DENVER (Reuters) - Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts gathered in Denver on Saturday for an annual weekend celebration of cannabis, the first such assemblage since Colorado voters legalized the recreational use of pot last fall.
A number of activities are being held around Colorado on April 20 - "4/20" is synonymous with marijuana within the drug culture - including classes on hashish making, cooking with cannabis and pot cultivation, along with several music concerts.
The event expected to draw the largest crowd is a pot smokeout Saturday afternoon at a downtown Denver park near the state capitol.
Organizer Miguel Lopez said the pot party is the "world's largest 4/20 rally," and that it will be bigger than in past years because of the state's legalization of small amounts of marijuana for use by adults.
"We had 60,000 people here last year and expect 75,000 to 80,000 this year," Lopez told Reuters.
Lopez said the rally is part of a "grassroots" effort to compel the federal government - which still lists marijuana as an illegal narcotic - to stop prosecuting pot users.
Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said he could not say if crowds will be as large as organizers claim, but police will be out in full force.
"Our main concern is protecting public safety. It is still illegal to consume marijuana in public, but our officers will use their own discretion," on whether to cite individuals for public consumption, he said.
While police will generally take a hands-off approach, other critics such as Denver city councilman Charlie Brown, are not pleased with the pot rally.
Noting that cannabis is still illegal under federal law and smoking it in public is prohibited in Colorado, Brown said the smokeout conveys the wrong message about Denver.
"It's an embarrassment to the city," he said. "It's the marijuana business in action and they're flouting the law."
Brown, who also serves on the Denver tourism board, said so-called narco-tourism "will not be a highlight of our marketing plan."
But some entrepreneurs, such as Matt Brown - no relation to the councilman - are trying to cash in on the burgeoning pot tourism business.
Brown is co-owner of "My 4/20 Tours" which offers getaway packages, ranging in price from $499 to $849, mainly for out-of-state tourists. The company does not provide marijuana to its customers, but offers tours and transportation to the various weekend pot events, Brown said.
"Some 25 million Americans smoke marijuana at least once a year and our intention is to give those who want to an opportunity to come here and do it responsibly," Brown said.
Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Mary Wisniewski Editing by Andre Grenon