weeks to ensure Euflora was first in line for the April 20 park permit on Nov. 21.
But that morning arrived with a footrace to the permit counter, as Lopez friend Michael “Smokey” Ortiz entered the building at another door. He beat Euflora’s team by seconds.
In a turn of events that echoes Lopez’s previous 4/20 permit battles with the city, Denver Parks and Recreation yanked Ortiz’s permit application just after Christmas. The notification letter said the revocation was based on indications that Ortiz lied to gain access to the building’s second entrance, and also on evidence — including misspellings of Ortiz’s name on the application and surveillance video showing him with Lopez — that Ortiz was really applying for the permit on Lopez’s behalf.
Lopez and Ortiz denied the allegations, and Ortiz still has an active lawsuit challenging the revocation, according to his attorney, Rob Corry.
But the city awarded the permit to Euflora.
Since then, parks department spokeswoman Cyndi Karvaski said, the new organizers have met all deadlines and requirements. Still, on Friday, as the event unfurls in Civic Center, city monitors will be watching.
“We put a lot of restrictions on them, like we do for any events,” Karvaski said. “Last year, it was the same event requirements for a permit — and unfortunately, those were not met.”