Denver's Civic Center Park after gunshots brought the high of Colorado's largest 4/20 rally to a chilling, stampeding end (Photos: Chris Gill / Motherboard)
The last thing any of us expected were gunshots. We actually weren't even there--we'd just left. After checking out the vibe around Denver's Civic Center Park, site of this year's massive 4/20 rally, we bounced to a nearby boutique medical cannabis dispensary and grow house to continue shooting for Motherboard's upcoming documentary on the coming Silicon Valley of Weed. About an hour later, a patient rushed in. Visibly shaken, he bore some grim news: There'd been a shooting at the rally, which he'd ran from.
You'd be hardpressed to say details were even starting to trickle in at this point. With a crunch on bandwidth throughout pretty much all of Denver, they weren't. How many people were shot? Was anyone dead? Was anyone injured? How many shots were fired? Who shot? And why? Why the fuck, why?
The patient had little clue. Stoner holiday aside, it wasn't at all out of the realm of possibility that he'd bee-lined to the shop to pick up something to calm his nerves. He plunked down $120 for an ounce of Durban Poison, wished us safe travels, and went on his way. After a few confused moments of spotty Twitter updates, calls to family and friends, and muted head-shaking over what we saw capping off an already tragic and strange week of violence, we had no choice but to check it out. We headed back to Civic Park.
The place was nearly deserted. What mere hours before was a sprawling tract (symbolically positioned at the steps of the Colorado capitol building, mind you) of tens of thousands of sun-kissed revelers ripping bongs and torching dabs in plain view of Denver Police, was now little more than mud and trash. The high that morning was palpable--good vibes lost on the few lifers still milling about, seemingly too high to know or care about what went down.
For comparison, he we are touring the lawn 90 minutes before shots were fired
Here's what we know. Three rally-goers were hit. All sustained non life-threatening injuries. Two were shot in the leg; the third was grazed, and was able to walk into the ER. Two suspected shooters remain at large.
That it happened in the first place is bummer enough. That it happened in Colorado on 4/20--in a state that recently legalized recreational cannabis use, and on both the Pothead New Year's and Day 1 of the inaugural High Times US Cannabis Cup to boot--hung a dark cloud over the forefront of a post-prohibitive dawn. Speeding back to Civic, I got a hold of HT West Coast editor and friend of Motherboard, David Bienenstock.
"It's awful that it happened on every level," he said.
And it could've been worse. According to the Denver Post, around seven shots were fired, triggering crowds to run like hell to safety.
"Everybody started to run," Johnny Lee, who was at the rally when everything broke, told the Post. "They were running over people."
Crowds scattering, courtesy Denver Police Department
Which brings us back to Why? A shooting at a giant gathering of presumably peaceable recreational and medicinal weed users? Really? From my limited experience--and I'm certain I'm not alone here--that just doesn't jibe.
So who or what do we blame? Who or what should we blame? Weed? Shithead goons carrying out a hit? The police?
DPD PIO Frank Gale and the author
Truth is, it's still too early to say. And this is where it gets sticky.
It's a quick and dangerously easy leap to rule the incident a result of weed: Somebody got high as a Georgia Pine, lost their mind, and started firing. Even when most of the data on some of the more uppity strains of bud suggest zero spurring of violent behavior as a result of ingesting marijuana, weed can at times stoke that characteristic paranoia and anxiety that in theory could cause some individuals to lash out aggresively. So do not be surprised when the anti-pot crowd in a strange twist of rights latches onto the 4/20 shootings, if it hasn't already, to kill gun control measures (the only way to stop a bad stoner with a gun is a good stoner with a gun!) or further halt research into the plant. Or both.
If anything, this all has the smell of bad beef escalating in the absolute worst way, not to mention in absolutely the worst time and place. That's all. Nothing indiscriminate--an isolated and direct hit on some unfortunate rally goer.
Again, it shouldn't have happened. My head hurts just thinking about it, and it disheartens me recounting it here. Just don't say the Denver Police Department, who according to initial reports were at the scene almost instantly, wasn't ready. Before the shooting I asked Denver PD's Public Information Officer Frank Gale what he and the force expected to play out during the rally. He couldn't say. But as DPD's sole chopper thumped above, Gale assured me that weed and crowds aside, the commitment, predictably, was keeping folks safe.
"Public safety is our only priority," he told me.
Later on, making a final pass through the empty grounds, two 20-somethings offered me a dab of propane earwax. I declined, and couldn't help but feel a little part of the high die.
Reach Brian at email@example.com. @thebanderson