UC Boulder loses some buds: School to shut down over pro-pot rally

Reuters/Jorge Dan Lopez
The University of Colorado will be on lockdown this Friday, complete with campus police conducting checkpoints and demanding proper ID from everyone in sight. The reason? Authorities want to finally end the school’s annual pro-pot rally.

If you spend April 20 this year in Boulder, Colorado, stay far, far away from the city’s major college campus, caution authorities. No, there is no bomb threat expected for this Friday at UC Boulder, nor are police preparing for any visiting dignitaries to address the students. The cause for heightened security this time around is something much more serious, it would seem. School officials are sick and tired of an annual event that has brought people from across both the state and the country to smoke marijuana on campus.

Students have been toking up on the school’s campus every 4/20 for years now, with the annual event bringing in around 10,000 participants just in 2011. In the past campus police have resorted to dousing students with water and snapping their photos to publish them on the Web, offering cash bounties for the identifications of those caught smoking up. This time, the answer isn’t just public humiliation, though. Instead the school will be instituting authoritarian rule for one day in hopes of at least ending what has proven to be a peaceful protest in years past.

"We're at that point where we're saying, 'Enough,'" CU-Boulder spokesperson Bronson Hilliard said on Friday, reports the city’s 9 News television. "We don't want this on our campus."

To keep any questionable activity to a minimum, anyone without a school-sanctioned ID will be banned from campus on Friday. The Nolin Quad, where Alex Douglas of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says he spotted 15,000 pro-pot ralliers in 2010, will be shut down entirely for the day.

"Students, faculty, staff and all CU-Boulder affiliates will need their Buff OneCard IDs to get on and around the campus,” states an official press release from the university. “Those not affiliated with CU-Boulder will not be permitted on campus and face tickets for trespassing."

"We will have checkpoints on the perimeter of the campus and also within the perimeter as well," CU Boulder Police spokesperson Ryan Huff adds to the tv station.

Those tickets won’t be tiny ones either. Non-students engaged in the annual pro-marijuana rally will be considered trespassers and subjected to penalties that include six months in jail and a $750 fine.

Opponents of the annual event are saying this time around that it isn’t an issue of drugs, though. "This is not about marijuana. It's about a major disruption in the heart of campus, and it's something we want to end.”

Huff adds to 9 News that UC Boulder’s chancellor has the ability to close the school for any event that disrupts the campus or poses a threat to students and faculty. To thousands of students and other supporters of the state’s comparably lax marijuana laws, though, they beg to differ about just how disruptive the annual event really is. Traditionally, students gather shortly before 4:20 in the afternoon, smoke and disperse.

To the Colorado Daily in 2010, a 31-year-old participant in the gathering said the event occurred in the spirit of “peace, love and freedom.” With disruptions few and far between, opponent’s of the campus’ decision to close-down this year say that freedoms across the board are being brought to an end.

"The decision to close the CU campus is a wrongheaded and misguided effort to thwart students' right of association and right of expression,” explains the Boulder County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Although the Constitution does not provide a right to smoke pot in public, the First Amendment does protect the right to associate with others to amplify the power and force of a collective protest against government policy. Not everyone who joins a 4/20 protest is violating the marijuana laws. Students who wish to protest the marijuana laws have a constitutional right to invite others to join them. By closing the campus to visitors, establishing checkpoints, assigning uniformed police to check papers, and threatening arrests of visitors without proper credentials, the university disserves the values that underlie the First Amendment and the right to dissent."

The city’s Occupy Wall Street offshoot, Occupy Boulder, will be waging a smoke-out just offsite of the school as a way of opposing the shutting down of the university on Friday.