4/20: Why CU's going without fish fertilizer to stop pot rally, but still closing Boulder campus

Yesterday, CU-Boulder announced that for the second consecutive year, the campus would be closed on April 20 in an effort to squelch the annual 4/20 event there; see our original coverage below.

Why take this controversial tack again? CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard is straight-forward, deeming last year's approach a "great success." But there have been a few tweaks in the way it will be carried out, including nixing the use of foul-smelling fish fertilizer on Norlin Quad.

"Fish fertilizer was never a main element in our strategy," says Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend of yours truly). "It became a great topic of interest in the media, and that made people think it was a huge part of our strategy, but it was always a side tactic. And the student leadership was very articulate about not wanting it. So we talked to some other people about what it really achieved, and in terms of deterring people from coming onto Norlin Quad," the traditional ground zero for 4/20, "it wasn't very effective. So when the students said, 'Can you not do this?,' it was something we could easily compromise on."

As such, Norlin Quad will simply be taped off this year, as opposed to being spread with a stomach-churning substance.

Otherwise, the main areas of improvement targeted by CU-Boulder involve messaging.

"We want to communicate more effectively as an institution about why we're doing this," he says. "This isn't based on Amendment 64," a measure that allows adults 21 and over in Colorado to possess and use small amounts of cannabis, "and it's not based on the legality or the illegality of marijuana. We just don't want a gathering of that size on that part of the campus."

This is true even though April 20 falls on a Saturday in 2013, he emphasizes. "The date is less than two weeks before finals, and there's quite a lot of academic activity and research taking place on campus on Saturdays and Sundays. There'll be students in the library writing term papers, discussion groups, seminars, music auditions -- all kinds of things. The academic mission is in full swing, and our objective is to protect that academic mission."

Critics of the closure argue that a college is also supposed to endorse openness and free speech -- goals they feel are contradicted by shutting down the institution in an effort to prevent a gathering whose participants want to smoke weed either as a celebration of progress or a protest against continuing restrictions. And they also object to students and visitors being forced to display identification cards or passes in order to gain access to the grounds, seeing the requirement as an unfortunate variation on show-me-your-papers laws.

Representatives of Colorado University Student Government (CUSG) brought up this subject in the months preceding yesterday's announcement. "There was extensive discussion of it within the 4/20 working group, with the student task force at the table," Hilliard says. "It was a marvelous group of student leaders to work with -- very articulate in pinpointing what their issues were. But it really comes down to this: There is no other way to determine who's got a legitimate reason to be on campus and who doesn't" other than to require students to show their IDs, known as a Buff OneCard, or visitors to display special passes developed for the day. "We understand it's an inconvenience, and we're appreciative of the fact that one day a year, we're systematically asking that IDs be presented."

But CU police officers ringing the campus will be offering something in return. "They'll be presenting people with cards explaining why they're there" -- the chancellor requested that they be -- "and what we're doing."

Hilliard stresses that the police didn't receive "a single complaint" about their conduct last year, but everyone involved still wants to improve the situation in the hope that a campus closure on April 20 won't become a permanent part of the schedule. "We always envisioned this as a multi-year process," he allows, "and we'll evaluate after each year."

In the meantime, he encourages those who want to mark 4/20 in the usual way "to go to Denver, in the shadow of the State Capitol, and then to Red Rocks on Sunday. From what I'm hearing, that's where the fun is going to be. And I don't think there'll be a lot going on at CU-Boulder other than the normal, quiet, pre-finals stuff."

Continue for our previous coverage, including photos from 4/20 at CU-Boulder in 2012.
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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

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