A turning point for 4/20

In a statement posted on CU’s website, CU Boulder chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said the University of Colorado plans to close to the public for the third straight year to curtail an annual marijuana celebration that has drawn thousands of participants in years past.

The past two years have been quiet on campus, but this year poses a new set of challenges that will require even more resources to inhibit any number of potential smoke-out efforts on campus. This year, the focus seems to be shifting away from the closures amid an ongoing effort to redefine news stories involving the campus on 4/20.

Like in past years, students, faculty and staff are still allowed on campus, but the school is otherwise closed to non-affiliates, which creates a challenge for the people that will be using this campus on this particular Sunday: Easter Sunday falls on April 20th this year.

The university spent $107,794 to close the campus in 2013, which includes the cost of having extra CU police and other “agencies” on hand. Funds used to suppress the annual gathering come from insurance rebates. Is the university ready to spend a similar amount to close the campus this year even though last year’s shutdown prompted no demonstrations?

The most obvious logistical challenge will be the thousands of people who may need to use campus parking on the day. There are numerous churches in close proximity to campus and many even use campus facilities. It is also possible that parents will be picking up and dropping off CU students throughout the day for Easter purposes. One wonders how much more manpower and resources will be used to monitor all this activity with churchgoers crossing campus and using campus parking to attend nearby services.

To mitigate these complications, campus will only close at 12:00 p.m., when most morning religious services will already have ended. In previous years, the campus remained closed all day.

This is also the first 4/20 after Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, effective January 1 this year. Traditional activist opposition to the campus closure will likely increase given the new law. However, campus officials note that consuming marijuana in public is still illegal, as is possession by a minor. Smoking is banned on the Boulder campus.

The costs of the campus shutdown are small compared to what they might be if the smoke-out was allowed. Last year, the Civic Center gathering in Denver was scattered by a shooting at 4:30 p.m. that day. CU does not want to take any chances.

These closures seem to be as much about student safety as they are about public relations. With student safety in place and proven successful, the focus has now shifted into rebuilding a reputation around CU’s new association with 4/20 in news stories. Public relations regarding this day have not been good in the past both for the students and for the community at large. The university wants to start changing that without any risk of a future smokeout.

The university and several student groups are planning a symposium on the topic of drug policies to take place sometime in March or early April. The ultimate hope is that the university can turn from having a media perception of being anti-marijuana to instead having an open dialogue on drug policies.

Costs may be higher than they were last year and logistics around monitoring the campus on this day will be worse than ever, but the campus administration hopes that this year is also a turning point in how CU is regarded on this day in news stories around the world.

With the campus being closed for the third straight year, it remains to be seen how people will interact with what is going on around campus. It seems that CU is taking a step in the right direction with shifting their focus in the public perception while holding their ground in sticking with the added security. This year will prove to be challenging as it has been in the past, but the hope is that strict campus closures will soon be as much a part of the past as the massive smokeouts are.