U. of Colorado Tamps Down 4/20 Smoke-Out

April 21, 2012

Despite an unprecedented attempt to stifle the annual 4/20 smoke-out at the University of Colorado at Boulder's campus, students managed to light up and demonstrate for the legalization of marijuana. But the protest was far more muted than others in recent years.

The 4/20 smoke-out—the largest on any university campus—has drawn up to 10,000 revelers (some students, most not). Last April, the celebrants created a blanket of pot smoke over the university's Norlin Quadrangle, a grassy lawn surrounded by academic buildings, that could be seen from across the campus.

This year, the university closed the quad and applied a pungent fish-based fertilizer to the area in hopes of deterring potential participants. "We apply this annually," said Bronson Hilliard, director of media relations at the university. "We simply chose to begin the process this year to coincide with the 4/20 celebration."

The university also closed the entire campus to everyone but students, faculty, and staff members, and people were required to show their Buff OneCard campus identification at various police checkpoints. "We simply don't want a large obstructive crowd at an unsponsored event for the pure purpose of engaging in illegal activity on our campus," Mr. Hilliard said.

But on Friday, at about 4 p.m., a few dozen protesters marched through the campus waving signs, and some appeared to be smoking marijuana, according to the Associated Press. They chanted, "Roll it, smoke it, legalize it."

The group gathered at the edge of the stinky quad long enough for one protester to run across the field shortly before police tackled him, said Walker Williams, a law student at the university. The demonstrators eventually settled near the Duane Physics Building, and by then the crowd appeared to have grown to hundreds. Police in SWAT gear observed from a corner but made no immediate moves, the AP reported.

Caroline Hale, a junior political-science major at the university who regards the 4/20 event as a "disruption and an annoyance," said "it was expected, but it seemed manageable and much better than the large distraction" of last year's event.

At 4:20 p.m., the traditional time for marijuana advocates to spark up, participants did so and exhaled a collective cloud of smoke that rose above them, according to the AP. The police arrested three people for trespassing onto the quad, and at least one person was ticketed for marijuana possession on campus. (Last year, with far more people in attendance, the university made five arrests and issued 23 tickets for possession.)

Mr. Williams, who is also a member of the university's student chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the participants this year seemed more politically charged than before. "Most people were there to voice their concerns about their right to protest as opposed to just coming to smoke weed," he said. He described attendees carrying multiple free-speech signs and one holding a large board emblazoned with a lengthy legal argument.

Before Friday's event, the university's plan to close the campus was challenged in court. Robert Corry, a lawyer and advocate of medical-marijuana, argued in a lawsuit filed on behalf of six plaintiffs who were not students but wanted to attend the smokeout that the university's grounds were public. On Thursday, a judge in the State District Court for Boulder County denied his request for an emergency order barring university officials from closing the campus.

For the first time, the University of Colorado student government supported the anti-4/20 actions. It passed a resolution last year in support of the university's plans to move the event off the campus. Meanwhile, other students created a Facebook campaign urging their colleagues to wear formal clothing to the campus on Friday to repudiate its party-school reputation.

Although Ms. Hale thinks the university's efforts were successful, she hopes officials won't spray the lawn with foul-smelling fertilizer next year. "It's irritating, unnecessary, and it smells terrible," she said.