In this file photo, friends pass around a marijuana cigarette while standing on Norlin Quad April 20, 2009. The annual smoke-out drew 8,000 to 10,000 people despite CU's official condemnation of the event. (CU Independent file/Lauren Walter)
As people get ready to migrate over to Norlin quad and smoke a ceremonial bowl in honor of 4/20, many contemplate the event’s history and how it may be transformed with the increasing acceptance of marijuana.
Commander Tim McGraw of the CU Police Department said he believes the 4/20 event got its start in California. The numbers, he said, were reportedly a code for a time at which students would get together and smoke marijuana after school.
As it is now, marijuana users throughout the country gather on April 20 to celebrate marijuana use and to promote its legalization. McGraw and CU spokesperson Bronson Hilliard said the event didn’t really catch on in Boulder until the late 1990s.
“It’s kind of ironic,” McGraw said. “The first year that there was a sizable number of people—probably several hundred folks—was the day that Klebold and Harris committed all the murders they did at Columbine High School.”
Hilliard said 4/20 didn’t become the large event it is on campus today—with thousands of people descending upon the quad—until about five or six years ago.
Over the years, CU administration and local law enforcement have tried different methods of deterring people from participating in 4/20. One of these methods, Hilliard said, was to take pictures of participants and offer a reward to anyone who could identify them.
Hilliard said this tactic didn’t work very well and caused some image issues with the administration. The university’s primary approach now is to emphasize that 4/20 is not a sanctioned event, but that if people do participate, they should be smart about it.
“What we’re most interested in is safety,” Hilliard said. “We’re not interested in busting people. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is basically about like getting a speeding ticket. It’s certainly not worth it to risk confrontation with a crowd that size.”
McGraw said he is interested in how the growing number of medical marijuana users will affect the size of this crowd.
“The focus on medical marijuana probably has had some impact on popularizing the event,” McGraw said.
He went on to say it will be interesting to see if the adaptation of medical marijuana laws might actually “take a little bit of wind out of the sails,” because 4/20 won’t be as much of a political statement.
“It’s getting to a point where maybe it’s becoming a little bit more of a moot point,” McGraw said.
Erin Weiland, manager of Helping Hands Herbals, said she doesn’t know what to expect on 4/20 because this is the first year dispensaries have really had a strong presence in the city.
Weiland said she doesn’t think the proliferation of dispensaries will lessen the 4/20 celebration at all.
“I don’t see dispensaries bringing down the activity in the 4/20 world,” Weiland said. “I think that it’s probably, if anything, going to increase it.”
Despite this view, Weiland said she doesn’t understand why dispensaries around town have been actively advertising for 4/20.
“I was actually really shocked to see how many dispensaries in town are advertising for this day,” Weiland said. “I just don’t think it’s necessary.”
Andrew Orr, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) at CU, and a 20-year-old junior majoring in history and film, said he thinks the increase in medical marijuana popularity has something to do with people being ready to move toward the discussion of legalization.
Orr said he believes this increase will not prevent 4/20 from continuing to be the large event that it is.
“I think that 4/20 will always be a big event, just because of the significance it has in marijuana culture,” Orr said. “It’ll be that much more of celebration if things are legalized.”
Hilliard said the university is not concerned with being involved in the discussion about the legalization of marijuana.
“We’re not interested in being a part of this debate about medical marijuana or the legalization of drugs,” Hilliard said. “For us, the problem with 4/20, plain and simple, is it’s a safety hazard to have ten thousand or more people in the center of the campus in a spontaneous gathering.”
Contact CU Independent staff writer Kaely Moore at Kaely.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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