Denver police officers keep an eye on people as they leave the 4/20 Rally at Civic Center. (Seth McConnell, The Denver Post)

Opinion: After much worry, Denver 4/20 rally goes just fine

As trip-hop music played through booming speakers, sun-drenched park-goers on Sunday sauntered through Civic Center with the pungent smell of marijuana hanging in the air.

And you know what? Everything was fine.

Just as the rollout of legal recreational marijuana sales on Jan. 1 went smoothly, Denver’s 4/20 rally — a two-day event this year — also went off without much of a hitch.

This was the weekend many in city government dreaded — the first 4/20 celebration of the new pot age.

City officials had threatened to deny a festival permit after organizers appeared to promote open pot smoking. Councilmembers spent months discussing how police should react when confronted with pot smoking and feared the violence of 2013 would return.

Some officials worried the nation’s press would flock to the rally and photos from the big smoke-out would become the iconic image of Denver.

But fears were put to rest during the two-day event with tight security, controlled access into the park and a general sense of orderliness.

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, Denver police had written 47 marijuana-consumption citations. On Saturday, they issued 22 pot tickets.

Though signs warned against smoking and organizers instructed people not to puff up, the predictable cloud of marijuana smoke arose like clockwork at 4:20 p.m Sunday.

More from the weekend: Find all 4/20 coverage here — a fun Cannabis Cup recap from Day One, the Leftover Salmon, Method Man/Redman concert in Denver and the Snoop Dogg/Wiz Khalifa show at Red Rocks, plus videos aplenty.

The world didn’t stop. Denver did not become a laughingstock. And police didn’t barge into the crowd to write $150 citations to anyone and everyone they could nab.

Clearly, the laws that specifically forbid pot smoking in the park were not being enforced.

And that is how it should be at a pot rally with tens of thousands of people.

In 2007, Denver voters decided to make marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority.

In 2012, Colorado voters legalized recreational use, though still banning public consumption.

This was the biggest test so far. The measured reaction by police should be applauded. A more zealous response would have been a disaster.

Earlier on Sunday at the police command center, Deputy Chief David Quinones watched a video feed on a wall of monitors from 24 surveillance cameras in Civic Center. Though the crowds had yet to arrive, Quinones remarked about how normal things appeared.

“You see the food booths, the entertainment, it’s more like the traditional festival,” Quinones said.

The event heralded as a rally for marijuana rights was really a celebration. Activists still believe there are matters to protest surrounding pot, even with legalization. But few who came to the park on Saturday and Sunday seemed to have activism in mind. This was a victory dance.

“Give us this one day,” said Lily Berryman, 18, of Fort Collins, who sported marijuana leaf sunglasses.

“Weed smokers aren’t the type to get up all in your face,” she said. “We do it at home or behind closed doors. So we just want this one day to smoke and have fun.”

The event was similar to other festivals like A Taste of Colorado, the People’s Fair or Cinco de Mayo. But this one was skunkier and with heavier music.

“It’s extremely successful,” said Miguel Lopez, the event’s organizer, from the stage before the 4:20 p.m. countdown. “Everyone is completely proud.”

It’s likely the event will remain controversial. But it will also likely continue.

Denver shouldn’t worry so much about the 2015 event. The city’s reputation is not in tatters.

The police department’s reasonable response and the structured organization of the event show the state’s largest city is maturing with the pot issue.

E-mail Jeremy Meyer at Follow him on Twitter: @JPMeyerDPost

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