CU-Boulder closed Norlin Quad as part of its attempt to shrink the annual 4/20 event on campus. Three CU students were cited for trespassing on the Quad that day, with lawyer Sean McAllister defending them on First Amendment grounds. Now, the case has been dismissed after the students did a few hours of community service -- volunteering for Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. McAllister is thrilled by the outcome.
"I've never had a case where they offered this kind of thing -- offered to dismiss if the defendants would work for the cause they were protesting for," McAllister says.
In the wake of the decision, McAllister concedes that his clients -- Gabriel Kuettel, Jonathan Edwards and John Demopoulos -- "were clearly guilty of trespassing. But they did it for a principled reason. They didn't like the university's suppression of the First Amendment.
"As we've said all along, the university over-reacts to the 4/20 smoke-out event every year. But this year, their actions were over the top. Everyone knows what they did: They wasted a quarter-million dollars trying to keep the smoke-out off the Norlin Quad, but all they ended up doing was pushing the event two blocks away to a different quad, where students smoked marijuana without any incident."
With that said, McAllister admits that had the case gone to trial, "it would have been very difficult to win based on an argument that the First Amendment exempts this kind of activity. We probably would have relied on jury nullification -- to accept that they committed a crime by crossing this closed area, but to let them off because of their reasons for doing it."
The possibility of a Boulder jury accepting this argument likely convinced Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett's office to look for an exit strategy, McAllister believes. But before then, he thinks various agencies "wasted a lot of money and time" going after Kuettel and company in the first place. "First, the municipal government wanted to prosecute, and then they decided they didn't want to do it; they probably thought it was too complicated on some of these First Amendment grounds. So it was sent to the county, and the DA's office picked it up, meaning they had to refile in county court -- which cost even more money."
Still, McAllister credits the DA's office with finding a solution that worked to the benefit of all parties. "They said, 'We don't really want to let this case go all the way -- so if they do a few hours of community service, maybe we'll dismiss it.' But we said, 'We don't want them scrubbing the streets. What about letting them work for the campaign for a few hours?' And the DA's office agreed, and that's what these three young men did.
"That's a big part of the story from my perspective. If you want to make a contribution and work toward the legalization of marijuana, you should be volunteering for the campaign. Making a protest and committing civil disobedience is one way to draw attention to the issue, but with the election less than fifty days away, they did some phone banking and mailing and work for the campaign, which could finally end this debate if we legalize marijuana in November."
McAllister stresses that the students "got a full dismissal out of this. It wasn't a deferred judgement or a probation deal. They'll have no criminal record."
The bottom line from McAllister's perspective? "This shows you can stand up for First Amendment rights and legalization and ultimately be vindicated."
Here's a video featuring the arrests of Kuettel and Demopoulos, followed by the students' mug shots and 4/20 at CU-Boulder photos by Britt Chester.
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More from our Marijuana archive: "Photos: Smoky scenes from 4/20 marijuana smoke-out in Civic Center Park."