Thousands of fans listen to music during the Denver 4/20 Rally at Civic Center Park on April 20, 2014. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Denver 4/20 rally mellow; police ticket dozens

As the sun rose at Red Rocks Amphitheater on Sunday, David Garcia — high on the holy spirit as well as just plain high — contemplated the unusual convergence of prayer and pot in Colorado this year.

“It’s a beautiful sight,” said Garcia, who was raised Christian and who said he smoked marijuana before going to the annual sunrise service. “Man didn’t create weed. God created weed.”

Sunday was the first time in 11 years that Easter and the day marijuana enthusiasts call 4/20 fell on the same day. And perhaps the most whipsaw 14 hours in Red Rocks history — churchgoers singing “Amazing Grace” in the morning, Snoop Dogg singing “Smoke the Weed” in the evening — was a fitting peculiarity for a day when a green sheen spread across Denver like never before.

Denver 4/20 rally mellow; police ticket dozens
Two men are ticketed by Denver police for smoking marijuana in public during the 4/20 celebration at Civic Center Park on April 20, 2014. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Tens of thousands of people browsed, danced, hula-hooped and puffed at the annual 4/20 rally in Civic Center park, putting up a collective smoke cloud at 4:20 p.m. that quickly dissipated in the breeze. Tens of thousands more packed into the High Times Cannabis Cup, a marijuana convention of sorts, at the Denver Mart north of downtown. Others attended one of dozens of marijuana-themed concerts, comedy shows, trade shows, product launches and other events spread throughout the city.

“People around the world are looking at Denver on this day that sense has come to drug policy,” said Leftover Salmon band member Vince Herman, sitting in the basement of Denver Kush Club just before taking the stage at 4:20 p.m. “I feel really glad that we can have a role celebrating in the streets.”

On the whole, authorities reported no major problems.

By late afternoon, Denver police had issued 47 citations for public marijuana consumption at the downtown rally, as well as 16 other arrests or citations for other reasons. Denver Health Medical Center paramedics had treated 14 people, including three who were taken to detox. The hospital’s emergency room had treated about a half-dozen people, most of whom had passed out through a combination of sun and substance use.

Brittany Gibbs caught one of the police citations Sunday when she lit up her chillum pipe on the outskirts of the rally just before police officers on bicycles rode by. They handed her a $150 ticket for public marijuana consumption.

“They said, ‘Go into a crowd where we can’t pick you out,’” Gibbs said.

The citations — only five were issued last year — were part of an effort this year by officers to remind festival-goers that, while marijuana use and possession is now legal for adults, smoking in public is not. And they came at perhaps the most professionally produced 4/20 the city has ever seen.

Gone was the come-as-you-like informality of past years. This year’s rally had fences around Civic Center park, designated entry points with pat-downs and bag checks, street closures, dozens of vendor booths — from hemp energy drinks to festival favorites like the turkey leg guy — and two stages for musical performances. After a shooting marred last year’s rally, armed security guards this year walked through the crowd. At mid-afternoon, the air even smelled slightly less perfumed with pot than in years past.

Earlier Sunday, Jessica Holland hula-hooped with a friend to the side of the main music stage. Holland said she likely wouldn’t smoke up at the rally — partly because of the police presence and partly because she needed to leave the rally early to spend Easter with her family.

“It was actually easier to smoke outside before it was legal,” she said. “The police are watching much more now.”

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, jingold@denverpost.com or twitter.com/john_ingold

Staff writer Ricardo Baca contributed to this report.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com