4/20 at CU Boulder such a non-event again that administrators may reconsider campus closure

While Denver's Civic Center Park was wild on 4/20, drawing big crowds and sparking 130 arrests or citations over the course of the weekend, the scene at CU-Boulder -- once the setting for what one advocate described as "an orgasm of cannabis consumption" -- was anything but. For the third consecutive year, the campus was closed on 4/20, and like last year, there were no protests or reported problems.

Does that mean CU Boulder may be willing to leave the campus open next 4/20? Maybe -- but there are no guarantees.

As in 2012 and 2013, CU-Boulder police officers and law enforcers from other jurisdictions ringed the campus and only allowed students, faculty and staff with valid university identification to come and go. And according to CU-Boulder spokesman Ryan Huff, "there were no arrests, no citations, no incidents.

"People were very cooperative, showing their IDs at various checkpoints," he continues. "Our officers and officers from other agencies were polite and professional, and we didn't receive any complaints that I know of. I think that after a few years of doing this, people know the drill."

This time around, 4/20 corresponded with Easter Sunday, and Huff thinks this confluence may have helped everything run smoothly.

"It was probably a bit lighter in terms of pedestrian and vehicle traffic because it was Easter," he acknowledges. "And our closure period was also shorter than in past years: twelve to six instead of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. But I still saw plenty of people who were studying or throwing a Frisbee on Farrand Field or going to residence halls or dining facilities. We're a busy place seven days a week -- even on Easter Sunday."

Academic activities of every stripe, and the desire that they not be disrupted, is CU-Boulder's rationale for blocking access to outsiders on 4/20.

"We're not closing the campus because we're afraid of talking about marijuana or debating the pros and cons of drug legalization," Huff emphasizes. He notes that the university's student government arm, CUSG, "hosted a drug policy symposium a few weeks ago, bringing in experts in the field and debating these issues." (Disclosure: My twin daughters are both members of CUSG.) And last week, Chancellor Philip DiStefano was invited to Professor Caroline S. Conzelman's "Culture and Power" class "to speak about the history of 4/20, why we were closing the campus, and why we can't allow marijuana on campus due to federal laws," Huff continues. "So we're certainly interested in engaging in the academic dialogue about marijuana."

In the meantime, though, closing the campus remains an expensive affair. The Boulder Daily Camera puts the cost of the 2013 shutdown at just over $107,000, and while the price tag may be lower this time around because the closure was four hours shorter, it will still be considerable. (Huff expects to know this year's figure in the next month or so -- and he points out that no student fees will go toward covering it.) With that in mind, and given the lack of issues again this year, is closing the campus still worthwhile?

"Whether we do it next year or in future years will be up for discussion," Huff replies. "But this is something we hope not to have to do in the future.

"This week, we have a committee that will get together and discuss how this year went," he goes on. "We won't be making decisions this early, but we'll certainly talk about whether a campus closure is necessary next year and in the years ahead. I would think the decision will be made early next year or thereabouts about whether to close the campus again."

Among the arguments for at least one more closure: April 20, 2015 falls on a Monday, when a disruption would be much more noticeable than on a Sunday or even a Saturday, as in 2013. But whatever the case, Huff says, "we hope the event has essentially run its course and that we can open the campus again -- and people will be able to go about their normal activities as they would on any other day of the school year."

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa March 4: "Photos: CU-Boulder's 4/20 closure guards against 'chaos,' spokesman says."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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