The Mile High City has long been a positive presence in the cannabis movement since becoming the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana back in 2000. Denver is pretty much synonymous with the term ‘420’, and it’s no surprise that their annual rally on April 20th makes the population nearly double in size with young and old, from all walks of life. During the weekend alone, I met several people who had traveled multiple hours to attend, myself driving from Dallas (a 14 hour trip) to make the venture.
This past weekend was one for the books, however, as it marked the first official 420 rally since the sale of recreational marijuana went into effect this year. No longer only limited to those with a medical card, anyone above the age of 21 within Denver’s city limits is now legally allowed to indulge. When it comes to the topic of marijuana legalization, Denver is up high and comfortable in the role of playing guinea pig.
Anti-marijuana groups protested angrily, saying that theft and violent crime would undoubtedly raise within the city, and that drug crazed teens would wreak havoc on dispensaries. After the results below were released earlier this month, several other states formerly against marijuana legalization are now thinking twice. So in addition to being one of the most beautiful places in America, Colorado also has the pleasure of being one of the first states to sell marijuana for recreational use; and it’s proving to be pretty damn effective.
Entering the grounds from Bannock and Colfax, I was happy to see the rally, which was being operated as an actual festival event for the first time, was located in the heart of downtown. Even more convenient was the fact that the free downtown bus service, the 16th Street Mall Bus, was making drop offs at the venue as well. Stress free and ready to partake in the day’s festivities, we made our way into the gates after a quick pat-down upon entry.
The lay of the land was simply gorgeous. Serving as a backdrop for the rally’s main stage, the sight of Colorado’s state capitol truly set the depth of just how monumental this event was. A groundbreaking record of 80,000 people came into Denver to celebrate this most recent advancement in marijuana legalization, and it was to witness history in the making. Closed to the public twice weekly to prevent damage to the park, Civic Center proved to be the perfect location for the festival with its beautiful shaded trees, rolling landscape and lush grass. Equipped with several paved pathways throughout the park as well, skateboarders and children on scooters easily made their ways through the fest.
Amongst the decoratively dressed festival goers and gargantuan joint blimps coasting through the air, several vendors and informational booths caught the eye, happily offering erudite pamphlets and free garb. Leafly, one of the Cannabis Culture Festival’s main sponsors, is the world’s largest and most comprehensive database for medical marijuana strains and dispensaries. As we approached, a group of elderly men were inquiring about strains in particular that could aid them in various health issues; one complained of arthritis and another had been a long time victim of severe back pain.
A smiling woman wearing a Leafly shirt had no problem guiding the two through the Leafly app, where the complicated process of finding specific medicine and carriers is made relatively easier. Locked and loaded with a helpful and knowledgeable staff, Leafly were undoubtedly one of the most passionate and informative groups of the weekend.
Saturday Highlights (April 19th)
A performance by local Denver favorites, Bass Physics, set the mood for Saturday with their soulful and glitchy productions. Through thick hazes of smoke, fans danced and hula-hooped to the entirety of the duo’s set, which seamlessly drifted from upbeat glitch into ambient, ethereal beats. Performing simultaneously as live instrumentalists, Bass Physics successfully provides the hyped energy of a great party, as well as having the ability to wind the crowd down with their more tranquil tracks; bringing to mind live-tronica jazz acts such as Big Gigantic, STS9, and GRiZ.
Zion I, a well respected hip hop duo from Oakland, brought their signature rowdiness full force with their highly energetic show, each member barely pausing to take breaths while spitting lyrics and pacing the stage. Their socially conscious and straight forward rhymes resonated perfectly with the crowd, adding to the overall empowering vibe of the festival.
Closing out the day was Wyclef Jean, an artist whose musical craft and philanthropic efforts are well-known and respected around the world. ‘Don’t listen to all these rappers telling you they’re gangsters,’ Wyclef stopped to say during his performance on Saturday. ‘You’re not a real gangster until you’ve run for President!’ Jumping into the crowd, excited fans rushed the stage, eager to hoist the singer/rapper onto their shoulders, carrying him wherever he would let them. Due to a permit issue, the eccentric performance was unfortunately cut short, with Colorado officers and the Mayor arriving onstage to give an explanation. Upon hearing unruly cries of protest from the crowd, Wyclef quickly jumped back to the microphone, picking up his guitar, and told attendees not to cause a stir. Wisely, the fans abided and within minutes, the crowd had slowly dissipated into the streets. Simply put, when Wyclef talks, everyone pays attention.
Sunday Highlights (April 20)
Arriving at the momentous second day of the festival, the famed 4/20, a performance by reggae-ska champs The Expendables drew an even larger crowd than the day before; apparently an audience of nearly 80,000 people. Their melodic blend of alternative rock and reggae brings to life the reality of the bands’ roots, surfing and growing up near the beaches of Cali. Invoking their punk influences with driven and catchy riffs, festival goers were whipped into a stoned frenzy as the band played fan favorites one after another.
Leaving the main stage, our group walked along the park to explore more vendors and booths. Along the left side of the festival were large panels for local artists to create murals, a few of whom had also graced the live painting roster at Snowball Music Festival, which had happened two weeks prior. The homegrown pride and influence came across strong and clear in the finished pieces.
Coming up behind The Expendables on the main stage was Atlanta born rapper B.o.B, a performer with an explosive presence and undeniable star power. Assembling the crowd as if they were his troops, the fans took to his direction and sang out in unison to his every word, swaying their hands as he waved his mic like a baton from side to side. Getting the crowd more hyped than I’d seen all weekend, B.o.B. was the perfect set to close out the rally.
All in all, it is an indescribable feeling to be apart of such a historical advancement in the medical marijuana movement. The Cannabis Culture Music Festival/420 Rally was a beautiful experience beyond what it stood for; the crowd, ambiance and organizers truly made the festival what it was meant to be; a fun, entertaining and socially conscious event for the public to indulge and celebrate in.