Boulder judge rejects bid to keep CU open for 4/20 pot protest

A Boulder District Court judge last night rejected attorney Rob Corry’s bid to prevent the University of Colorado Boulder from shutting down campus today. The judge ruled the university administration is free to bar non-students from entering the grounds as part of an effort to force annual April 20 anti-drug war and pro-legalization marijuana advocates to assemble elsewhere.

“Basically, the judge said that CU will be creating a ‘limited public forum’ today and that it has the right to do that because the university owns the property and it can determine what happens there,” Corry told the Colorado Independent.

Although the protest has taken place every year for two decades and seemed likely to proceed as usual this year as recently as last week, Chancellor Phil DiStefano announced last Friday that plans were being made to put a halt to what has become a public-speech campus tradition but also, according to DiStefano, a distraction from the everyday business of the university.

In recent years, as many as 10,000 people, mostly students, have gathered at Norlin Quad on 4/20 at 4:20 p.m. to hold signs and smoke pot as a symbolic protest against U.S. policies that criminalize drug use and incarcerate offenders. The gathering and the dank cloud of burnt weed that hovers over the middle of campus during the rough half-hour “smoke out” have become a national news story and a rallying point for like-minded Americans. News helicopters now routinely zoom over the space as police and reporters move among the protesters.

Corry, in his complaint and in discussion with the Colorado Independent, said the peaceful rally was less distraction than a powerful example of the kind of free-exchange of ideas and critical thinking that defines the mission of the state’s top public institution of higher learning.

“It’s too bad,” he said. “This is the first time a campus in the U.S. has closed like this to prevent a rally. We’ll see what happens today. I hope it remains peaceful.”

The university has contracted with several local law enforcement agencies to keep students off the quad and non-students from entering the roughly 800-acre campus.

“If you can’t hold a political protest at a public university,” Corry told the Independent yesterday, “where can you hold one?”

Protesters may likely take to open spaces in the city of Boulder.

[ Video from the 2011 protest. ]

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