4/20 at CU-Boulder: Student leaders looking at all options after concert flop, campus shutdown

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CU-Boulder student government leaders began talking about moving the 2012 version of the infamous 4/20 rally off-campus the previous July, and worked closely with the administration for months prior to a visitor ban and Norlin Quad closure on the big day. In contrast, the current student administration has kept a low profile on the topic. Now, however, a representative of CUSG is speaking up, albeit with more caution than the previous regime.

That doesn't mean the 2012-2013 CUSG staff (which -- full disclosure -- includes my two daughters) is dreaming of a 4/20 comeback. Indeed, director of health and safety Chris Schaefbauer, who, with student body president Brittni Hernandez, is serving as a liaison to the administration on the subject of 4/20, makes it clear that "we don't want it on the campus. We continue to agree with last year's CUSG and administration about that. But we think there are different ways to accomplish that."

As you'll recall, last year's CUSG sponsored what was characterized as a 4/20 alternative -- a concert featuring Wyclef Jean that was scheduled to get underway during the middle of the afternoon on April 20 and continue past 4:20 p.m., when participants traditional fire up. But the attendance at the show was catastrophic -- approximately 1,250 people for a bash that earned Jean $80,000 and cost approximately $150,000.

Meanwhile, the CU-Boulder administration restricted access to the entire campus, preventing non-students from entering and requiring enrollees to offer identification before being allowed to be there. In addition, Norlin Quad, the traditional ground zero for 4/20, was spread with terrible-smelling fish fertilizer and cordoned off -- and three students who dared to step onto the grass were arrested. The case against them was later dropped after they agreed to volunteer on behalf of Amendment 64 -- and after their attorney, Sean McAllister, called CU's tactics fascist.

Schaefbauer doesn't use similar language, but he does concede that "some students have definitely expressed some serious concerns about the approach last year. That's why our primary focus this year has been really to try to reach out and engage students -- to ask them how they felt about the event and what they want to see the day look like. We think it's important to have a dialogue."

The last batch of student government leaders tried to get input from students about 4/20, too, sponsoring a late November 2011 meeting during which one student characterized 4/20 opponents as "rich, trust-fund assholes." But Schaefbauer says many of the students with whom he's spoken more recently felt like they weren't part of the process last time around -- and the CUSG staffers want to prevent something similar from happening again.

To that end, CUSG has conducted a student survey (the results are expected within the next few weeks) and "diligently reached out to students" in a more casual way to get their feedback. In Schaefbauer's view, "we're talking about this more openly than maybe has been the case in previous years."

After the 2012 edition of 4/20, the CU-Boulder administration branded the shutdown a success -- an analysis that suggests a possible repeat of last year this next April. But Schaefbauer thinks a deeper examination is warranted.

Continue to read more about CU-Boulder student government and 4/20. "A lot of people have talked about how effective it was last year -- and if you're only defining 'effective' as moving the event off-campus, then sure, it was effective," he says. "But what effect, positive or negative, did it have on our campus community? There were a lot of negative feelings from students who felt they weren't involved, and we want to involve them and move toward a solution that's effective on all levels." That's why "exploring options is a priority for us," especially "if students really overwhelmingly tell us they want to see something different."

Whatever the results of the survey, Schaefbauer says CUSG's goal is to "come up with a long-term solution. And that means we have to ask ourselves if closing the campus is a good long-term solution. And if students decide it's not, then we may need to look at making this year be a little different, and the year after that being even more different -- transforming it into something that includes the entire CU community, rather than excluding them."

Lots of other factors will come into play as well, including the fact that this year's 4/20 falls on a Saturday, when fewer classes will be taking place -- although Schaefbauer stresses that plenty of educational activities happen on the weekends as well. He's also mindful that simply moving the event somewhere else creates problems for others, further complicating the situation. Yet he hopes CUSG will be able to complete its analysis and have a proposal ready sometime next month.

Will CUSG insist that the administration take a new tack to 4/20 in 2013? "Some of that's out of our power," Schaefbauer acknowledges. "But we're going to do everything we can to engage students -- really listen and understand not just how people felt about last year, but how people feel in general about this issue. That way, we can move forward and work with the administration to come up with something sustainable...and make sure it's not part of what this campus is doing."

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

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

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