'4/20' marijuana celebration notes security lessons from Boston Marathon bombing

Large crowds are expected to congregate for today's annual '4/20' marijuana smoke-in and celebration around the US. Given this week's Boston Marathon bombing, police are on high alert.

Elaine Thompson/AP
Mike Steenhout, comptroller of Washington's Liquor Control Board, takes photos as he tours a marijuana growing facility in Seattle. Washington State voted last fall to legalize marijuana for adults over 21 and set up a system of state-licensed pot growers, processors, and retail stores.

The annual “4/20” marijuana celebration – the communal cannabis party held by pot smokers around the world on April 20th – is getting special attention following a week of shock and then resolution in the Boston Marathon bombing.

It’s a cause for special celebration (as if the day needed any) following the Friday night capture of the second suspect in the Boston bombing, not to mention voters in two states in last November’s elections – Colorado and Washington – approving the recreational use of marijuana.

But the day is also marked by heightened security concerns as crowds gather to smoke weed and party. Boston was a reminder that a cheerful happening can quickly turn to tragedy.

"We're aware of the events in Boston," Denver police spokesman Aaron Kafer, told the Associated Press, although he declined to give specifics about security measures being taken. "Our message to the public is that, if you see something, say something."

With recreational pot now legal in Colorado, organizers expect last year’s crowd of 50,000 to top as many as 80,000.

Rally organizers are expecting so much interest in Saturday's event, they included Sunday this year, reports the Denver Post. Other marijuana-centric concerts, exhibitions, tours, and events will also take place in the city throughout the weekend. Group smoke-outs are also planned from New York to San Francisco.

As with other social issues (including same-sex marriage) public attitudes are shifting in favor of marijuana legalization – a trend that began in recent years with the approval of marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

The Pew Research Center reported earlier this month that 52 percent of Americans say that marijuana use should be made legal. Among younger Americans, the figure is even higher.

The legal trend among states regarding marijuana – first as medicine and now for enjoyment – has put states at odds with federal laws and regulations. Lawmakers in Colorado and Washington have been looking for ways to resolve the apparent legal conflict.

In Colorado this week, a bill was introduced in the state legislature. Among other things, it would regulate the types of businesses allowed to sell marijuana, the amount of the substance that can be sold in a single transaction to individuals from out-of-state (one-fourth of an ounce), and the ways in which marijuana sales are taxed.

While marijuana festivities are being openly held around the country today, smoking dope can still get you arrested in much of the US.

“Threatened with jail and unemployment, people who use marijuana in most states must hide their activities,” writes Amanda Reiman, California policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates an end to “the war on drugs,” in a CNN column. “In 2011, more than 750,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession and sales in the United States.”

Others warn of the effect openly celebrating drug use could have on impressionable youngsters.

"Parents may think their kids are immune to the landscape, but it's a risk that shouldn't be ignored," Art Schut, CEO of the Arapahoe House drug-treatment center, said in a statement reported by the Denver Post. "They are going to be curious."

Another connection between 4/20 and Boston?

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev "seemed more interested in blunts than bombs while in college in Massachusetts," according to what one classmate told POLITICO.

“He didn’t seem like a dangerous person at all,” said Chris Barry, a sophomore at UMass-Dartmouth, who became friends with Tsarnaev on their first day of school. “He was a pothead, a normal pothead. I couldn’t even imagine him being mad at someone, let alone hurting someone.”

Various stories and myths surround the designation of April 20th as a special day for marijuana smokers.

One describes the date originating with a group of teenagers in Marin County, Calif., – not so coincidentally the home of the Grateful Dead band – who would congregate after school at 4:20 pm to get stoned.

One place pot-smoking won't be as evident this year is the University of Colorado in Boulder, the AP reports. The school once was home to the nation's largest group smoke-out on April 20. More than 10,000 people showed up in 2010, and in 2011 Playboy magazine cited the celebration and named the campus the nation's No. 1 party school.

Last year, school officials closed the site of the campus party on April 20. They planned to rope off the area again this year.

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