A high-ranking Denver police official on Tuesday defended the department's decision to stand down while scores of people lit up marijuana joints at a free pot giveaway in Civic Center park.
Deputy Chief David Quinones said the department wasn't about to incite a riot on Monday over a petty offense.
Hundreds of people lined up Monday morning to get free joints during an event organized by opponents of Proposition AA, a statewide ballot question over taxing retail marijuana sales.
Many got their pot and sparked up in front of television cameras and news photographers, riling city council members who have been fearful that the new marijuana law will damage Denver's image.
"Public consumption of marijuana is against the law," Councilman Charlie Brown said during a council meeting Monday night. "We should enforce that law. I don't believe we can pick and choose what part of the city we can enforce the law."
Brown and fellow councilwoman Jeanne Robb said images of people openly smoking marijuana sends a bad message around the world as the city is preparing to welcome the new retail marijuana industry.
Council members on Monday gave initial approval to a host of regulations for the businesses and listened to an hour's worth of public comments, including many statements from parents and business people upset about the new industry. The council holds its final vote on the regulations on Monday.
"That was an embarrassment today," said Paul Archer, a Denver businessman. "I worry that is becoming our brand. It's important that we get this right. ... Those events are going on in Denver because we have legal marijuana. Someone needs to regulate that."
Robb said she had received numerous phone calls and e-mails from people upset about what was happening in the park.
"We have the resources to (enforce the law) and it wasn't done," Robb said. "There is nothing in free speech that allows you to break the law. If we are not enforcing now, I can see why people are skeptical that we won't enforce them after we pass this."
But Quinones said the police wisely chose the less dangerous option.
"We have learned from 4/20 events that if we send officers into a crowd this size or bigger, it results in less than cooperative behavior," he said. "People tend to turn on the officers. It is a petty offense, not a jailable offense. We don't want to turn this into a small riot to enforce a petty offense. So we weighed our options yesterday and opted not to take action."
After Tuesday's weekly meeting between the city council and mayor, Quinones said he would have been called to explain if the officers' action resulted in a riot.
"I would have been in front of this board if we didn't take action or if we did take action," he said. "And I feel more comfortable that we didn't take the action."