When Damon Metzner needed a quick fix to boost ticket sales for a concert late last August, he found the answer on an increasingly popular website: Weedmaps.com.
The event was a Monday-night hip-hop show at the Larimer Lounge, where Metzner works as marketing director. Advance sales for the concert with rapper Afroman, known best for the decade-old stoner anthem “Because I Got High,” were not meeting expectations.
Metzner used Weedmaps — a comprehensive directory of medical marijuana dispensaries nationwide — to find Denver’s most popular pot shops. Among several dispensaries, he mailed a stack of tickets to The Clinic, a two- story house with lime green trim on East Colfax Avenue. Each dispensary ran the promotion differently, but the idea was simple: Free tickets with purchase.
So it goes in Colorado, where pot culture has become pop culture, as tens of thousands will demonstrate tomorrow by publicly smoking marijuana in bowls, bongs and blunts in cities and towns across the state.
“Five to 10 years ago, 4/20 was an excuse for high-school kids to skip school and hang out,” said Justin Williams, head grower at the Herbal Alternatives dispensary on South Broadway in Denver.
An October 2011 Gallup poll found that a record 50 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana use. It’s a dramatic shift from when Gallup first posed the question in 1969, when 84 percent of respondents opposed the idea.
On Nov. 6, Colorado may become the first state to legalize marijuana with the passing of Amendment 64, a controversial ballot initiative that would permit up to 1 ounce of possession for those 21 and older — ostensibly making the current medical marijuana laws obsolete.
For certain advocacy groups, tomorrow is a chance to push both sides of that measure. For many, though, 4/20 is a holiday — a day wherein the ritual of breaking up, rolling, packing, sparking and sharing one’s weed makes you a member of a community that still exists in the fog between “cult” and “mainstream.”
And in 2012, it’s a day in which a lot of people stand to make a lot of money.
A Levitate Festival
For the first time, the city-sanctioned Denver rally is expanding to two days with more than two dozen events taking place in Civic Center. Not least, a joint-rolling contest on Saturday afternoon.
Denver’s rally can be traced back to marijuana activist Ken Gorman, who began organizing regular “smoke-ins” on the steps of the Colorado state Capitol in 1993.
Over the course of two decades, Gorman’s lone megaphone protest evolved into the large-scale gathering that it is Friday. Gorman was shot to death in his Denver home at age 60 on Feb. 17, 2007, in a case that remains unsolved.
Mason Tvert, executive director of marijuana advocacy group SAFER, claims that despite its size, the Denver 420 rally — expected to draw around 10,000 participants — is less disruptive than an average CU football Saturday. “When thousands of people use marijuana at the same time, we don’t see nearly the problems as when thousands use alcohol,” he said.
Later in the day, promoter AEG Live will present the Levitate Festival at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield. The electronic music festival, featuring marquee names like Rusko and DJ Shadow, is described as “Colorado’s number one ‘elevated’ music experience” on the official event Facebook page.
Despite the name and date, AEG Live vice president Don Strasburg maintains that the concert is not directly tied to 4/20.
“April is a wonderful month for music in Colorado; the fact that some artists are playing on a certain date is because of national routing,” Strasburg said.
Alex Botwin, who performs as Paper Diamond and curated the festival, said, “We live in Colorado. It being 4/20 — that’s a holiday that we celebrate.” He also added that the event is “not solely focused on drugs.”
“It’s about taking things to a higher place. I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never done a show of this nature before. I think most of the people who come are respectful.”
Of course, 4/20 culture expands well beyond some swirling lights and dance music at one suburban arena tonight. There’s “Incredibowl’s 420 Extravaganja” at City Hall, “Reefer Mania Burlesque” at Bar Standard and the “4:20 Afternoon VIP Conference” at Herman’s Hideaway, to name a few.
Plastered to the front window of Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom on Welton Street in Five Points are posters advertising “The Motet 420 Party.” On the landing page of the venue’s website, you’ll also find “A Very Special Intimate 4/20 Show feat. Zion I” at the Other Side.
While Scott Morrill, co-owner and head talent buyer of Cervantes’, denied a direct relationship between marijuana use and these events, he said that the Motet’s band members requested that their poster be 4/20-themed.
“I feel like cops are more on our side,” Morrill said. “They let us run our business. We’re one of the best things going for this neighborhood. If people want to smoke weed, they will.”
No need to fight the law
Indeed, most sources agree that tokers need not bug out in the presence of police officers Friday.
“They’ll be there, but they’ll be there for our personal safety,” said Miguel Lopez, lead organizer of the Denver rally. “We ask people not to blow smoke in their faces.” Lopez added that the Hancock administration has engaged his team positively in several weeks of planning.
“If people don’t feel comfortable in Boulder, we welcome them with open arms in Denver,” said criminal defense attorney Rob Corry, who will speak in Civic Center at 4:35 p.m. Friday after the collective exhale.
For the past five years, Corry has offered free legal representation to anyone arrested for a petty offense related to marijuana on 4/20. It’s a promise he’s never had to make good on.
“I don’t have a problem with a person of any age coming to see American culture unfold before their very eyes,” Corry said. “Minors are not excluded.”
For now, marijuana possession is still illegal for everyone, any age without a medical card. And on 4/20, Colorado is still the Wild West.
Allen St. Pierre, the Executive Director of NORML, the largest, most well-known marijuana advocacy group in the country, has attended both the Denver and Boulder rallies in years past.
He offered this bit of minimalist wisdom from the phone in his Washington, D.C., office last week:
“The perfect should not be the enemy of the good.”
[Sidebar] Boulder’s contentious “smokeout” expected to draw throngs
In Boulder, an estimated crowd of 10,000 overtook CU’s Norlin Quad last year for the unsanctioned annual “smokeout,” costing the university $55,000 in supplemental security and other expenses. University police issued only 23 tickets and made just five arrests, according to department spokesman Ryan Huff.
On April 3, vice chancellor for student affairs Deb Coffin sent a mass e-mail to CU students to dissuade them from attending this year’s “smokeout.”
Ten days later, the university released a statement publicly barring all visitors from campus Friday who have not been pre-approved. Officials have also closed the Quad and applied a fish-based fertilizer to the “grassy area” this year.
“I thought the e-mail from CU officials was pretty funny,” said Samuel Woomer, a CU freshman from Lexington, Ky. “But I realize how serious the issue has become for the school’s image.”
In a joint effort with the CU Student Government, the student promotions group Program Council is presenting a free concert with reggae/rap star Wyclef Jean at Coors Event Center from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday.
Some critics suggest that the odd hour of the show, and the fact that students must be inside the building by 4 p.m., is nothing more than a sober lure for a few thousand would-be Norlin smokers.
Program Council director Heather Starbuck disagrees.
“Marijuana is not the No. 1 concern,” she said. “They (security officials) are not concerned if people are lighting up at the concert.”