CU Boulder is America's druggiest campus? Spokesman offers rebuttal & 4/20 move update

Last week, in a post about the CU Boulder student legislative council passing a resolution to move the annual 4/20 event off campus, we noted that the university had topped a survey by Newsweek and the Daily Beast of the nation's druggiest colleges. But CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard -- who lauds the student government's 4/20 resolution -- suggests that this designation was based on flawed data.

According to Hilliard (a longtime friend of yours truly), Newsweek and the Daily Beast based their rankings in part on figures submitted by schools under the Clery Act, a 1990 law that requires institutions "to do things like issue a timely warning when there's a threat to public safety and requires us to provide crime statistics for a range of crimes, from burglary to sexual assault to drug arrests."

CU Boulder 4/20 2011.
CU Boulder 4/20 2011.
Photo by Hunter Stevens.

Problem is, the folks at the CU Police Department made a mistake when compiling the figures, listing each criminal count as a separate arrest. As a result, a single bust in which a person faced four drug-related charges was inadvertently quadrupled, boosting the figures considerably. The Newsweek/Daily Beast survey showed 801 drug arrests at CU in 2010, but after crunching the numbers, the CUPD discovered there had actually been 351. The last number is still up from 2009 -- something the university expected, since it had instituted a new residence-hall policy that had increased the number of police contacts -- but only 43 percent of the digit the study conductors used.

Hilliard adds that the CUPD had also reported some drug crimes not specifically required by the Clery Act, which could have also inflated the figure.

Because the study used other information to arrive at its ranking in addition to the Clery Act submissions, there's no telling where CU would have scored if accurate info had been utilized. But in Hilliard's view, "it doesn't much matter whether you score number one or number ten. Nobody wants to show up in a survey like that in the top twenty -- and nobody has any illusions at CU Boulder that this isn't an issue. We're doing more things at more levels to cut down on alcohol and drug use and abuse than at any time in CU's history" -- tactics outlined in this item about Michael Hoffman, CU's first drug-and-alcohol overdose victim in seven years.

CU Boulder 4/20 2011.
CU Boulder 4/20 2011.
Photo by Hunter Stevens

At the same time, Hilliard isn't overly impressed by the druggiest schools survey, or other pageview-generating projects like it. "There's this proliferation of lifestyle rankings: Playboy, the Princeton Review, number one party school, reefer madness. Somebody two or three years ago ranked the douchiest schools. And then other media pick up on these polls, and they get spread throughout the digital media world, and then you're off to the races. But when you're looking at these things, you sort of have to ask, 'What value does this add to anyone making a decision about where to go to school?'"

Page down for an update about 4/20 on the CU Boulder campus.   Along these lines, Hilliard believes that CU's 4/20 bacchanal has "an outsized effect on the university's reputation" -- one reason the administration would like to see it go away. With that in mind, he sees the legislative council's resolution to move it off-campus as significant, despite the fact that it contains no specifics about where and how it might be jettisoned.

"I've been on either a 4/20 working group or a 4/20 committee since 2006, when I first came to this job," Hilliard notes, "and this is the first time the student government has been willing to take a position on 4/20. We think that's important. But inherent in that is not a prescription for the means by which we can try to get this off the campus -- and neither is it a mandate for German shepherds and water cannons.

CU Boulder 4/20 2011.
CU Boulder 4/20 2011.
Photo by Hunter Stevens

"Our police don't have a tradition of engaging in force as a way to do crowd control. It's not what our police are about, and it's not something anybody wants or is seeking out. The lessons of Cal Davis a few weeks back" -- when peaceful occupiers were pepper sprayed like so many insects -- "are not lost on anybody. No one is sitting around thinking about that, and nobody has any illusions that it's going to vanish off the campus in one year."

At this point, the 4/20 working group, of which numerous student executives are members, continues to flesh out notions about what can be done. And while Hilliard thinks it's premature to share any of them, he says an eventual announcement probably won't include a suggestion about where to move it, especially in Boulder. In his words, "we don't want to simply displace the problem out into the community."

At a student forum that preceded the legislative council's vote, references were made to the 4/20 bash in Denver's Civic Center Park, and Hilliard sees it as a logical location for such a protest. "If their motivation is to make a statement about drug laws and drug issues, at least they're doing it in the shadow of the seat of state government," he points out, after stressing he isn't advocating that the entire Boulder event simply be moved south. "No drug laws are made at CU, and the university is not taking a position on the war on drugs. This isn't about puritan finger-waving at people."

As for CU's next 4/20-related step, Hilliard says, "I don't know what our communications strategy is going to be. But it won't be giving people instructions on where else to go. And there's no secret 4/20 eradication plan sitting in a guarded room in the basement of Regent Hall. We're still in the idea stage."

His bottom line? "The campus doesn't really have the capacity to continue to have ten to twelve to thirteen-thousand people gather in its main area of business. It's a huge logistical burden on faculty who need to do research and teach and students who need to go to class."

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More from our Marijuana archive: "4/20 in Boulder: Student against moving the event calls opponents 'rich, trust-fund a**holes.'"

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