CU-Boulder refutes attorney's claim that its 4/20 tactics were "fascist"

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Update: When speaking about the decision of three CU-Boulder students arrested for trespassing on the closed Norlin Quad amid the university's effort to shrink the annual 4/20 event to fight the charge on First Amendment grounds, attorney Sean McAllister described the school's tactics as "fascist" in an interview shared in coverage below. The description nettles CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard, who sees this comment as inaccurate hyperbole.

On 4/20, CU closed its Boulder campus to visitors and taped off (and spread with rank-smelling fish fertilizer) Norlin Quad, the area where the event has taken place during the period when the annual smoke-out went from a small gathering to a 10,000-attendees-plus statement of purpose/cannabis bacchanal. Students Gabriel Kuettel, Jonathan Edwards and John Demopoulos decided to protest against these actions by venturing onto the forbidden Quad, earning trespassing tickets as a result.

In discussing these citations, McAllister, who's representing the students pro bono, told us, "The university tolerates speech with regard to anti-abortion protesters and anti-war protesters. But the university shouldn't get to decide which speech it likes, or else we live in a fascist state."

How does Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend of yours truly) respond to this characterization?

"We have abundant free speech on this campus every day of the year," notes Hilliard, a CU graduate and history buff. "We have debate, discussion and dissent virtually everywhere. There are rallies at the Dalton Trumbo fountain" -- a gathering place near the school's University Memorial Center named for a blacklisted member of the so-called Hollywood Ten -- "all the time, and there are eleven different points on campus designated as canvassing zones" for individuals hoping to gather support for their organizations or points of view. "So the idea that anybody would think of CU-Boulder and somehow think we have some sterile, frightening environment for free speech is comical."

The area's off-limits status on 4/20 shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone, Hilliard goes on. "We communicated very clearly to students, faculty and visitors what would go on with Norlin Quad that day using multiple venues, and protesters gathered around the perimeter of the Quad, making their unhappiness with the policy clear throughout the day."

McAllister suggested in his comments that the university could prevent a likely loss in court by raising the white flag now. But Hilliard says, "At this point, we don't think it's about us dropping the matter. It's been referred to the Boulder District Attorney's office, and generally we don't comment on a case when it's been forward to the DA or the police for carrying out."

He's not nearly as reticent when it comes to McAllister's pejorative. In his words, "The thought that we were a fascist state on that day or on any other day is laughable on its face."

Look below to see our earlier coverage.

Update, 9:13 a.m. May 25: In a May 1 post seen below in its entirety, attorney Sean McAllister told us that three CU-Boulder students busted for trespassing on the closed Norlin Quad during the university's unprecedented attempt to shrink the annual 4/20 event would fight their citations on First Amendment grounds. Yesterday, they took the first step by pleading not guilty to the charges against them, beginning a challenge McAllister says has important implications.

"The university tolerates speech with regard to anti-abortion protesters and anti-war protesters," notes McAllister, who's representing students Gabriel Kuettel, Jonathan Edwards and John Demopoulos pro bono. "But the university shouldn't get to decide which speech it likes, or else we live in a fascist state."

Kuettel, Edwards and Demopoulos didn't know each other before their arrests. And McAllister says their decision to venture onto the Quad, which had been taped off and covered with fish fertilizer in an effort to prevent students from congregating on what has become the traditional site of the 4/20 event, was intended to protest CU's decision to not only close the campus to non-students, but also to prevent tuition payers from venturing onto that particular spot.

Location is important, McAllister believes. "The university is saying where speech can occur and where it can't -- and that's illegal. And they're spending tons of money to suppress First Amendment speech rather than tolerate it."

McAllister predicts that the final tally for CU's 4/20 expenses will be in the range of $300,000 -- a total that, in his view, should include the $150,000 of student money spent on a Wyclef Jean concert that attracted an exceedingly sparse crowd to the Coors Events Center. We should know how accurate his soothsaying is soon; CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard says the numbers are in and should be released later this morning. But whatever the total, McAllister contends that "they're wasting more money prosecuting my clients -- and that's a waste of resources especially in a year when marijuana is on the ballot" by way of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.

"The solution is worse than the problem," he argues. "If they just ticketed people for smoking pot, it would have been a $100 fine. But being ticketed for trespassing can bring up to six months in jail, and all just to keep people away from the Quad. And how can they close the university to its own students? They can't close the campus to students in this way....

"This is about more than marijuana," he goes on. "It's about the greater principle of whether the university gets to pick and choose what speech is discussed in the public square. My clients paid money to go the university, and they certainly had a right to be on campus and express their views.

"This is another example of the drug war. The establishment doesn't want to have an honest and open dialogue about this issue -- and CU's actions mirror problems of society. They're more interested in protecting their image than in reality, which is that one day soon, marijuana will be legal in Colorado. But instead, they're suppressing First Amendment rights because they're so uptight about their image. They're not willing to admit that this is an issue that needs to be acknowledged -- so we'll make them acknowledge it."

