Pot advocates sue to stop planned CU protest clampdown

BOULDER– As University of Colorado authorities prepare in earnest for the first time in twenty years to ward off the crowds due to gather here on campus tomorrow for the annual “4/20” marijuana rally, attorney Rob Corry has filed suit to stop those preparations, calling them unprecedented in the history of U.S. campus protest, dangerous and an embarrassment to the critical thinking and free-exchange of ideas the university is supposed to cultivate.

The protest is scheduled for tomorrow, 4/20, at 4:20 in the afternoon, the numbers tied to the legal code that outlawed marijuana in the United States.

Corry told the Colorado Independent that he petitioned a Boulder District Court to grant a preliminary injunction against the university and that the judge agreed to hold the hearing this afternoon. The hearing began at 3 p.m.

“There’s no good reason to shut down a protest that has taken place every year for two decades without serious incident,” he said. “This is much larger than marijuana. They could shut down gatherings of all sorts. They could shut down any future protest.”

Last week, the university announced a plan to close the roughly 800-acre campus to non-students on the day of the protest and to forbid students from gathering on Norlin Quad, a large field ringed by red-brick university buildings and the traditional site on campus of entertainment and free-speech and protest events like 4/20. The administration has also tapped law enforcement from the cities of Boulder and Lafayette, the Boulder County Sheriff’s office and the Department of Revenue’s Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division. Officers will reportedly man fence lines and issue trespass tickets.

CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano defended the action as necessary and too long in coming.

“The gathering disrupts teaching and research right in the heart of the campus. The size of the crowd has become unmanageable, and limits our faculty, staff and students from getting to class, entering buildings and doing their basic work. It needs to end.”

Corry said the case for the injunction will likely turn on an interpretation of the word “disruption.”

“What disruption, exactly?” he asked. “Like so many things, it’s in the eyes of the beholder. The simple answer is that the administration disagrees with the pro-marijuana legalization anti-war-on-drugs-prohibition stand motivating the rally. The fact is there’s no evidence of any significant disruption. No class has ever been closed. There are no bullhorns. There’s no amplification.”

In discussion and in the complaint filed with the court (pdf), Corry points out that any on-the-ground disruption caused by the protest has paled in comparison to the disruptions regularly visited on the campus during CU football games, for example.

“The [4/20] rally now attracts something like 10,000 people. It happens once a year. It starts at 3:30 and is done by 4:30. The crowds dissipate like a cloud of smoke,” he said. “Football games, which I love and hope continue, happen ten times a year. They are all-day alcohol-soaked events. They take place on Thursday evenings during class time. It’s much more disruptive.”

Corry adds that the administration has tried to delegitimize the protest by calling it merely an enormous pot party.

Yes, people come out and smoke pot, he said, but it’s in the service of a significant issue, a symbolic action that demonstrates that using marijuana is much less harmful than the regime of laws and punishment erected to combat it.

“This is a university. People come here to exchange ideas, to engage in learning inside and outside the classrooms. It’s the right environment for drug-policy debate. If you can’t hold a protest at a public university, where can you hold one?”

He said the planned clampdown is an overreaction.

“There’s no case we could find of a university closing down a campus to stop a rally, not even in the sixties after the Kent State shootings in Ohio. Ramping up with all these police just creates a dangerous situation. This crackdown is much worse for the reputation of the university than allowing the rally to take place.”

In the past, CU authorities seemed to adopt that kind of stance toward the 4/20 event, weighing the relative merits of the protest and any attempt to prevent it.

Two years ago, a policeman strolling Norlin Quad on 4/20 under the breathtaking haze and in and out between pot-smoking students told the Independent that he was there not on an anti-drug mission but just to make sure people were safe.

“Have you ever been to a rock concert?” he said. “Well, this is like a rock concert except without the music.”

Corry pointed out that, when he was a student at CU in the 1990s, Norlin Quad was the site of both innumerable protests and of rock concerts.

“We went to all these concerts. It was called FINA, which stood for ‘Fun in the Nuclear Age.’ This isn’t a disruption. The quad was made for this.”

If Corry fails to persuade the court and the campus shuts down tomorrow, protesters are rumored to be planning gatherings outside campus, perhaps on the city’s Pearl Street walking mall or on sidewalks ringing the campus or in the fields under the Flatiron mountains.

“I hope we succeed,” said Corry. “It’s an organic event. I’m not sure what we would do. I would hope [the protest] wouldn’t die. Part of the strength of the event is its continuity.”

Colorado has led the nation in decriminalizing pot. It passed an amendment making medical marijuana legal years ago and the industry has thrived here recently. This November voters will decide at the ballot box whether they want to place pot into the same category as alcohol.

[ Image via Official 4/20 Boulder YouTube. ]

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