Law enforcement officers stand idle last April 20 on the University of Colorado Boulder campus, as the day passed with no one turning out to observe what had previouisly been a pot smoker's holiday. (Cliff Grassmick, Daily Camera file)

CU-Boulder’s 4/20 quandary gets new approach

University of Colorado student leaders say they’re attempting to “repurpose” the annual marijuana smoke-out known as 4/20 by hosting an academic cannabis conference this spring.

The CU Student Government 4/20 Commission this week is surveying students, faculty, staff and Boulder residents about their feelings on the university’s handling of the annual smoke-out in the past and whether they would support an alternative event this year.

The university has been attempting to stamp out the popular pot party in recent years by closing campus, spreading fishy smelling fertilizer on the Norlin Quadrangle and aggressively enforcing marijuana laws.

And it appears their efforts are working. Nobody showed up on April 20 last year on the Norlin Quad, the site of past congregations, and this year is expected to be equally as quiet.

Rather than fight the administration’s decision to snuff out 4/20 on campus, CU’s student leaders are planning their own cannabis-centered event that doesn’t involve smoking or consuming the drug, said Neelah Ali, a fifth-year senior working with CU Student Government on the event.

Though the details of the event are still fuzzy, Neelah said it will most likely include a panel and possibly some guests on campus.

“The event is supposed to be a political, educational, activist event,” she said. “A conference around cannabis and creating a culture around cannabis. The pros, cons, aspects of it like the war on drugs, spiritual uses.”

Ali said the commission hasn’t yet decided on a date for the event, but it will most likely be held at the end of March. If the pilot event succeeds, she said, the plan is to hold it on April 20 in future years.

“We’re trying to repurpose 4/20 on CU’s campus,” Ali said. “We’re trying to create an academic environment on our campus that students support as well as administrators and faculty and staff.”

‘People didn’t feel safe on campus’

The survey includes the question “Do you agree or disagree with how administration has dealt with 4/20 in the past 3 years?” The next question is “If no, what would you change?”

Ali said the purpose of those two questions is to understand what people are thinking about the campus closures, fishy fertilizer and other actions taken by CU’s administration.

“People didn’t feel safe on campus,” she said. “A lot of students with underrepresented backgrounds just didn’t feel safe, a lot of students didn’t want to come to class that day. The fish fertilizer really upset people and it’s just kind of shaming and really uncomfortable.”

Ali said that many students felt they were getting blamed by administrators for the large 4/20 gatherings, even though the majority of people in attendance weren’t students.

Rather than degrade marijuana, Ali said she hopes the CU Student Government event will prompt constructive discussions about it.

“(Discussions around marijuana) are starting to become more relevant, especially here at CU, our public university,” she said. “It’s really vital that we are part of the culture instead of demeaning and shaming the culture and not being part of this environment that did get (Amendment 64) passed.”

CU Student Government has hosted a marijuana symposium in the past, though a 2012 event around marijuana took place in October, not in conjunction with 4/20.

Student leaders also tried hosting a concert to combat 4/20, and spent roughly $150,000 to bring Wyclef Jean to Boulder. The concert wasn’t well-attended, and Ali said that student leaders realize it wasn’t a successful counter-4/20 event.

CU to make 4/20 announcement in coming weeks

Even though recreational marijuana is now legal under state law, CU spokesman Ryan Huff said consuming pot is still illegal on campus and in public and for people who are under 21, which applies to a majority of CU’s undergraduate population.

“Really for the people who are under 21 and students on this campus, nothing has changed with (the passage of ) Amendment 64,” he said.

Huff said administrators haven’t made many final decisions about 4/20 yet this year, but added that the university supports the CU Student Government event around cannabis.

“We’ve always supported academic events that have dialogue on drug policy and other marijuana issues, so we certainly applaud the students on hosting this kind of forum where ideas can be exchanged,” Huff said. “What’s not been welcomed have been the disruptive, unorganized gatherings of thousands of people on our campus.”

Huff said the university will be announcing in a few weeks what will happen on April 20.

He would not say if there would be a security presence on campus or if the campus would be closed to the public.

“We are working toward a time when April 20 will come around and it’ll be a nonevent on our campus,” he said. “That has been the goal all along.”

Ali said 4/20 could be a nonevent as soon as a few months from now, because the legalization of recreational marijuana has taken some of the energy out of large demonstrations of people smoking in public.

“Since there’s less stigma, I don’t feel like students feel like they have to congregate anymore or have to protest as much now that we passed this law,” she said.

University of Colorado Student Government 4/20 Commission survey: click here.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or

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