DENVER -- Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.
The 4:20 p.m. smoke-out in the shadow of the Colorado capitol was the capstone of an Easter weekend dedicated to cannabis in states across the country. Although it is still against the law to publicly smoke marijuana in Colorado, police only reported 63 citations or arrests Sunday, 47 for marijuana consumption.
"It feels good not to be persecuted anymore," said Joe Garramone, exultantly smoking a joint while his 3-year-old daughter played on a vast lawn crowded with fellow smokers.
The Garramone family came from Hawaii, among the tens of thousands who crowded into various cannabis-themed extravaganzas, from a marijuana industry expo called the Cannabis Cup at a trade center north of downtown to 4/20-themed concerts at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater. Acts included Slightly Stoopid and Snoop Dogg.
At 4:20 p.m., an enormous plume of marijuana smoke wafted into the sky above downtown Denver as rapper B.o.B belted out his song "Strange Clouds," with the hook: "And all we do is light it up, all night/All you see is strange clouds/Strange clouds, strange clouds."
The Civic Center Park event is the most visible sign of the pot holiday's transformation. It started as a defiant gathering of marijuana activists, but this year the event has an official city permit, is organized by an events management company and featured booths selling funnel cakes and Greek food next to kiosks hawking hemp lollipops and glass pipes.
Gavin Beldt, one of the organizers, said in a statement that the event is now a "celebration of legal status for its use in Colorado and our launch of an exciting new experience for those attending."
Denver is just one of many cities across the country where 4/20 marijuana celebrations were planned Sunday.
In Trenton, N.J., speakers urged a crowd of about 150 gathered at the statehouse to push state and federal lawmakers to legalize or decriminalize marijuana and called on Gov. Chris Christie to do what he can to help medical marijuana patients. Among those at the rally was Jawara McIntosh, the youngest son of noted reggae musician and pro-marijuana activist Peter Tosh.
In San Francisco, police Chief Greg Suhr said his officers would be cracking down on illegal parking, camping, drug sales, underage drinking and open alcohol containers at Golden Gate Park's Hippie Hill. Officials did not want the unofficial pot holiday to disrupt Easter activities in the park.
In Washington state, thousands celebrated in the only other state to legalize marijuana. Events included a Snoop Dogg show Saturday night as well as an event sponsored by Seattle's Dope Magazine, with a $99 "judge's pass" available that included 10 marijuana samples.
The marijuana code words "420" or "4:20" had their origin in 1971 from a group of high school students in San Raphael, Calif., who would gather at 4:20 p.m. at a designated location outside school in pursuit of smoking pot.
Back in Colorado, University of Colorado officials closed the Boulder campus to all but students, faculty and staff Sunday to ensure no 4/20 celebrations were held. Spokesman Ryan Huff said the tactic was working, with no arrests reported Sunday. The university says marking 4/20 is contrary to its mission of research, teaching and learning, and in the past, it has seeded a main lawn with fertilizer to keep revelers away.
While the weekend was for celebrating, recent events have brought serious scrutiny to Colorado's experiment with legalizing marijuana. Denver police say a man ate marijuana-infused candy before shooting and killing his wife April 14, an attack dispatchers heard during a 911 call the woman had placed. Her death followed that of a college student who traveled to Colorado with friends from Wyoming for spring break, ate more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie, and jumped to his death from a hotel balcony in Denver. State lawmakers are debating how to increase safety regulations.
Through a quirk of the calendar, the pot holiday this year shared a date with Easter.