Councilman accuses 420 Rally group of hiding behind First Amendment to avoid paying park permit fees

Taxpayers picking up tab for police protection

DENVER - The 420 Rally at Denver’s Civic Center Park drew an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 participants.

Organizers got the permit for free, but taxpayers will foot the bill for police protection.

Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown says that’s not right.  He says organizers are hiding behind the First Amendment to avoid paying fees.

420 Rally organizers obtained a Public Assembly permit, which is for events related to free speech.  The city doesn’t charge for park use with a Public Assembly permit, although it can charge for electricity, which it did in this case.

Brown says organizers should pay the same fee for a park permit, that events like the Taste of Colorado do.

“Anybody who uses our park, commercially, which I think the marijuana issue has now become, they should pay a fee,” the councilman said.

Brown said the Taste of Colorado paid $13,500 for a four day permit. He notes that voters have approved both the medical and recreation use of marijuana in Colorado.

“It’s already in our Constitution, whether we like it or not,” he said. “They’ve won. So what’s the rally about?  The rally is now a celebration. It’s a festival and they should pay what all other nonprofits are paying.”

Rally organizer Miguel Lopez disputes that and says the main purpose of the rally is to “communicate that prohibition of cannabis on the national level is wrong, un-American and needs to be abolished.”

Lopez told 7NEWS that Brown will likely get some backlash from a lot of organizations, including civil rights groups.

First Amendment attorney David Lane was more to the point, saying, “If Denver wants to end up in Federal District Court with a guy like me suing them under the First Amendment, then they can start charging fees for free speech.”

Lane said, “Free speech needs to be free.  That’s why it’s called free speech.”

He said this issue was litigated years ago, “when the governments in Birmingham and Selma told Martin Luther King, ‘you can have all the political events  you want… you’ve got to put up a bond and you’ve got to pay for police.’ That’s not free speech. You can’t shut down political discourse through the use of fees.”

Lane said there is a difference between commercial speech, which the Taste of Colorado is, and political speech. 

“The Taste is there to make money,” he said.

When asked if the vendors at the 420 Rally make it a commercial venture, Lane replied, “That’s always a factual question. When is political speech political? When is it commercial?”

He said there are events that cover both.

“They need to be taken on a case by case basis,” Lane said. “If it’s close to the line, Denver would be well advised, in my opinion, for the City Attorney to say, ‘don’t charge.’”

Lane also said that cities are obligated to prevent lawless behavior.

“If Denver Police believe there is a need for security, they need to provide security. That’s their obligation.”

Brown said he understands the law, but also understands that the rally was slated to last 2 and a half days.

He said if it were just a political rally, it would last just a few hours.

“Let’s be adults about this,” he said. “What are you really doing out there for two and a half days? They’re having a good time.  They’re smoking marijuana and they’re using our parks to do it. And it’s an illegal activity.”

He said, “I’m just asking them to pay their fair share, and they’re not doing it.”

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