Over the years, University of Colorado at Boulder officials have made several attempts to curtail, break up and even prosecute participants in the 4/20 pot smokeout.
They’ve turned sprinklers on the crowd, even posted photos of smokers online in an attempt to identify them.
But in recent years, CU police seem to have taken a more hands-off approach, and that is expected to continue this week when the event returns.
Cmdr. Tim McGraw of the CU police told Boulder Weekly that there were “mixed reviews” on the use of sprinklers and online photos, which were intended to “thwart some of the momentum” of the event, in which cannabis smokers now gather on Norlin Quad at 4:20 p.m. on April 20 to partake in pot.
“A percentage of the public thinks we treat this far too lightly; other community members think we treat it too harshly,” he says.
Asked why authorities now seem to look the other way when the event happens, McGraw says “having a strict enforcement policy, frankly, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for us.”
He explains that in Colorado, where minor pot offenses were decriminalized years ago, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is not even a misdemeanor — it’s a class 2 petty offense that carries a maximum fine of $100, with no chance of jail time. By comparison, McGraw says, the penalty for littering is up to $1,000.
He notes that it probably wouldn’t make sense to the community to assemble the number of officers needed to crack down on 10,000 people who showed up to an event, littered and then left. So why put together a similar police force for an offense that carries a penalty that is 10 times smaller than littering?
“It’s more of a social issue, frankly, than it is a police enforcement issue,” he says.
McGraw acknowledges that if people are walking across campus smoking a joint and encounter a police officer, “there would be a pretty strong likelihood that they’re going to get a ticket. But we’re not going to wade into the crowd or try to put a fence around people and then develop the probable cause that would be needed to show that everyone inside committed a violation. Given the low statutory status of this event, it makes no sense for us to dedicate resources to do that. We also could likely create a bigger issue than the one we’re trying to resolve.”
McGraw did say police don’t want participants jumping on trampolines, slack-lining or doing similar activities that could lead to injuries during 4/20. He says that in past years, the event has involved mostly medical calls, and police will be on hand to handle life safety/health issues.
“I’m certainly not saying that it’s carte blanche permission to go out and violate the law. I’m just saying that our point of emphasis is going to be elsewhere, in dealing with things that we can control and respond to,” McGraw says.
CU spokesperson Bronson Hilliard, who estimates that only about 25 percent of the 4/20 crowd is CU students, says the event — and media coverage around it — always prompts complaints from parents, lawmakers and donors, and detracts from productive contributions made by the university, like the 13,000 students engaged in community service.
“If the student element that participates in [4/20] … understood how this one single little event that feels like a good time in the sun works against every positive message about the institution that we try to put out there, I think they’d think twice about it,” Hilliard says. “I don’t think anyone here is against having a debate about drug laws or symbolic gestures calling into question the nation’s drug laws … But this is nothing but a giant party.
“I see a lot of heads, but not a lot of heavy discourse.”