4/20 at CU Boulder: Student leaders opt for low-key campaign to shrink event

It's one month before 4/20 at CU Boulder, an annual protest against marijuana prohibition/celebration of pot culture. While student leaders at the school have been talking for months about how to move the event off-campus, they now appear to be resigned to the bash happening as scheduled. But they're preparing to roll out a plan intended to discourage attendance with the idea of shrinking the size of the bacchanal little by little over a series of years.

CU officials have never been thrilled with the 4/20 spectacle, but shortly after last year's version, which drew thousands to the university's Norlin Quad, regent Michael Carrigan spoke out, calling for 4/20 at CU to be banned due to the expense of protecting so-called "outsiders" who flood into Boulder for the day. He put the cost at $50,000.

That July, student government leaders picked up this drumbeat, with vice president of external affairs Brooks Kanski telling us, "We have some concerns with the event itself and the way it's conducted -- and the crowd it draws onto campus during classes." He added, "As an administration, we agree that we're here to increase the all-around excellence of our students, and part of that is contributing to a strong academic performance and a strong public image of our school. And this is a negative contributor for our school. We've seen its impact on our school's reputation across the country, and it's something we want to correct -- for the value of our students' degrees more than budget concerns."

To find out if the greater student body agreed, leaders staged a 4/20 forum in late November. Opinions about a possible ban were split, with some students complaining about the disruptions caused by the happening and others espousing free speech and attacking anti-4/20 types dismissed as "rich, trust-fund assholes."

Nonetheless, CU's legislative council unanimously passed a resolution to move 4/20 off campus. The problem was how. No one wanted black-and-gold helmeted shock troops set loose on students, or a phalanx of officers preventing entry to the campus by anyone who smelled of cannabis. Besides, if the revelers were blocked from visiting the CU campus, where could they go?

"We're definitely not trying to push this event into the City of Boulder," Kanski stresses. "We've had extensive conversations about that with community members and elected officials in Boulder. So our tactic is not 'Where else can we move it?' but 'How can we reduce students wanting to participate in this event?'"

Their best answer involves persuasion and word of mouth.

"We've been communicating and starting conversations with the different student classes to encourage them not to participate," Kanski says. "It's especially big for us to talk with the freshmen and sophomores. And we're also encouraging them not to invite their friends from around the state and from other schools to attend the event with them. That's going to be our focus this year."

There'll also be coordination with school officials, Kanski notes. "The big thing is working with administration to share e-mail memos with students regarding standards being set for the student body, for those living in dorms, on campus and off campus -- and a lot of encouragement about not inviting friends. We're going to continue educating people about why we're trying to eliminate this event from CU."

The calendar appears to undermine one argument for putting the kibosh on 4/20 -- the difficulty faced by students who actually want to attend class by find their way blocked by tokers. After all, as Kanski acknowledges, "It's on Friday this year, Saturday the year after and Sunday the year after that. And we're interested to see how the dynamics change, or if they change."

Under any circumstances, though, Kanski believes "this is going to be a multi-year process. This year, we really want to get a feel for who is attending the event and cut down on student attendance. And if we can do that, it should be easier to reduce the size in the future."

Look below and page down to see photos of last year's 4/20 event at CU.

Page down to see more photos from 4/20 at CU 2011. Page down to see more photos from 4/20 at CU 2011. Page down to see more photos from 4/20 at CU 2011. Page down to see more photos from 4/20 at CU 2011.

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More from our Marijuana archive: "4/20 in Boulder: CU student government leaders want it moved off-campus (PHOTOS)."

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