DENVER — Three people were shot and wounded at a pro-marijuana rally on Saturday, disrupting the first celebration of a symbolic drug culture holiday since Colorado voters legalized the recreational use of pot.
A man and a woman were each shot in the leg and a youth was grazed by a bullet, but the wounds were not life-threatening, Denver police said on Twitter. Officers were looking for two suspects in the shootings, which occurred as the rally was winding down.
“I heard five or six gunshots in quick succession,” said Cole Wagenknecht, 27, who attended the rally at a downtown park near the State Capitol. “That’s why I knew it wasn’t fireworks. Then everybody started to scatter and ran toward one end of the park.”
The rally was one of a number of marijuana-related activities, including classes on hashish making and cooking with cannabis, held in Colorado on April 20 — within the drug culture, “4/20″ and “420″ are synonymous with marijuana use.
The shootings came at a sensitive time for Colorado marijuana activists, who are closely watching proposals from state lawmakers on the rules that will govern the sale of small amounts of pot to people 21 and older. In November, voters in Colorado and Washington state became the first in the country to approve recreational use of marijuana.
The federal government considers marijuana an illegal and dangerous narcotic. U.S. officials have said they are considering how to respond to the legalization moves.
Miguel Lopez, the organizer of the Denver rally, said the event was the “world’s largest 4/20 rally,” and would be bigger than in past years because of Colorado’s legalization move.
“We had 60,000 people here last year and expect 75,000 to 80,000 this year,” Lopez said before the event.
Police said attendance was lower than 80,000 but would not provide a crowd estimate.
Lopez said the rally was part of a “grass-roots” effort to compel the federal government to stop prosecuting pot users.
Despite the passage of the Colorado legalization measure, it remains illegal under state law to use marijuana in public. Before the shootings, police officers were positioned across the street from the rally.
Denver police spokeswoman Raquel Lopez said she did not immediately have any details on possible arrests related to marijuana use at the rally.
Critics such as Denver city councilman Charlie Brown were not pleased with the pot rally.
“It’s an embarrassment to the city,” he said before the shootings. “It’s the marijuana business in action and they’re flouting the law.”