Denver has had several 4/20 celebrations but last weekend was their first since the passing of Amendment 64 and was also the first celebration wrought by gun violence. Amendment 64 supporters say incidents like this could curtail marijuana legalization.
Speculations that the gun violence was associated with the legalization of marijuana, the volume of people that attended the celebration or a product of local gang violence have been made. The attendance figures far exceeded those of previous years and the rally was scheduled to be a two day rather than one day event. Because there were larger crowds expected the police presence was larger. Prior to the rally, Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson asserted, “Our biggest goal is to ensure everyone is safe in this environment…We’ll have the necessary number of officers to ensure the safety of the public.”
Unfortunately the public wasn’t safe, as bullets were fired into the crowed causing upwards of 80,000 people to flee into nearby streets. Fortunately, only two people sustained non-life threatening gunshot wounds and one was grazed by a bullet. Denver police released descriptions of the gunmen but haven’t made any arrests yet but may have identified one of the suspects and there is growing speculation that this was a gang related incident.
Advocates for marijuana legalization say the gun violence and the nature of the festival could damage legalization efforts by portraying a tainted public image of marijuana users. The dialogue around the 4/20 celebration rally and those who attend it is about “getting high” or the excessive use of marijuana, alcohol and other drugs. It is a place to party and binge on substances which is why, according to Joe Megysey the spokesman for the Amendment 64 campaign says these events give marijuana users a negative public image: “The vast majority of legitimate industry condemns these events, but most people watching television coverage of the event will see instead images of a 30-year-old stoner… rambling about how great pot is.” Megysey also predicts that these types of rallies will lose their appeal, saying, “As we move toward normalizing marijuana and as legalization moves forward, these kinds of rallies will become a thing of the past.”
While the rallies seem to encourage and celebrate the excessive use of marijuana they also don’t help with drug prevention either. Young adults and youth that attend these festivals are exposed to behaviors that they may think are “cool” to model. There have been various studies linking early use of substances like marijuana with the development of substance abuse disorders later in life. In light of this, hopefully Megysey’s prediction is right that these types of rallies will lose their appeal and the public doesn’t have to worry as much about exposure to marijuana abuse – or gun violence.