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4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus

Yesterday, CU-Boulder announced that for the second consecutive year, the campus would be closed on April 20 in an effort to squelch the annual 4/20 event there; see our original coverage below.

Why take this controversial tack again? CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard is straight-forward, deeming last year's approach a "great success." But there have been a few tweaks in the way it will be carried out, including nixing the use of foul-smelling fish fertilizer on Norlin Quad.

"Fish fertilizer was never a main element in our strategy," says Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend of yours truly). "It became a great topic of interest in the media, and that made people think it was a huge part of our strategy, but it was always a side tactic. And the student leadership was very articulate about not wanting it. So we talked to some other people about what it really achieved, and in terms of deterring people from coming onto Norlin Quad," the traditional ground zero for 4/20, "it wasn't very effective. So when the students said, 'Can you not do this?,' it was something we could easily compromise on."

As such, Norlin Quad will simply be taped off this year, as opposed to being spread with a stomach-churning substance.

Otherwise, the main areas of improvement targeted by CU-Boulder involve messaging.

"We want to communicate more effectively as an institution about why we're doing this," he says. "This isn't based on Amendment 64," a measure that allows adults 21 and over in Colorado to possess and use small amounts of cannabis, "and it's not based on the legality or the illegality of marijuana. We just don't want a gathering of that size on that part of the campus."

This is true even though April 20 falls on a Saturday in 2013, he emphasizes. "The date is less than two weeks before finals, and there's quite a lot of academic activity and research taking place on campus on Saturdays and Sundays. There'll be students in the library writing term papers, discussion groups, seminars, music auditions -- all kinds of things. The academic mission is in full swing, and our objective is to protect that academic mission."

Critics of the closure argue that a college is also supposed to endorse openness and free speech -- goals they feel are contradicted by shutting down the institution in an effort to prevent a gathering whose participants want to smoke weed either as a celebration of progress or a protest against continuing restrictions. And they also object to students and visitors being forced to display identification cards or passes in order to gain access to the grounds, seeing the requirement as an unfortunate variation on show-me-your-papers laws.

Representatives of Colorado University Student Government (CUSG) brought up this subject in the months preceding yesterday's announcement. "There was extensive discussion of it within the 4/20 working group, with the student task force at the table," Hilliard says. "It was a marvelous group of student leaders to work with -- very articulate in pinpointing what their issues were. But it really comes down to this: There is no other way to determine who's got a legitimate reason to be on campus and who doesn't" other than to require students to show their IDs, known as a Buff OneCard, or visitors to display special passes developed for the day. "We understand it's an inconvenience, and we're appreciative of the fact that one day a year, we're systematically asking that IDs be presented."

But CU police officers ringing the campus will be offering something in return. "They'll be presenting people with cards explaining why they're there" -- the chancellor requested that they be -- "and what we're doing."

Hilliard stresses that the police didn't receive "a single complaint" about their conduct last year, but everyone involved still wants to improve the situation in the hope that a campus closure on April 20 won't become a permanent part of the schedule. "We always envisioned this as a multi-year process," he allows, "and we'll evaluate after each year."

In the meantime, he encourages those who want to mark 4/20 in the usual way "to go to Denver, in the shadow of the State Capitol, and then to Red Rocks on Sunday. From what I'm hearing, that's where the fun is going to be. And I don't think there'll be a lot going on at CU-Boulder other than the normal, quiet, pre-finals stuff."

Continue for our previous coverage, including photos from 4/20 at CU-Boulder in 2012.

Update 10:38 a.m. March 11: Last year, CU-Boulder shut down campus and closed Norlin Quad in an effort to squelch the annual 4/20 rally there.

Afterward, administration officials branded the closure a success. So it's no surprise that the university will be shutting things down again on April 20, 2013. But the university's student government won't be sponsoring a concert as an alternative event after last year's catastrophic Wyclef Jean gig. Details and photos from last year's event below.

During a January interview, Chris Schaefbauer, director of health and safety for Colorado University Student Government (which -- full disclosure -- includes my two daughters) expressed some misgivings about how the campus visitor ban was handled in 2012. Back then, a previous CUSG administration worked hand in hand with the administration, conceiving the concert as a free alternative gathering for students who might otherwise be tempted to light up at 4:20 p.m. on the big day. But only about 1,250 people turned out for a bash that earned Jean $80,000 and cost approximately $150,000.

Chris Schaefbauer.
Chris Schaefbauer.

Would the latest student reps do something similar? Schaefbauer was non-committal earlier this year, despite an antipathy for the 4/20 bash's location. "We don't want it on the campus," he told us. "We continue to agree with last year's CUSG and administration about that. But we think there are different ways to accomplish that."

Now, thanks to a CU-Boulder release, we know that "the Student Government will not host a concert this year on 4/20 in an effort to save student funds and in response to student feedback." Likewise, the administration has decided against spreading terrible-smelling fish fertilizer on Norlin Quad in an effort to keep potential on-campus protesters from gathering there. This action was widely ridiculed by students and in coverage of the closure.

Otherwise, though, the approach to closing the campus seems pretty similar to the one employed last year.

