A cloud of smoke rises above the crowd at a previous 4/20 rally at Civic Center Park. (Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Attorney withdraws claim that toking up is legal at Denver 4/20 rally

An attorney for Denver’s 4/20 marijuana rally has “rescinded and withdrawn” a controversial letter that said organizers would sanction public smoking of pot at the event.

But Denver’s city attorney on Monday asked organizers to clarify their intentions — by agreeing to notify attendees that toking up would violate the law.

Attorney and activist Robert Corry’s original letter, sent to city officials last month, caused a stir. It left in question whether the city will grant a needed permit to use Civic Center for the annual event, planned for April 19-20.

That park permit still is under review while officials consider Corry’s correspondence and await answers to new questions, City Attorney Scott Martinez confirmed Monday.

In his letter to Corry, Martinez wrote: “You stated in your February 20 letter that persons could attend the event and publicly consume marijuana with impunity under the auspices of the permit. Do you no longer maintain this position? Please advise.”

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Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized the sale and use of recreational marijuana, does not permit consumption of pot in public.

But in the initial letter, Corry wrote that the organizers, once they secured a permit for the park, could allow public smoking.

He cited a part of Amendment 64 that gives any entity that “occupies, owns or controls a property” the power to regulate marijuana use there. A legal expert consulted by The Denver Post questioned Corry’s legal interpretation.

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On Monday, Corry’s new letter, in withdrawing his original missive, blamed “selective and possibly self-serving misinterpretation” by legalization opponents for the decision.

“Instead, to clarify, at this year’s version of the 420 event,” Corry wrote, “organizers and participants will conduct ourselves in an identical fashion to previous years’ events,” with no significant changes.

For years, organizers have left it up to attendees whether to smoke marijuana. And Denver police have enforced the laws lightly, avoiding aggressive crackdowns.

Few dispute that many attendees likely will smoke or consume pot regardless of the city’s official stance.

But since legal recreational cannabis sales began Jan. 1 — for the first time anywhere in the world — there is more attention focused on this year’s 4/20 event in Denver.

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Corry said organizers apologized for any confusion caused by their first letter. They were reacting, he wrote Monday, to suggestions by some, including City Councilman Charlie Brown, that police should crack down more at this year’s event.

“We realize now that we should not have taken that bait,” Corry wrote.

Martinez, for his part, did not seem satisfied.

“Do you mean to say that the organizers will make no attempt to control the unlawful public consumption of marijuana by attendees at the 2014 event?” the city attorney wrote.

An attempt to reach Corry on Monday afternoon was not immediately successful.

Corry had said organizers would distribute his first letter widely to provide anyone cited for marijuana-related offenses with “a plausible defense.”

Martinez asked for an assurance that they will “explicitly forswear any promotion of any unlawful activity” and will promote that public consumption of marijuana would be unlawful.

Jon Murray: 303-954-1405, jmurray@denverpost.com or twitter.com/denverJonMurray

This story was first published on DenverPost.com