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4/20 at CU-Boulder: Members of city council on why they support campus closure

Last night, the Boulder City Council passed a resolution supporting CU-Boulder's plan to shrink the campus 4/20 event by closing Norlin Quad and banning visitors on Friday; read it below. This morning, we spoke to two members of the council -- one who supports it wholeheartedly, and another who voted for it with some reticence.

Ken Wilson holds the former view. In his words, 4/20 at CU "is getting too big, and it needs to be toned down or stopped.

"When an event gets to a certain size, it becomes a public danger. And even though it's certainly less likely to have a marijuana riot than an alcohol riot, when they get that big, and when they're not planned, there's public risk -- and CU has decided it's getting there."

Ken Wilson.EXPAND
Ken Wilson.

Another factor for Wilson: "CU got the number one party rating last year [from Playboy] partly because of this event, and that's not good for student degrees. I've heard from graduates from the law school and students at the engineering school say having a number one party-school rating doesn't help their chances of getting good employment. That's one of the reasons CU wanted to stop it from getting bigger."

As for the school's approach, Wilson says simply, "I support CU. They're the major industry in the city. We like to partner with them, and I like to support their decisions. They spent a lot of time thinking about how to tone this down, and this is what they came up with -- so I want to support them and see what happens."

Wilson downplays potential problems caused by would-be 4/20 revelers flooding into the community at large because of the campus closure. "That already happens," he points out. "I live six blocks from CU on University Hill, and they park in my neighborhood and fill it up with cars. So that's no change. And if you stop this, fewer people will come. Maybe it will take a year, but hopefully people who were thinking of coming or driving from Denver will see it's not going to be like it was -- that there are going to be problems -- and decide not to come."

Likewise, he's not troubled by charges that the closure restricts free speech, since 4/20 is really "a big pot party," he maintains. "I was in college during the Vietnam War, and we had protests, we made signs, we got permits and marched -- and they can do that. But having a big party where everyone is smoking pot is not effective. As I said last night, if you want marijuana to be legalized, that has to go on the ballot. But having a big, disruptive party is not a good way to get someone like me to vote in favor of what you want to do. Sitting on the law and putting up a whole bunch of smoke is a high time, but it's not a protest."

Page down to read about councilwoman Suzanne Jones's take on 4/20, and see the resolution.

Suzanne Jones, Wilson's colleague on the city council, also voted to support the resolution, which passed 7-2, with only Macon Cowles and Liza Morzel opposing it. Still, her backing is more nuanced than Wilson's.

Suzanne Jones.
Suzanne Jones.

"I wanted to show solidarity with CU, because they're an important partner to the city," Jones says. "But I also wanted to send a clear message that I don't support any heavy-handed measures involving confrontations and large numbers of arrests. I instead encourage them to move forward with creativity and caution and respect for civil rights."

She concedes that the visitor ban makes her a bit uneasy.

"Ideally, you don't close public spaces to the public," she notes, "but instead emphasize other measures, such as this alternative concert idea" -- a reference to a Wyclef Jean appearance at Coors Events Center that's free to students and gets underway just before the traditional 4:20 p.m. toke time. "I don't know how much it will do at stopping people from lighting up, but it certainly provides another venue for channeling that energy and celebrating a beautiful spring day together."

Jones is hopeful that police officers enforcing the visitor ban will be at their most professional on Friday, since "you have to be careful that you don't end up provoking a backlash that's worse than the issue they're trying to solve -- and denying people public access often has that response. But urging people to do something else, like going to a concert, seems like a positive way to capture the celebratory nature of the event."

She sees the choice of Jean, who's been outspoken about marijuana reform, as "ironic. But I give the university credit for honoring the student government's choice and supporting them in that. Last night, they said this wasn't about making a statement about marijuana, and the concert seems in keeping with that."

Of course, there's also an apparent contradiction in this claim. The measure agreed to last night (it can be found in the April 17 agenda packet) is entitled "A Resolution Concerning Illegal Substance Abuse In Our Community."

Regarding the possibility that Boulder proper could be overrun by 4/20 participants who would otherwise head to the campus, she admits that "there's always a risk. This was described as a multi-year approach to de-emphasize the event and eventually phase it out, so we'll have to see how it goes -- and to a certain degree, there's always spillover into the city anyhow.

"I just hope that neither CU nor the city overreacts. We're a pretty tolerant community, and I think that's an important part of our value system and our reputation, which serves us and the university well. I hope our response is in keeping with that history."

Here's the text of the resolution:

A Resolution Concerning Illegal Substance Abuse In Our Community

WHEREAS, the City of Boulder has been the proud home to the flagship campus of the University of Colorado since 1876; and

WHEREAS, the presence of the University's research facilities and its high academic standards have attracted major federal facilities, satellite institutions, and major private firms to the City; and

WHEREAS, despite the University of Colorado's remarkable successes and contributions to the City, state, and nation, substance abuse and highly publicized events that promote illegal activities have challenged its academic reputation and the well-being of the student body, as well as the larger Boulder community;

WHEREAS, the Boulder City Council is committed to collaborating with public and private partners to address substance abuse issues that impact the entire community; and

WHEREAS, leaders of the University of Colorado have committed to reducing substance abuse among students by removing the 4/20 gathering from Boulder, and University officials have asked for support from the City in this effort; and

WHEREAS, the City of Boulder participates with the University of Colorado, community members and other key stakeholder organizations on several collaborative committees to address issues of mutual concern, including substance abuse; and

WHEREAS, the City's ability to influence policies, programs or practices to reduce substance abuse compliment the efforts of the University of Colorado; and

WHEREAS, the City's approach to addressing substance abuse does not focus simply on law enforcement options but, in keeping with Resolution 960, also involves the City's human service and community education programs as well as partnerships with the University of Colorado, University of Colorado Student Union, Boulder County, the Boulder Valley School District and others;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF BOULDER:

1. The City of Boulder fully appreciates the University of Colorado's dedication to academic excellence, student safety, and the well-being of the community;

2. The City of Boulder supports the University of Colorado's commitment to ending the 4/20 gathering in Boulder, and;

3. The City of Boulder is eager to cooperate with the University of Colorado on efforts to reduce substance abuse and enhance a strong academic environment on the Boulder campus.

Approved this 17th day of April, 2012.

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More from our Follow That Story archive: "Photos: 4/20 at CU-Boulder scenes you won't see this year."


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