We're told CUSG will have release a statement about 4/20 later today. We've placed interview requests with a spokesperson as well as with a CU-Boulder representative, and will update this post after we've heard from them. In the meantime, here's the complete CU-Boulder release, followed by photos from last year's event.

CU-Boulder closed to unauthorized visitors, non-affiliates on Saturday, April 20

March 11, 2013

The University of Colorado Boulder announced today it will be open to students, faculty and staff on Saturday, April 20, but for the second straight year will be closed to unauthorized non-affiliates.

"We are committed to ending the unwelcome 4/20 gathering on the CU-Boulder campus, and this year's approach represents the continuance of a multi-year plan to achieve that end," said CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano. "What's important here is the protection of CU's missions of research, teaching and service. This isn't about marijuana or drug laws. It's about not disrupting the important work of a world-class university."

DiStefano noted that the passage of Amendment 64 by Colorado voters last year does not make marijuana legal on the CU-Boulder campus. Amendment 64 doesn't legalize pot smoking in public or possession of marijuana by those under 21. Marijuana is still prohibited by campus policy.

Last year, the university's closure to non-affiliates on April 20 resulted in the reduction of a 4/20 crowd of about 10,000 to 12,000 people in 2011 to a crowd of several hundred. A Boulder judge upheld the university's right to take reasonable steps to avoid disruption of the university's missions of teaching, research and service.

This year on Saturday, April 20, CU-Boulder's normal academic and cultural activities will continue as scheduled, but the following measures will be in place:

• Students, faculty and staff are all welcome on campus and invited to attend all official university functions and make use of university facilities as they always do.

• Students, faculty and staff will be asked to present their Buff OneCard IDs at campus entrances and other areas.

• Consistent with last year's protocol, law enforcement officers will politely and professionally engage those wishing to enter the campus to ascertain if they are affiliates or approved visitors. This will involve checking Buff OneCards for students, faculty and staff and credentials for registered visitors.

• Those unaffiliated with CU-Boulder, or who are not approved visitors, will not be permitted on campus. Those who trespass risk citations, which can mean punishment of up to six months in jail and a $750 fine.

• Law enforcement, including the Colorado State Patrol, will conduct additional enforcement on highways surrounding Boulder, looking for drivers under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

• Visitors who have official business, meetings or other officially sanctioned activities on the CU-Boulder campus will need to obtain a visitors' pass by visiting the following link and filling out the form at http://www.colorado.edu/april20/campusaccess. Forms for visitors must be completed and submitted to CU-Boulder by 10 p.m. on Sunday, April 14.

• Affiliates are encouraged to use alternative methods of transportation to get to and from campus. Bus routes that normally travel through core campus on 18th Street and Colorado Avenue - including the HOP and Buff Bus - will be detoured down Regent Drive. Please see http://www.colorado.edu/pts/news/index.html for additional information.

• All campus performances and events are on as scheduled for the evening of April 20 and the campus is expected to be fully open again at 6 p.m.

CU-Boulder officials this year agreed with CU student leaders on several new measures and adaptations in closing the campus:

• Officers will carry and distribute information cards explaining the university's security actions and protocols for the day and providing a contact point for reporting concerns about the day's procedures or police conduct.

• The university will not place any fish fertilizer on the Norlin Quad.

• The Student Government will not host a concert this year on 4/20 in an effort to save student funds and in response to student feedback.

Funding for the campus security measures comes from insurance rebates to the campus, not from tuition or student fees. As a reminder, per campus policies and the federal Drug Free Schools and Communities Act with which the university must comply, marijuana is not permitted on the campus.

Update, 10:38 a.m.: Just received a brief release from Colorado University Student Government regarding 4/20. Here it is:

CU Student Government (CUSG) has been working with administrators over the past few months to plan for the upcoming 4/20. To best represent students, CUSG convened a task force of students from across campus to work to develop ideas for short-term and long-term plans for 4/20. The conversations we had with administrators and students have been productive and have established long-term working relationships that will serve students in the future.

We agree with administrators that any 4/20 event focused on the active consumption of marijuana has no place on our campus because of the disruption it causes and the safety concerns of such a large gathering. However, we disagree with many of the tactics used in the previous year. We heard from students about a number of concerns and negative impacts from the previous year and brought those concerns directly to the CU Boulder administration. The campus leadership listened to our concerns and acknowledged the impacts of the approach last year. They have started to address some of these concerns, which is greatly appreciated, however, we continue to ask them to do more to minimize the negative impacts of proposed solutions.

We look forward to continuing to work with students and administrators to develop a long-term, sustainable solution to 4/20 that includes students in the solution. Our hope is that this solution would keep campus open, remove ID requirements, and open dialogue about drug policy and related issues in our community.

Page down to see more images of 4/20 at CU-Boulder by photographer Britt Chester.

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

Page down to see more of Britt Chester's photos from 4/20 at CU-Boulder.

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

Page down to see more of Britt Chester's photos from 4/20 at CU-Boulder.

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus
Photo by Britt Chester

More from our Marijuana archive: "Photos: Smoky scenes from 4/20 marijuana smoke-out in Civic Center Park."