CU-Boulder on 4/20: Campus Open But Norlin Quad Closed, Extra Cops on Duty

A 2011 photo of the 4/20 event at CU Boulder. Additional images below.
A 2011 photo of the 4/20 event at CU Boulder. Additional images below.
Photo by Hunter Stevens

For the past three years, the CU Boulder campus has been closed to visitors on April 20 in an attempt to snuff out the 4/20 bash that annually transformed the school into what NORML executive director Alan St. Pierre once referred to as "an orgasm of cannabis consumption."

For this 4/20, CU Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano has announced that the date will be marked by "normal operations" at the university in a letter to students, faculty and staff on view below. As a result, students, faculty and staff will not have to show their ID cards in order to gain access to the campus.

Nonetheless, a few unusual touches will remain.

The Norlin Quad — ground zero for the previous bacchanal — will be off-limits on the 20th. And while the space won't be spread with fish fertilizer, as was the case on year one of the closure, those who venture there could face citations or arrests.

Another angle on the 4/20 event in 2011.
Another angle on the 4/20 event in 2011.
Photo by Hunter Stevens

In addition, a CU spokesman confirms that there will be more police officers than usual on patrol, to make sure things don't get out of hand.

As we've reported, the campus was closed on 4/20 for the first time in 2012. Opponents reacted to the announcement with a court fight in which the university prevailed — and on the day itself, the Norlin Quad boundary was breached and a handful of protesters were arrested.

In addition, a Wyclef Jean concert intended to lure students away from the regular 4/20 festivities turned out to be an expensive fiasco.

Year two, in contrast, went without incident — and year three was even quieter, likely due in part to the fact that the date fell on Easter Sunday.

This progression informed the decision for 2015.

"There have been three years in which we closed the campus to non-affiliated visitors, and we saw improvement each year," says CU Boulder spokesman Ryan Huff. "When you look at that factor, along with the passage of Amendment 64" — the 2012 measure that legalized limited recreational marijuana sales in Colorado — "along with the fact that there are many sanctioned, permitted events in the Denver-Boulder area, we thought it was time to see April 20 return to being a normal school day."

A CU Boulder Facebook photo from April 20, 2013.
A CU Boulder Facebook photo from April 20, 2013.
Facebook

This year, April 20 falls on a Monday — so why didn't CU Boulder decide to try opening the campus on Easter last year?

"That wasn't really a consideration," Huff notes. "When you want to end an unsanctioned, unwelcome, disruptive gathering, it takes more than a year. You need to show you're serious about ending it. And we felt that three years was an appropriate amount of time to send a message to the public that we don't want this on our campus anymore."

Even so, Huff confirms that "we will still have a larger police presence than on a normal school day for this April 20."

Upcoming Events

In addition, Norlin Quad will be closed — and administrators may take a similar tack should 4/20 celebrations pop up elsewhere.

Those who venture onto the quad on 4/20 may face "either a citation or arrest," Huff says. "Police have options for both." However, he goes on, "we hope to get voluntary compliance. We hope everyone will respect the closure in the Norlin Quad lawn areas. And as far as other fields, we don't have proactive plans to close any of them, but that's an option depending on conditions that day."

Clouds of smoke formed over the crowd at the 2011 event at CU Boulder.
Clouds of smoke formed over the crowd at the 2011 event at CU Boulder.
Photo by Hunter Stevens

Whatever happens, though, Huff points out that there will be "no fish fertilizer this year."

Huff stresses that "trying to shut down 4/20 has never been about curtailing free speech. We have a lot of discussions about marijuana on our campus all the time. On April 15, the chancellor will be at a cannabis symposium talking about drug policies on campus, and at this week's Conference on World Affairs, there will be three sessions talking about drug policy.

"We think it's good to keep discussion alive," he adds, "but in an academic format that doesn't cause disruption on campus."

Look below to read Chancellor DiStefano's letter in its entirety. And regarding his reference to CU student government, one item of disclosure: My daughter is an executive with CUSG.

Chancellor's Memo: Campus will have normal operations on April 20

Dear CU-Boulder students, faculty and staff:

April 20 is fast approaching and some of you may have questions regarding campus operations for that day. For the past three years, CU-Boulder closed the campus to non-affiliates on April 20 to avoid the disruptive gatherings that attracted thousands of attendees from around the state and the country in earlier years. And fortunately, those types of gatherings have not occurred since 2011.

I told you last year that I hoped campus closures would not be necessary in the near-future and that we could go about our daily business on April 20 as we would any other day. That time has come.

On this April 20, the campus will remain open to students, faculty, staff and visitors, as it would normally be. The only exception to this will be the lawn areas of the Norlin Quad, which will be closed that afternoon. Depending on other factors, additional fields may also be closed. Those who ignore the barriers and cross onto the Norlin lawn or any additional closed fields can face a citation or arrest for trespassing. While you may see a presence of campus police enforcing the closure areas, officers will not be checking IDs of those on campus like they have in past years.

We’ve made this decision in consultation with key campus stakeholders, including the CU Student Government. Eliminating the unauthorized 4/20 gathering was never about curtailing free speech or taking a stance on drug policy. Actually, as voters in additional states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, we think it’s a key time to continue discussions on this important topic. In support of that effort, for the second consecutive year, I will be talking about the history of 4/20 and CU-Boulder’s marijuana policies in a Cannabis Symposium on campus later this month. Furthermore, at next week’s Conference on World Affairs, federal and state drug policies will be the primary topic for three sessions.

Why is this year the right time to open the campus? After three years of closing the campus to non-affiliates, the public understands that we are serious about eliminating this gathering that disrupted the academic mission of the university. At the same time, there are now several sanctioned events occurring April 18-20 around the Denver metro region for people to attend. We have made great strides over the past three years, and I thank all of you for your patience and cooperation in helping us toward that goal.

If you have any questions, suggestions or complaints, we encourage you to contact us at 420feedback@colorado.edu.

Sincerely,

Philip P. DiStefano, chancellor
University of Colorado Boulder

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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