|DENVER - Thousands of pot smokers plan to descend on Colorado and Washington this weekend for what may be the biggest marijuana celebration in U.S. history.
Saturday marks the first “420 Day” the unofficial pot lovers’ jamboree held every April 20, based on the slang identifier “420” since voters in both states passed initiatives legalizing adult use of marijuana in November. Although pot isn’t exactly legal in either state yet, that will not stop the weed-toking faithful from throwing bodacious parties.
“This year is going to be huge. It’s the first 420 in the post-prohibition world,” said Denver lawyer Rob Corry, who specializes in pot-related legal issues and campaigned for Amendment 64, the decriminalization measure approved by Colorado voters by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
As many as 100,000 people are expected to gather Saturday at Denver City Center Park for a rally featuring music, food, speakers and adult refreshments. A few blocks away at the EXDO Event Center, an estimated 16,000 have bought tickets for the sold-out Cannabis Cup, a two-day marijuana-brewing contest hosted by High Times magazine and featuring the rapper Snoop Lion, better known as Snoop Dogg.
Colorado is expecting a number of out-of-towners, thanks to newly launched companies like My 420 Tours, which plans to escort customers to cannabis-related events and hot spots.
Meanwhile, in Washington, about 1,500 are expected to attend “Seattle’s Largest 420 Party,” sponsored by Dope Magazine and billed as “an evening of cannabis culture, arts, music and fashion.” The festival also will feature the presentation of an award the Dope Cup for the best marijuana concoction.
Then there’s the 420Fest, a Seattle nightclub party featuring appropriately named bands such as Space Owl & the Herbivores.
“We have a lot to celebrate, a successful Hempfest, a new Hemp Boutique, and how about marijuana becoming legal in Washington?” says a flier for Saturday’s 10-hour event.
Fair warning to would-be 420-goers: Despite the November vote, marijuana isn’t technically legal in either Colorado or Washington.
For one thing, legislatures in both states are still drawing up regulations governing the cultivation, distribution and sale of marijuana for adults 21 and older.
Indeed, officials in Washington said Wednesday that they would spread out and thus delay their timeline for granting licenses, in order to give growers a better sense of the market. On Dec. 1, the Liquor Control Board will provide all licenses, which means growers can’t start until after then and legal weed won’t be ready until spring.
For another, even after the state rules are in place, the ability of states to decriminalize marijuana hinges on the Justice Department. Marijuana is banned under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and so far the Obama administration has yet to say whether it will look the other way when retail pot shops start opening their doors for recreational use.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March that he would issue an opinion on the issue “relatively soon.” In 2009, the Justice Department allowed states whose voters had approved medical-marijuana initiatives to proceed despite the federal ban.
Whatever the outcome, don’t expect federal agents to break up the weekend festivities 420 Day has tended to enjoy a hands-off relationship with local law enforcement as long as the revelers maintain a mellow attitude.
“Our focus continues to be that of public safety with the folks that are there,” said Denver police spokesman Aaron Kafer.
One place that is off-limits to pot smokers: the University of Colorado at Boulder, the hub of 420 activity in Colorado until 2012, when campus officials decided to nip the party in the bud in order to fight the school’s image as a chronic haven.
In previous years, as many as 12,000 people would gather on the campus green for unauthorized extracurricular activities. Not this year.
“We are committed to ending the unwelcome 4/20 gather on the CU-Boulder campus, and this year’s approach represents the continuance of a multi-year plan to achieve that end,” Chancellor Philip DiStefano said in a statement. “This isn’t about marijuana or drug laws. It’s about not disrupting the important work of a world-class university.”
At the same time, the university issued a statement saying it would not spread fish fertilizer on Norlin Quad in an effort to discourage impromptu pot smokers, as it did last year.
Not a big deal, said Mr. Corry, who filed an unsuccessful legal challenge against last year’s crackdown, given all the other weekend events.
“It’s a Saturday, so I’m not sure people are going to be there anyway,” said Mr. Corry. “CU’s event is always interesting and fun, but it’s probably over for the near future.”