An attendee at the rescheduled Denver 420 Rally on May 21, 2016 in Denver's Civic Center Park. (Jason Connolly, AFP/Getty Images)

Plans are off for Denver 420 Fest in Cheesman Park after event sparks uproar

A city parks official on Thursday confirmed that an organizer has canceled plans for a two-day Denver 420 Fest at Cheesman Park next month.

The new event had been planned for April 20-21, and it would have shared the April 20 date that’s dear to marijuana enthusiasts with the longstanding Denver 420 Rally in Civic Center Park. That larger single-day event still is on track to obtain its permit for Civic Center, a parks official said. On Thursday, organizers announced rapper 2 Chainz as the event’s headliner.

But plans for a competing marijuana festival at Cheesman by Colorado Highlife LLC had been met with intense opposition from park advocates in central Denver.

The organizer’s permit application estimated 4,900 attendees each day, with vendor booths, a DJ and performances by bluegrass and pop bands.

Friends and Neighbors for Cheesman Park, a park advocacy group, this week sent out a blistering message to its members and city officials that called the idea of using that site “disrespectful to historic Cheesman Park and the neighborhood.”

The group expressed concern about the potential for excessive concert stage noise, illegal public consumption of marijuana — despite the event website’s warning that it won’t be allowed — and the sale of drug paraphernalia in the park by event vendors.

“The event organizer has advised the city that he has canceled the event,” Cyndi Karvaski, a spokeswoman for Denver Parks and Recreation, said Thursday afternoon.

An attempt to reach Tim Vernon of Colorado Highlife earlier in the day was not successful. The organizer is associated with Colorado Highlife Tours and Travel, based in Colorado Springs.

The reasons for the decision were unclear, but the change came after city officials had set guidelines for a conditional park permit issued to the organizer.

Among the conditions, Karvaski said, was that the organizer submit agreements for security, portable toilets and trash removal; plans for noise mitigation, parking and transportation, as well as communication to attendees about public consumption laws; and that the organizer meet with Denver police to discuss security. The deadline for meeting all requirements and paying permit fees would have been March 30.

Those conditions are similar to requirements given each year by the city to organizers of the Civic Center rally. Agreements with outside contractors sometimes have proved costly for that event’s organizers, sometimes complicating permit issuance.

City Councilman Wayne New, whose district contains both parks, said the more residential Cheesman Park would be a poor venue choice for a marijuana-friendly festival.

He noted that the event would have been on weekdays when children were visiting the adjacent Denver Botanic Gardens on school field trips. A nonprofit called Warren Village provides services for single-parent families, including an early childhood education center, near the park.

New said the leaders of both organizations expressed concern about the 420 Fest to city officials.

“We just need to make sure we have the 4/20 events in the right place,” New said. “I don’t think anybody has any objection to having something down in Civic Center Park, but unfortunately that wasn’t available (for this event).”

Cheesman Park advocates complained that they received notification about the pending permit only this week. Parks and Recreation director Allegra “Happy” Haynes told The Denver Post on Wednesday, before the cancellation occurred, that officials had waited until details were clear before communicating them to neighborhood groups.

“We had a lot of steps to go through,” Haynes said. “I might have been better about reaching out to people and giving a heads up, but it was hard to say exactly what we thought was going to happen, and then to get people notified.”

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