Denver revokes 4/20 permit claim from “Smokey” Ortiz, whose lawyer points out that likely permit winners sell marijuana, a federal crime

The fight for Denver’s famous marijuana rally is far from over, and the whole thing has frankly gotten bizarre.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
2 Chainz playing Denver's 4/20 event in 2017. (Courtesy Bobby Reginelli)

2 Chainz playing Denver's 4/20 event in 2017. (Courtesy Bobby Reginelli)

This joint just got a little more twisted. The coveted permit to throw Denver’s biggest marijuana party has changed hands yet again, this time with mere months to go before tens of thousands of tokers descend on Civic Center.

“Isn’t it a saga?” asked Bobby Reginelli, marketing director for Euflora, the dispensary that now is set to host the party.

It is indeed. It’s had everything from 2 Chainz and stacks of cash to a three-week campout outside a government building, a desperate footrace to grab a piece of paper, a guy who apparently misspelled his own name at the worst time, and some existential questions about the city’s cannabis culture.

Now, the fight is far from over, and the whole thing has frankly gotten bizarre.

“The city already issued this permit,” said Rob Corry, an attorney for Michael Ortiz, who just lost his dibs on the permit. “We relied on this, and we made a lot of moves, frankly, and raised funds, and put together a package — $1.4 million that we were going to spend on this, and zero indication from the city that this was brewing.”

The backstory, in brief:

City officials said they were unhappy with how the event went this year, complaining about trash and security. They banned Miguel Lopez, the previous permit holder and a mainstay of the Chicano stoner culture, from throwing the event. That set off a legal battle which is still happening.

Meanwhile, the city offered up the permit for grabs. Whoever got it would have the right to throw the party and probably make some significant money in the process by selling tickets or sponsorships. The ownership of Euflora, the dispensary, paid staffers to camp out for the permit for weeks in November.

The permit was set to be awarded to whoever arrived at the city’s permit desk at 8 a.m. on Nov. 21. Somehow, a man named Michael “Smokey” Ortiz got there seconds before the Euflora team. First come, first serve.

Michael "Smokey" Ortiz was not asked to pose this way. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Michael "Smokey" Ortiz was not asked to pose this way. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

And now:

City staff last week revoked Ortiz’s claim to the permit, alleging that he had been deceitful in trying to get it — a claim he strongly denies.

Did he cheat?

One of the big city claims is that Ortiz won because he came in from a different door, which the Euflora team was told they couldn’t use. Ortiz lied to use that door, according to the city.

The city claims that everyone was told to line up at the Court Street entrance to the Webb Building starting at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 21. Ortiz went instead to the Colfax entrance, which opens onto the atrium where the permit office is.

Ortiz told a police corporal that he was “not getting a permit for Civic Center, but for another permit,” according to a statement from the officer.

“Totally fraud,” Ortiz responded in an interview. The city had never before specified which door you could use, he said. City staff confirmed that it was only communicated verbally on the night before the giveaway.

“Nobody from that building ever told me I couldn’t stand at the door,” Ortiz said. And he claims that when he was confronted by the officer, he only said that he was turning in “permits for different parks.” Once he got to the desk, he was told to narrow it down to one, so he chose Civic Center, he said. By his interpretation, he never lied.

Corry, the attorney, also argued that Euflora had themselves broken the rules with their much-publicized campout in the weeks prior to the giveaway. Reginelli declined to comment, saying he didn’t want to get into a back-and-forth.

Bobby Reginelli of Euflora, center, learns from city staffers Erin Burke and Kris Ryan that he will not be granted the permit to host 4/20 in Civic Center Park. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Bobby Reginelli of Euflora, center, on Nov. 21, 2017, learns from city staffers Erin Burke and Kris Ryan that he will not be granted the permit to host 4/20 in Civic Center Park. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Who’s the permit really for?

The city claims that Ortiz was actually just trying to secure the permit for Miguel Lopez, the guy who had previously lost it. A fairly striking letter from the city claims that Ortiz and Lopez came to the Webb Building together on Nov. 17, a few days before the official permit giveaway.

“The video shows Mr. Lopez filling out your permit application while you are standing next to him,” the letter states. “… Mr. Lopez later came in to shake the hand of a (parks) staff member and ‘thank them for not discriminating against him or his crew.'”

Lopez denied he ever said that, saying it “doesn’t even add up.” He also denied that he had filled out any paperwork. He said he was just filling out some medical paperwork. Ortiz said Lopez also was writing down some helpful information.

“I filled it out, I did my signature,” Ortiz said. ” … Just because Miguel is my friend and associate doesn’t make me guilty by association.”

Getting the permit had been a “godsend” as he recovered from a car crash, but now everything’s in chaos, Ortiz said.

Miguel Lopez. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

Miguel Lopez. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

The name thing:

The city also brings up a rather strange piece of evidence: Ortiz’s first name is misspelled on the application as “Micheal” and “Michel” in another.

“(A)nd presumably you know how to spell your name,” reads the city’s letter to Ortiz, signed by parks director Happy Haynes.

Ortiz said he had gotten nervous and intentionally spelled his name wrong because he feared identity thieves, having had his identity stolen previously. “I just started thinking, ‘Oh shit, Euflora, they’re rich. They could try to take my identity, get credit, mortgage, run me in the dirt.'”

Corry, the attorney, argues that it shouldn’t matter anyway. “Being a perfect speller is required to get the city and county of Denver permit not revoked?” And he complained that the city never contacted Ortiz about the alleged discrepancies.

Miguel Lopez also pointed out that he knows how to spell Michael, considering that it is simply the English version of his own name. “It’s crazy. It’s obvious now the city knows what’s going on. You can tell it’s personal,” he said.

What next?

As of right now, the Euflora folks have dibs on the 4/20 permit for this year. They are pushing hard to pull it together, Reginelli said.

“I would like to reimagine what 4/20 means,” he said. “… Maybe we could do a sunrise meditation in the park. Maybe we can do drum circles and yoga. Maybe I can do a fitness class. Maybe we can broaden the idea that the 4/20 rally has to be a concert with a food vendor.”

The now permit-less Ortiz, meanwhile, is plotting his next move, which could include even more legal action.

“The city has created this problem,” Corry said. “It decided somewhere along the line that it hated Miguel Lopez and everyone he associates with.” He added that the city was showing “weird, inexplicable favoritism for Euflora — which violates federal law and sells marijuana I might add— and Ortiz and Lopez do not. The whole thing is comical, that Denver is going to this length.”

The city’s reasoning was “indefensible, totally illogical, absurd,” he said. “What is this, you know — sixth grade?”

Parks spokeswoman Cyndi Karvaski said that parks staff had no relationship with Euflora outside of answering questions.