Right now, there's a motions hearing in the case of the three students slated for July 18, with trial set "on August 9, I believe," says McAllister. "And in the next two or three weeks, we're going to file a First Amendment motion to dismiss. It's like if you were charged for harassment for saying someone is a bad doctor. If they charge you with harassment, you can get a charge dismissed on First Amendment grounds. So we're going to ask a judge to do that."

At this point, McAllister goes on, "we're somewhat optimistic that the university will do the right thing or a judge will do the right thing and dismiss the case before trial. And we think it will be unlikely for a Boulder jury to convict people in this case. The jury will see my clients upholding the Constitution and the law by expressing their First Amendment rights, and see the university suppressing those rights. And we hope a jury will acquit them based on those factors."

Here are the booking photos of Kuettel, Edwards and Demopoulos, followed by our previous coverage.

Page down to see our earlier coverage, including a video and 4/20 photos. Original item, 12:13 p.m. May 1: CU-Boulder closed Norlin Quad as part of its attempt to shrink the annual 4/20 event on campus. Three CU students (including Gabriel Kuettel, seen here) were cited for trespassing on Norlin that day, and their lawyer, Sean McAllister, reveals that they'll be fighting the charges on First Amendment grounds. Moreover, he says they won't accept lesser punishment to go away. Unless the counts are dismissed, they'll eagerly take the matter to trial.

Norlin Quad is the traditional spot for students and visitors to mark the 4/20 celebration at CU-Boulder. As such, the university, which also closed the campus to visitors, made the quad off-limits to students with the exception of a single pathway. CU staffers also spread the grass with fish fertilizer that puts off a powerful stench immediately after application.

Nonetheless, Kuettel, along with fellow students Jonathan Edwards and John Demopoulos, ventured into this area anyhow. McAllister, whose firm is representing the trio pro bono, stresses that their act wasn't coordinated. "Gabe told me none of them knew each other. They all met that day, and none of them were intending to get ticketed or trespass."

What changed Kuettel's mind? In McAllister's words, "Gabe said he was on his way to class and was stopped by a police officer who made him show an ID before he could get onto campus -- and he'd lost his ID. So he almost wasn't able to get on campus grounds to get to class." In the end, the officer in question allowed Kuettel beyond the barricades after he presented a bus pass, "but that made him upset with the whole thing," McAllister continues. "He decided that this was outrageous and he was going to engage in an act of civil disobedience to protest. It was a spur of the moment thing; he decided somebody needed to make a statement."

Afterward, Kuettel and company were "misportrayed in the media as stoners," McAllister believes. "They weren't high, and they didn't have any marijuana on them; none of them were ticketed for that. They were carrying protest signs, some of them talking about the 1984 concept of big government crackdowns and Orwellian positions that weren't allowing people to express an opinion.... They would all say they support marijuana legalization, but they were really out there getting arrested to protest the university's position on the First Amendment."

A request for a temporary restraining order to prevent CU from closing its campus on 4/20 raised the same issue but was rejected. That didn't surprise McAllister. "I knew it was a loser," he says. "But these guys are all registered students, all seniors, all about to graduate. And we intend to litigate the legality of closing Norlin Quad to students themselves -- to students who are not only taxpayers, but who are paying the university tuition to be there, and who weren't allowed to express their First Amendment opinions on a green grassy field."

Page down to continue reading our interview with the 4/20 legal challenge, complete with photos and a video. McAllister has shared his intentions with the university but has thus far not received a reply to his demand for dismissal of charges -- and his questions about the cost of shutting down 4/20 haven't been answered, either. CU-Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend of yours truly) says he had hoped to have numbers late last week, but the university is still waiting for invoices from various agencies that assisted in the campus closure. Hilliard now believes a total accounting won't be completed for another week or two.

Despite this explanation, McAllister believes CU is "dragging their feet" about the costs. He estimates that the expenditure was in the range of $250,000 -- a sum that includes $150,000 spent on a failed Wyclef Jean concert that was funded out of student fees. Since CU-Boulder dropped about $50,000 on 4/20 last year, "that'll mean they spent five times more money to prevent the event than they normally spend to tolerate it."

Unless the case is dismissed, McAllister expects the students "to enter a not-guilty plea and a trial to be set for this month. And we're not going to ask for any favors, any leniency. We're expecting them to do the right thing, and if they don't do that, let's see if they can find a jury of these kids' peers in Boulder to convict them for trespassing on their own school grounds.

"Our main claim is going to be that the closure of the quad to students was illegal and suppressed their First Amendment rights. And in an election year when we're going to be deciding if marijuana is legal or not, this is the most important time to have a dialogue about marijuana policy."

Here's a video featuring the arrests of Kuettel and Demopoulos, followed by 4/20 at CU-Boulder photos by Britt Chester.

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. Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.

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

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