The Origins of Denver’s 420 Festival

Denver’s 420 Festival is an annual event that has become a significant cultural phenomenon in the United States. It takes place on April 20th, which has been celebrated as a holiday by marijuana enthusiasts. This festival brings together people from all walks of life to celebrate cannabis culture and advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

Why “420”?

The origin of the term “420” is uncertain, but one theory suggests that it was California law enforcement’s call signal for marijuana consumption crimes. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this theory.

The only verified origin story of the term “420” can be traced back to a group of high school students in California during the 1970s. These students attended San Rafael High School and would gather after school to smoke marijuana, with 4:20 pm being the designated time for their meetings.

The term gained widespread popularity within cannabis culture, according to legend, thanks to the Grateful Dead. It is said that one of the high school students’ older brothers was a road manager for the band, and the students got the opportunity to join the band on tour for the summer. During the tour, they introduced the band and crew to the “420” code, and it eventually spread beyond the music scene, becoming a cultural phenomenon.

Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

The origins of Denver’s 420 festival can be traced back to marijuana activist Ken Gorman, a Denver native, a veteran of the Vietnam War, and a former candidate for governor of Colorado. Gorman started organizing “smoke-in” events on April 20th at the state capital building in 1992 to advocate for marijuana legalization.

The annual rallies in Colorado experienced growth each year, even after Gorman’s murder in 2007. In 2011, when cannabis possession was still illegal in the state, the rally attracted several thousand attendees.

Post-Legalization: A Festival to Celebrate Cannabis Culture

As cannabis was legalized in Colorado, the annual festival shifted from its political origins to become more of a cultural celebration with many cannabis friendly events. In 2013, the first festival where possession was legal, approximately 80,000 individuals attended, including many who traveled from other parts of the country.

During that year’s festival, a shooting occurred which resulted in three injuries. This incident remains the only notable security issue in the history of the event.

Following the legalization of cannabis sales in Colorado in 2014, the festival evolved into its current commercialized form.

Bumps in the Road

The Denver 420 festival has faced problems aside from the two years it was canceled due to the pandemic. In 2017, there was an issue with trash pick-up after the event. Civic Center Park was found littered with garbage on April 21st. The organizers claimed they had cleaned up by the time stated on the permit, and that the park was trashed afterward. The incident resulted in public criticism and a three-year permit ban for organizer Miguel Lopez, who had been organizing the event for a long time.

Mile High 420 Festival 2023 at Civic Center Park

The permit for the Mile High 420 Festival at Civic Center Park was formerly held by Euflora and FlyHi. Recently, Euflora was acquired by JARS Cannabis. The festival will feature musical performances by Fivio Foreign, Waka Flocka Flame, Kaash Paige, and Rick Ross.

Get more info at, and make sure to stop by Frost for all of your essential festival supplies.

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