DENVER -- As tens of thousands of people gather to celebrate and smoke marijuana in Denver, police will be out in full force.
But it's not the pot smoking they're concerned about at the yearly event, billed as the nation's largest April 20 celebration. Instead, police say they are focused on crowd security in light of attacks that killed three at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
The event -- which drew 50,000 people last year -- could bring a record 80,000 this year, organizers say. The celebration should be especially buoyant, organizer Miguel Lopez said, because it marks the first such celebration since Colorado and Washington voted to become the first two states to defy federal drug law and declare pot OK for adults over 21 for recreational use. Even with the legalization, Colorado law bans open and public marijuana use.
Still, authorities generally look the other way. The smoke hangs thick over a park at the base of the state Capitol, and live music keeps the crowd entertained well past the moment of group smoking at 4:20 p.m.
Group smoke-outs are also planned today from New York to San Francisco. The origins of the number "420" as a code for pot are murky, but the drug's users have for decades marked the date 4/20 as a day to use pot together.
Denver's celebration this year also features the nation's first open-to-all Cannabis Cup, a marijuana competition patterned after one held in Amsterdam. Similar to a beer or wine festival, pot growers compete for awards for taste, appearance and potency of their weed. Denver's event, sponsored by High Times magazine, has sold out more than 5,000 tickets.
Snoop Lion, the new reggae- and marijuana-loving persona for the rapper better known as Snoop Dogg, will receive a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from High Times. And the hip-hop group Cypress Hill was set to perform a sold-out concert this evening in Colorado's iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Both Colorado and Washington are still awaiting a federal response to their votes and are working on setting up commercial pot sales, which are still limited to people with certain medical conditions. In the meantime, pot users are free to share and use the drug in small amounts. Mr. Lopez said the holiday is more than an excuse to get high; it's also a political statement by people who want to see the end of marijuana prohibition.
"You don't have to smoke weed to go to 4/20 rallies ," Mr. Lopez said. "That's what this is. It's a celebration, it's a statement about justice and freedom and this movement."