Going to Pot

Smoke and mirrors at CU.

The University of Colorado Alumni Association was finally fed up with the beating its alma mater had taken in the press. "CU is still about 25,000 great students: taking midterms, enduring chemistry labs, sweating through math homework, memorizing art history, examining business law and agonizing over how they can best find their place in the world," Kent Zimmerman, the association's president, pronounced in a recent rallying cry to the troops. "It is our job to do all we can to help them out."

Starting by installing a ten-foot-tall Styrofoam toilet on the Boulder campus, where students, staff and faculty members alike could deposit all their concerns about CU -- and then flush them away.

But washing away CU's woes won't be that easy. "It's quite obvious that with all the school is going through -- the Ward Churchill thing, providing alcohol to high school kids to get them on the football team, of all things -- they're trying to divert attention away from those by talking about marijuana," says Mason Tvert, executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation. "But what's the bad image?" On Monday, SAFER hosted a rally in front of the University Memorial Center by the Dalton Trumbo Fountain -- a monument honoring a CU alum willing to risk jail and career suicide in order to support free speech -- to push a referendum that asks students whether the "university's penalties should be no greater for student marijuana use and possession than those for student alcohol use and possession."

"Five kids in Colorado alone died last semester from alcohol-related incidents, and marijuana hasn't killed anyone," Tvert points out. "We need to look at the culture of drinking that has permeated these schools. Marijuana is illegal, but alcohol is also illegal if you're a minor, and it has far more harmful consequences -- date rape, vandalism, fighting. They're problems that marijuana has never been linked to."

Still, SAFER is starting its crusade with a baby step: trying to change not the law, but school sanctions. "If you get caught -- whether on or off campus -- you're going to get whatever the law stipulates," Tvert says. "Then you're going to have to get what the school says. We want to balance that." Right now, for example, if an underage student is caught on a first-strike violation with alcohol, CU gives him five hours of community service -- but he gets ten if the first-strike violation is for marijuana. "There's a very, very obvious difference," Tvert notes. "It sends the message that alcohol is more acceptable here."

The message comes across in other ways. At CU, for example, an events facility is named after a major brewer. And at an appearance at Colorado State University, where SAFER pushed a similar referendum last week, the spot designated for Tvert's group was right beside a booth promoting Bacardi. No one who dropped by the booze table was worried that the administration might go after them for doing so, unlike some of the students who stopped by the SAFER booth. Even so, CSU students passed the referendum -- and now administrators have to decide what to do with it.

CU students, who have until Friday evening to vote, told Tvert they were worried about the school cracking down, too. About 75 percent of the kids who came to Monday's rally wanted to ask about the annual 4/20 festivities at Farrand Field, an informal celebration of pot that's still on -- pending some last-minute CU maneuver to avoid any more bad publicity in a season filled with it. "Most people are just out there to be out there, not even smoking pot," Tvert says. "The school is so worried about its image. But a kid choking on his own vomit and dying is a far worse image than someone smoking a joint and falling asleep."

The group that gathered outside Old Main an hour after the SAFER rally was also concerned about CU's image. A little over a year ago, when the school's worst problem -- public problem, at least -- was its reputation as the country's number-one party school, several students decided to create the Colorado Creed. "As a member of the Boulder community and the University of Colorado," it says, "I agree to: Act with honor, integrity and accountability in my interactions with students, faculty, staff and neighbors. Respect the rights of others and accept their differences. Contribute to the greater good of this community." It goes on, but you get the idea -- as will people who spot the full Creed inscribed on brass plaques placed around the campus, with certain critical Creed nouns also embedded in stones studding the sidewalks.

"We all know this is an excellent institution of higher learning and personal growth," the Colorado Creed Committee vowed as the first stone was unveiled, "and we are not defined by negative media images."

Such as giant toilets?

Since its porta-potty plan was announced, the CU Alumni Association has reconsidered. Instead of placing a giant toilet on campus on April 21, it will now set up a jumbo scale of justice.

That should set things straight.

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