Unique Security Dilemma at U. of Colorado: Pot Smokers

U-WIRE-04/20/2006-U. Colorado: U. Colorado officials, police prepare for pot smokers (C) 2006 Colorado Daily Via U-WIRE

By Casey Freeman, Colorado Daily (U. Colorado)

BOULDER, Colo. -- Smoking pot at Farrand Field on April 20 is a tradition that University of Colorado officials, the police department and marijuana activists can agree upon. They all say: Don't do it.

"We do not approve, we do not like this event and we do not like the image of the school that it shows," said Barrie Hartman, interim spokesman for CU-Boulder.

"This is not just a CU thing. It's a national thing," Hartman continued.

Every year on April 20 students, activists and people interested in a good time smoke marijuana in public. It has become a national phenomena celebrated by concerts, marijuana-legalization events and massive rallies. In Boulder, Colo., people flock to Farrand Field on April 20 to smoke pot or just hang out.

Lt. Tim McGraw, spokesman for the CU Police Department, said he views the pot smoking day as "part of contemporary life" in Boulder.

"We historically have not had huge problems with this event," said McGraw.

Typically, the event has been so big, that the CUPD does not bother ticketing or arresting all the people that smoke pot.

"The bottom line is that our resources are finite," said McGraw. "We have not had the number of police officers there that were required to write a ticket for everyone."

Neither Hartman nor the CUPD would discuss police procedures for Thursday's event.

"We hope that what we do will cause students not to go out," said Hartman.

The CU administration and CUPD have an odd ally on 4/20 -- somebody who has fought to decriminalize marijuana across the nation, and recently had a law passed in Denver, Colo., that allows people over 21 to possess less than an ounce of marijuana.

"The whole thing on 4/20 is actually something we're against," said Mason Tvert, event coordinator for Safer Alternative For Enjoyment Recreation. "I don't really see how smoking marijuana in public does anything positive. It sends the wrong message about the work that we (SAFER) are doing."

While SAFER does not condone pot smoking on Farrand Field, it has held events in the hope of legalizing marijuana use.

This year SAFER does not have an event planned, but people will be trying to collect signatures to make a statewide initiative that would allow people 21 years old and up to have up to one ounce of marijuana in their possession.

Tvert will not be at Farrand Field this year, but he will be at a National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) event in San Francisco, Calif. Tvert will receive the NORML Activist of the Year award for his work around the country attempting to decriminalize marijuana.

Last year SAFER had a rally in front of the Coors Events Center.

While law enforcement has been lax in past years, police have been stepping up ways to discourage people from participating in the event, sometimes using almost comical methods.

In 2005, police officers tried to block people from going onto Farrand Field, and after people started smoking, the sprinklers were turned on and forced students to leave.

"We're telling people not to show up and break the law," said McGraw.

Hartman said some people want CU to make its rules against marijuana stricter.

"There are legislators and citizens that think we should be aggressive in dealing with this," said Hartman. "We are dealing with this in a serious manner."

There have been rumors that police are going to use pepper spray or other deterrents to keep people from smoking on Farrand Field.

Neither McGraw nor Hartman would comment if there was any validity to this rumor.

Tvert said if the police use pepper spray they are "asking for a riot."

CU and its police department did express hopes that the day would go on without any major problems.

"Our No. 1 concern with an event like this is the safety of our students," said Hartman. "We will not react in a way that would hurt our students."

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