By KRISTEN WYATT
Gunfire erupted at a Denver pot celebration Saturday, injuring two people and scattering a crowd of thousands at a downtown park after they had just marked the first 4/20 counterculture holiday since the state legalized marijuana.
The man and woman who were shot were expected to survive, and police were looking for one or two suspects, said Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson.
Witnesses described a scene in which a jovial atmosphere quickly turned to one of panic just before 5 p.m. Several thought firecrackers were being set off, then a man fell bleeding, his dog also shot.
The annual pot celebration this year was expected to draw as many as 80,000 people after recent laws in Colorado and Washington made marijuana legal for recreational use.
A sizable police force on motorcycles and horses had been watching the celebration since its start earlier Saturday. But authorities, who generally look the other way at public pot smoking here on April 20, didn’t arrest people for smoking in public, which is still illegal.
Police said earlier in the week that they were focused on crowd security in light of attacks that killed three at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Stephanie Riedel, who traveled to the pot celebration from Pittsburgh, said she was dancing with a hula hoop when she heard pops. A man ran past her, then she said the crowd started screaming and running away. She was about 20 feet from the shooting and heard four or five shots.
Rapper Lil’ Flip was performing when the shootings occurred.
Aerial footage showed the massive crowd frantically running from the park.
Ian Bay, who was skateboarding through Civic Center Park when shots erupted, said he was listening to music on his headphones when he looked to his right and saw a swarm of hundreds of people running at him.
Before the shooting, reggae music filled the air, and so did the smell of marijuana, as celebrants gathered by mid-morning in the park just beside the state Capitol.
Nationwide, group smoke-outs were planned Saturday from New York to San Francisco. The origins of the number “420” as a code for pot are murky, but the drug’s users have for decades marked the date 4/20 as a day to use pot together.
Colorado and Washington are still waiting for a federal response to the votes and are working on setting up commercial pot sales, which are still limited to people with certain medical conditions. In the meantime, pot users are free to share and use the drug in small amounts.
A citizen advocacy group that opposes marijuana legalization, Smart Colorado, warned in a statement that public 4/20 celebrations “send a clear message to the rest of the nation and the world about what Colorado looks like.”
Associated Press writer Catherine Tsai contributed to this report.
Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt