If you're not a pothead (I'm not) and if you don't live near a pot mecca like Boulder, Colorado (I do), you might not know that today, 4/20, is something of a national holiday for marijuana devotees.
It isn't, as urban legend would have you believe, because the police radio code for marijuana use or trafficking is a "four-twenty" or that a section of some state's penal code relating to pot is Section 420. Instead, according to Snopes.com, it originally started as the time that a bunch of stoners in a California high school regularly met to get high.
But it's become much more than a small gathering and something of a "counterculture holiday" -- more accurately "holidaze" -- particularly right here in Boulder, Colorado, a town full of people whom a friend recently described as "stoned and fresh and organic." On 4/20, organic is optional and you can definitely forget about fresh, at least as far as personal hygiene is involved. Stoned, for sure.
More than 10,000 people showed up on the University of Colorado's flagship campus in Boulder in 2011 (with similar attendance in each of the prior few years), costing the university over $50,000 for cleanup and security. Bradley Monton, an associate professor of philosophy at CU, says this is "the price we should happily pay for living in a free society." My guess is that the "we" who will be paying are much different from the "we" who will be happy, since almost none of the participants pay taxes.
The number of organic but not so fresh people, and the amount of smoke they create in a short time, is amusingly demonstrated in a one minute time-lapse video of the 2010 "four-twenty" event. Presumably, sales at nearby Cosmo's Pizza and Snarf's Sub Shop spiked minutes after the video was taken.
In recent years, the police have given out small numbers of tickets (about two dozen last year) for smoking marijuana in public. But in 2012, the University, under the leadership of Chancellor Phil DiStefano, is clamping down by closing the campus to visitors on 4/20 and requiring that students, staff, and faculty show campus ID to step foot on university property.
The impact of this is to allow the police to issue fines for trespassing, which the Denver Post, calling the campus shutdown a "heavy-handed overreach," notes can "carry a penalty of up to $750 and six months in jail."
On Thursday evening, a Boulder district judge denied a request for an injunction to block the University's action; none of the six plaintiffs was a University of Colorado student.
The debate mixes claims of individuals' right to free association and the school's right to prevent disruption of the school's educational activities, with questions of devaluing a CU degree, with the broader topic of marijuana legalization -- though the latter is more of a smokescreen on 4/20.
In a letter responding to the Post's editorial, DiStefano challenges claims that the 4/20 smoke-out is a protest: "If it is a protest, then every party on every college campus in America is a protest…. 4/20 is a gigantic party, and the university's actions are designed to end it and prevent it from becoming more disruptive and damaging to the campus than it already is."
Apparently, the disruption is not primarily due to the smell because the University plans to close down Norlin Quad and spread a "fish-based fertilizer" over that giant lawn where the gathering usually happens.
Boulder's City Council, on a 7-2 vote, passed a resolution in support of the University's actions to block the event. In an interview with the Boulder Daily Camera, Councilwoman Suzanne Jones, who voted for the resolution, worried that "Heavy-handed measures like closing the campus and issuing trespass tickets seem like a cure that might be worse than the disease." Another Council member, Ken Wilson, noted that CU-Boulder was named by Playboy as the "Top Party School" for 2011.
On the one hand, I'm a little jealous that none of these girls (don't click with your kids around) attended the same college I did -- though if they had, it may not have worked out as the best use of my parents' hard-earned tuition expenditures due to my extreme distraction. On the other hand and despite my strong pro-civil liberties inclinations, as a parent and Colorado taxpayer (with a painful reminder dropped in the mail three days ago), neither college students nor their professors, nor "civil rights" ambulance chasers, nor the state nor the nation need or have a right to turn our colleges into THC-fueled bacchanalia.
This is not a civil rights issue, not a "freedom of association" or "right to free expression" issue (as it was framed by a local ACLU spokesman.) It is an issue of breaking a law (even if a law which I oppose) in public, on state property, while disturbing the important work done by Colorado's largest university and paid for by almost none of the lawbreakers.
Marijuana legalization is one thing. Stoned kids -- including no doubt many walking the few blocks up the street from Boulder High School -- on a taxpayer-funded campus on a day when classes are taking place is something else entirely.
To be sure, there are plenty of CU students who oppose the 4/20 narcissistic haze. Andrew Trujillo, a junior, created a Facebook page called "Stay classy CU" that has 600 students joining to express their displeasure with the event by dressing well on Friday (presumably quite a sacrifice for most CU undergrads).
The debate among students is well summarized by two comments on the page. Point, Jane Miller: "putting on a tie doesn't make you classy, smoking pot doesn't make you un-classy. p.s. suits are equipped with the ultimate stash pockets." (Her parents must be so proud; at least she's paying the in-state tuition rate.) Counter-point, Sarah Marie Bowles: "It becomes MY problem when employers ask about 4/20 and associate this institution with marijuana (which is still illegal). It becomes MY problem when the campus is flooded with people who are clearly not CU students, many of them even high schoolers. The fact is, public image DOES matter. CU is about more than thousands of people smoking pot in one place. It's time to show people that."
As is typical of Boulder, even the "hard line" position is squishy, with CU Vice Chancellor Frances Draper saying, "We will be enforcing this, but we plan to do it in a conciliatory way." That's probably all that will be necessary, and not only due to would-be attendees too mellow to put up much of a fight.
Instead, it is because a student group has arranged a concert to run from 2 PM to 6 PM -- with a clever requirement that students must be inside the Coors Event Center by 4 PM. The concert headliner: Wyclef Jean, the one-time candidate for the presidency of Haiti who has been hit with over $2 million in tax liens by the IRS in the past half-decade (none of which for student loan debt), who, when asked about the 4/20 pot-smoking "holiday," responded, "For me that's an everyday holiday."
Norlin Quad may be closed, but the Coors Event Center is open -- and without the benefits of a breeze to blow away the exhalations of a few thousand stoned future leaders of America.
Within the friendly confines of a pot-smoke-filled arena and considering his profanity-laced 2006 tirade against President George W. Bush, including suggesting that "President Bush needs to smoke marijuana," there's no doubt that Mr. Jean will feel right at home at CU-Boulder.
As for me, I plan to stay far away from both the perma-stoned tax-dodger and the fish-fertilized lawn.