Jeff Hunt, the Colorado Christian University educator behind the petition to ban the Denver 420 Rally, says teenage pot smoking that harmed his short-term memory and the negative marijuana experiences of friends turned him against cannabis, which he and others at CCU see as a civic ill that needs to be cured.
"We want to reform culture, to make culture good," Hunt says. "And we see recreational marijuana as a threat to making a good and healthy society."
According to Hunt, the director of the university's Centennial Institute, "I think I started smoking marijuana when I was in eighth grade. That would have made me thirteen or fourteen, and I smoked for several years. In my opinion, it's a very bad drug. I got some pretty bad grades during my first few years of high school — and I struggled with marijuana's impact on my short-term memory. I would smoke marijuana pretty regularly and try to do homework, and I'd forget a paragraph as soon as I'd read it."
Hunt kicked the pot-smoking habit after experiencing what he characterizes as "a religious conversion between my sophomore and junior year." But others in his circle stayed on the pipe, "and I've watched the drug wreak havoc on their lives ever since."
Based on these observations, he considers marijuana to be much worse than alcohol, particularly for adolescents. "I struggled with my homework for days after smoking marijuana, but I didn't have that problem after drinking alcohol," he maintains. "When you drink too much, you clearly have a hangover — you throw up and have a headache. But I didn't notice the memory challenges I had with marijuana. My short-term memory was shot for at least 24 hours after smoking."
He admits that his opinion on this topic isn't universally held — and neither do all of the conservatives he knows agree that continuing to criminalize marijuana is the right approach. "I debate with my libertarian friends about this all the time," he concedes. "But at Colorado Christian University, we're clearly not libertarians. We support ordered liberty, structured liberty, and the idea that allowing bad things to take place in our society results in bad consequences."
To illustrate this point, Hunt cites the 1946 movie It's a Wonderful Life, which shows how the small town where the story takes place would have changed for the worse had the film's good-hearted protagonist, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), never been born. "You can claim the freedom mantle all the way from Bedford Falls to Pottersville," he says, using the names of the setting with and without Bailey. "And I think that's what's happening in Colorado. There is a strong libertarian streak here. But the question is, does that libertarian streak lead us to Bedford Falls or Pottersville?"
Colorado Christian University's answer to this question can be found in its strategic objectives statement: CCU wants to "impact our culture in support of traditional family values, sanctity of life, compassion for the poor, Biblical view of human nature, limited government, personal freedom, free markets, natural law, original intent of the Constitution and Western civilization."
This philosophy explains why Bill Armstrong, a former U.S. Senator who served as CCU's president from 2006 until his death last year, "confronted the issue of recreational marijuana," allows Hunt, who cites Armstrong's 2014 opposition to retail dispensaries in the university's home town of Lakewood as an example.
CCU students who venture into such an establishment could be in big trouble back at school. The university's student-conduct process states that "students who have been found in violation of the drug policy, which includes marijuana use, can expect to be placed into the disciplinary process at probation level up to suspension (suspension is usually a week during the academic year) depending on the usage, behavior associated with usage, where it was used, and/or any previous violations of the code of conduct. A student who violated another policy may already be in the student conduct system and therefore may face a more severe sanction."
During the 2016-17 school year, three CCU students were found guilty of usage, as compared to two in 2015-16 and five in 2014-15. At present, the university has 1,306 students, 837 of whom live on campus.
Regarding the Denver 420 Rally, Rob Corry, the attorney for the event, argues that shutting down the festival would be a violation of free speech. Hunt isn't buying this assertion.
"If the Denver 420 Rally was simply a political gathering that didn't violate Colorado or federal law, didn't trash a national historic site [Civic Center Park] and didn't result in violence, I think we would be fine with it," Hunt says. "We've never called for ending any political rally because we disagreed with what they were communicating. But the Denver 420 Rally has lost its privilege to receive a permit from the City of Denver because they don't take into consideration the safety and well-being of the attendees. It's broken into lawlessness, and either Denver is going to protect its citizens or allow lawlessness to reign."
The aforementioned petition echoes many of these contentions, citing a shooting near the park at around 6 p.m. on the day of the festival and a knife attack on the rally's grounds. As noted by Corry, the Denver Police Department hasn't said the shooting had anything to do with the festival, and the knife was used on trash bags, not people. Hunt counters that the no DPD announcement that the shooting wasn't tied to the rally has been issued, either, and he considers the trash-bag slashing, about which police were called, and the breaking down of a fence by attendees tired of waiting in security lines to be acts of violence.
As for public consumption of marijuana (the violation of Colorado and federal law that Hunt mentions above), Hunt doesn't let rally organizers off the hook just because they've warned attendees that they could get in trouble with authorities if they do it. Moreover, he knows that it happened from personal experience, having wandered around the festival grounds in the hour or so before noon on April 20.
"I'll tell you what drove me crazy: the presence of children and infants there," Hunt reveals. "I'm not going to get into whether you should or shouldn't bring your child to the Denver 420 Rally. But it seems to me that the prohibition of marijuana being smoked publicly and openly is in part to protect children from secondhand smoke, and there were masses of people smoking marijuana. There were a few citations, but I saw a lot of people smoking in the presence of children, and that was really hard to watch."
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The petition doesn't include a counter showing how many people have signed. But Hunt says that number has exceeded 800, with one notable signatory being Archbishop of Denver Samuel Aquila.
The effort to ban the Denver 420 Rally won't be the only Colorado Christian University salvo in the war to stop pot. Hunt notes that CCU will sponsor "a marijuana summit on August 11. We're still finalizing our partners, but there should be some pretty major people there to talk about the impact of marijuana on Colorado." Also expected to be on the schedule is Hunt's debate with Corry, to which both men agreed last week.
In Hunt's view, the summit is a sign of things to come at Colorado Christian University. "I think you'll see CCU and the Centennial Institute take a larger and more public role in combating recreational marijuana in Colorado," he maintains.
Thanks to his youthful habit, Hunt has personal motivation for the crusade.