With a judge ruling yesterday that CU-Boulder can go ahead with its plan to close Norlin Quad and ban visitors from campus as a way of shrinking the annual 4/20 event, people who'd planned to mark the day in Boulder have a choice -- face cops lined up at every CU entrance, look for somewhere else in Boulder to blaze or take part in Denver's Civic Center Park bash. CU suggests the latter.
"If there's a place to push this, we'd say go to Denver," noted CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard. "There's a two-day festival with music at Civic Center Park. Go to it. Our message is, 'Don't come to Boulder at all for 4/20.'"
Our interview with Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime personal friend) took place earlier this week, before attorney Rob Corry's request for an injunction to halt CU's shutdown plan -- one that ultimately proved unsuccessful. Afterward, Corry told the Boulder Daily Camera that he needed more time for his challenge, but as we pointed out in the post linked above, CU prevented opponents from pulling more resources together by waiting until a mere week before the event to make public its closure plan.
Was the timing of this announcement a strategic plan to limit the amount of blow-back?
"I won't say it wasn't a factor, but it wasn't a guiding factor," Hilliard told us. "The guiding factor was, 'Let's have all our ducks in a row when we make this announcement. There were a ton of small, logistical details we wanted to work out. There are a lot of little moving parts dealing with internal constituents -- mechanisms that had to be created to get people on and off campus. We didn't want to announce the modified closure until we had all these things worked out and we could tell our own internal campus population, 'Here's what you need to do today.'
"You can't make announcements and then say, 'We'll give you the details later.' So it was kind of a tough position. Ideally in a university setting, people want to know things months ahead of time, because of the details that have to be worked out. But we weren't able to do that this time."
The roll-out of information had some observers wondering if representatives of student government, known collectively as CUSG, were used by the university, with which they've been working for months to downsize 4/20. A month ago, vice president of external affairs Brooks Kanski told us the campaign to end 4/20 would be low-key -- and the establishment of a free-to-students Wyclef Jean concert getting underway just before 4:20 p.m. seemed to fit that description. However, more heavy-handed tactics were subsequently divulged.
Was CUSG duped? Not at all, Hilliard said. "This was a discussion for some time in the 4/20 working group, and was decided on by leadership in late March," he revealed. "I think what Brooks was talking about by 'low-key' is that our officers were going to be more active in writing tickets, but they're not going to be taking a physically aggressive stance with anyone as a first order of business. They'll be polite and professional. There'll just be more of them. That's what everyone has been alluding to."
By the way, the slate of CUSG candidates representing the Entrust Party, which has been working with the administration on 4/20 policies, lost to the rival Pulse Party in just-completed elections that will be finalized in early May. Does this indicate that the student body at large disagrees with the approach being put in place today? Hilliard doesn't think so. From what he understands, the main Pulse talking points involved "consumer issues, like rising tuition costs," not 4/20.
By the way, CU regents just passed a 5 percent tuition increase.
Page down to continue reading our interview with CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard. The closure plan is based on Chancellor Philip DiStefano's interpretation of language in the Campus Use of University Facilities (CUUF) policy; it involves what Hilliard called "a threat that would materially and substantially disrupt the university's basic operation and the accessibility to classrooms." He added that "legal counsel was with us from the beginning on this, and have assured us we have legal grounds to do what we're doing" -- something Boulder District Judge Andrew McDonald formally determined yesterday.
Would CU be taking such a tack if the gathering had nothing to do with weed? Would, for instance, a closure be instituted should 10,000 pro-choice or pro-life demonstrators make plans to descend on Norlin Quad?
"The campus is no stranger to demonstrations and protests and First Amendment actions," Hilliard responded. "We have them all the time. We just had the Conference on World Affairs. But if we had 10,000 people doing anything at the heart of campus, it would give us problems, and the fact that this happens over and over again compounds the issue. And we don't consider this a First Amendment issue. We consider it a big party in the sunshine."
Quite a few other individuals apparently concur. "Taking it in totality, we've been a little bit surprised by the level of support on social media that we've seen," Hilliard said. "I think we were all delighted and surprised by the people who've come out of the woodwork to say, 'You're doing the right thing.'"
Such backing hasn't been universal, with the Denver Post editorializing against CU's strategy not once but twice. And Hilliard stressed that "this isn't something any of us want or are excited about doing. But we feel the situation has become intolerable. You've got 10,000 to 12,000 people packed into the central hub of the campus not just for the moment they light up simultaneously, but throughout the day -- and it's been starting earlier and earlier in recent years. It's a rather enormous disruption, and we're up against a classic case of rights in conflict -- the rights of students and faculty to do the basic work of the university, which is teaching and conducting classes, versus the right of people to smoke pot in the middle of the campus. And for us, the regular operation of the university is our primary mission, and that's what we're going to protect."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In the meantime, Hilliard went on, "I want to emphasize that it's going to be really hard to get into Boulder on April 20. Out of sheer coincidence, the South Broadway corridor that parallels our campus is under construction."
True enough -- and that's been the case for months, including during the football season, when the university never tried to use traffic as an argument for people to stay away. Still, Hilliard said, "The project's at the halfway point. What happens in the best of conditions is the traffic floods 28th Street, and when you've got an extra bunch of people trying to come into town for something like this, traffic is going to be at a standstill. It's going to take people quite a lot of extra time to come to campus. So we're saying that you're not going to want to be here, because it's going to be a hassle to get here. And if this is the only reason you're coming, we're asking you to stay home or go to Denver."
Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Photos: 4/20 at CU-Boulder scenes you won't see this year."