4/20 in Boulder preview: "An orgasm of cannabis consumption"

In an interview last week, NORML executive director Allen St. Pierre confirmed that he'll be attending the politically oriented 4/20 rally at Denver's Civic Center Park this year.

It'll be his second straight 4/20 in Colorado. Last year, he was at the bash at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which he likened to "an orgasm of cannabis consumption."

[email protected] executive director Alex Douglas, who recently decried the university's ban against medical marijuana patients smoking in dorms, laughs when he hears St. Pierre's description. However, he thinks a more apt description for what's going to happen at CU tomorrow at 4:20 p.m. is "an orgasm of cannabis consumption -- and students standing up for what they believe in."

According to Douglas, "We're expecting the largest gathering in the history of 4/20 at CU -- between fifteen and twenty-thousand people at the Norlin Quad," directly in front of Norlin Library, which he calls "one of the most academic buildings on campus."

The Denver event has a full schedule of live music and speakers such as St. Pierre, who will be delivering the bash's "invocation." Unfortunately, because of what Douglas calls "limitations from the school," that's not possible at CU.

Choosing another location in Boulder would add such options, but "that wouldn't be the attention-grabber it is at CU," Douglas feels. "It wouldn't make the same statement. These students aren't going to classes. They're protesting for what they believe in at their university, and that statement alone makes it so popular and newsworthy.

"We have so many top-rated programs here, and I believe a CU education is really amazing, and really carries students far after they graduate. So with all the recognition CU gets, it makes having 4/20 on campus that much more meaningful."

Douglas, who's currently a CU senior, is far too young to have experienced the genesis of 4/20 celebrations at the university. But by virtue of his role with [email protected], he's become something of a historian of the event.

"Back in the '80s and early '90s, there were people who would go onto Farrand Field, which is a recreational field in the middle of the residential dorms on campus," he says. "They were never large groups. Then, in 1997, the owner of a prominent store in Boulder put out a flier for people to meet on Farrand Field on 4/20. It was kind of rainy that year, but some people did show up -- and from that point on, it really seemed to gain interest. Like, in 1998, there were 75 to a hundred people -- and it just kept building and increasing."

Then, in the middle of the last decade, "CU-Boulder began getting a lot of attention because of the tactics they used to stop the students from participating in the 4/20 event," Douglas continues. "One year, they shut down the field and hired outsourced security to stand around. And they also turned the sprinklers on -- but that didn't really stop anybody. And then, the next year, they took video and put stills online and tried to get students to identify the people. It was absolutely ridiculous. There was a lot of mockery going on."

As April 20, 2007 approached, "the university did something very smart in their eyes: They destroyed the field to make a new one, thinking that was going to help 4/20 simmer down," Douglas says. "But it actually wound up making it more interesting, because that's when it moved to Norlin Quad -- and that's where we really got to see the increase in numbers." This was also the first year Douglas attended personally.

In 2009, CU administrators tried a different tack: The university sent an e-mail to students under the signatures of interim chancellor Phil DiStefano, vice chancellor of student affairs Julie Wong and dean of students Deb Coffin arguing that participating in the rally "debases the reputation of your University and degree" and creates safety risks. Read the e-mail here.

"I actually saw that e-mail a long time before they sent it out," Douglas notes. "I told them, 'What are you doing? This is just going to make more people go. If you're really, truly, honestly worried about the safety of students, why don't you tell them, 'Please don't bring barbecues and trampolines.' And two days after they sent out that first e-mail, they sent out another one that said, 'If you go to 4/20, be safe.' And I was happy about that."

He's also pleased that this year, CU supervisors seem resigned to the 4/20 festivities going forward whether they like it or not. Although he'd be even more upbeat if the university actually supported what was going on.

"They think it's a black eye to the school, but to me, I think it's something they should embrace," he says. "These students pay a lot of money to go to CU, and they're standing up for what they believe in. The university thinks that's debasing the degree -- but why would taking a stand for something do that?"

As for Douglas, he's got a simple message for the thousands upon thousands of people expected to light up tomorrow afternoon: "Make sure you're safe, you treat everyone with respect, and you stand up for what you believe in."

Those sound like the ingredients for quite an orgasm.

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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts