Denver’s 4/20 rally is up for grabs after longtime organizer loses appeal

On Friday, a hearing officer upheld the city’s decision to ban Miguel Lopez from hosting the 4/20 event following allegations of mismanagement.
4 min. read
The Civic Center 4/20 rally in 2011. (Xuilla/CC)

Longtime 4/20 event organizer Miguel Lopez lost his right to host the annual cannabis rally at Denver's Civic Center Park. On Friday, a hearing officer upheld the city's decision to ban Lopez from hosting the event following allegations of mismanagement.

This means that a new organizer can make a bid for the potentially lucrative event, and the city is already laying out ground rules for how to get in line.

However, Lopez will take the matter to district court in an effort to keep the permit, according to attorney Rob Corry. 

The city of Denver alleges that Lopez's team mismanaged the event this year. Parks officials charged that the 4/20 crowds created a security risk by crashing through fences, that improper trash management allowed garbage to build up during the event, that numerous food vendors were operating without proper licenses at the event and that the event resulted in improper blockages of streets and sidewalks.

Lopez said this wasn't his fault and that the city misrepresented some of the things that went wrong. He holds the permit to the event, but outsourced much of the management to Civic Center Productions and another man named Santino Walter. Meanwhile, event sponsors are suing Walter, and some vendors said in October that they still hadn't been paid for the April event.

Competing organizers will be allowed to apply for the permit on a first-come-first-served basis on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

What happened:

Denver fined Lopez about $12,000, banned him from getting event permits for three years and removed his "priority" ability to get the 4/20 permit for Civic Center.

David Ramirez, the hearing officer who reviewed the appeal, found that the city had a preponderance of evidence to establish its allegations. The ruling takes on the various charges in detail.

For example, on trash: "Even, if viewed in the best light, the permittee failed to have trash containers delivered in a timely fashion resulting in city trash containers to be used, in clear violation of the policy," the hearing officer wrote.

On security, the officer said that the "failure to follow the security plan and numerous plan malfunctions created a very troubling and potentially dangerous setting."

Change coming?

Lopez has described himself as rooted in the authentic political culture of the marijuana legalization movement and believes that the new money of the industry is trying to co-opt that culture.

Euflora, a sponsor of this year's event, has declared it wants the permit and has had staff members waiting outside a city building since late in October in the hopes of being first on line. It is unclear whether the city will honor the fact that the company has essentially called dibs on the permit.

"We are commited to getting the permit for 4/20, 2018," said Bobby Reginelli, marketing director for Euflora.

Anyone interested in putting on an event in Civic Center on April 20 should come to the Wellington Webb Municipal Building, 201 W. Colfax Ave. Room 1.G.1, on Nov. 21. Doors will open at 7 a.m., and applications will be accepted starting at 8 a.m.

People are prohibited from gathering on the Webb Building property before midnight on Nov. 21, according to the city.

View the full ruling here.

But it's not over.

"The next stage is Denver District Court, which is we’re going to proceed to momentarily," said Corry, the attorney. "We’ll have a number of arguments at the Denver District Court that weren’t able to be raised at this hearing."

He said the next appeal could focus on constitutional issues and other new arguments.

"We’re being treated differently from anyone else because of our message," he said. Lopez said that the rally has a message of equality and diversity, and that it stands against disparities in how drug laws are enforced and in the ownership of the cannabis industry.

"We built this city. We built this state. We built everything the industry has to be on. It's like laying the pavement on the ground for someone to walk on," he said.

 Corry also contends that the idea of a 4/20 rally in Civic Center is the intellectual property of his clients.

"We own the 4/20 rally, it’s our property, we invented it," he said. "Nobody else can just steal our trademark, our intellectual property, and do a rally."

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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