ACLU: CU-Boulder's 4/20 Campus Closure Thwarts 'Right to Dissent'

A crowd of 10,000 people gathered at the 4/20 smoke-out on the University of Colorado campus last year. (photo: Marty Caivano, Daily Camera)A crowd of 10,000 people gathered at the 4/20 smoke-out on the University of Colorado campus last year. (photo: Marty Caivano, Daily Camera)Shutting down the University of Colorado's campus to visitors Friday thwarts the public's right to protest government policy, Mark Silverstein, legal director of the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Monday.

CU announced last week that the grassy area of Norlin Quad -- which in past years has drawn more than 10,000 people for the unsanctioned 4/20 marijuana smoke-out -- will be closed entirely, and the school will apply a fish-based fertilizer to the lawn.

The entire CU-Boulder campus will be closed to the public, except for visitors who have gained permission ahead of time.

Silverstein was mum Monday as to whether the ACLU will resort to legal action to fight the closure, saying it's his office's policy to not talk to the press about lawsuits that are not filed. But he raised serious concerns about the university's tactics.

"By closing the campus to visitors, establishing checkpoints, assigning uniformed officers to check papers and threatening arrests of visitors without proper credentials, the university does a disservice to the values that underlie the First Amendment and the constitutionally protected right to dissent," he said.

Only CU students and employees will be allowed on campus Friday, university officials have said, and they will be required to show their Buff OneCard identification to authorities.

CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard cited a Boulder campus policy -- "Campus Use of University Facilities" -- that allows the chancellor to restrict access because of weather, safety concerns or "disruption." He said the 4/20 closure falls into the latter category.

But Silverstein disagrees.

"I have a very hard time agreeing that this minor disruption posed by this protest is a sufficient reason to close the campus," he said.

Although the Constitution does not provide a right to smoke pot in public, the First Amendment does protect the right of students to assemble with others to express their views, Silverstein said. They are within their rights to amplify the power of their voices by means of a collective protest, he said.

Yet Hilliard said Monday that the university's legal team has closely reviewed the issue of closing the campus on 4/20.

"Our legal counsel looked at this issue carefully and we believe that we have the right to proceed with the campus closure by virtue of both campus policy and law," he said.

Hilliard refutes the idea that CU is imposing on First Amendment rights.

"I don't think there is any reasonable person who could make the argument that the Boulder campus makes it a practice of thwarting speech," he said. "Free speech is alive and well at CU-Boulder."

He noted that three years ago, leading up to 4/20, the university co-sponsored a symposium on drug reform with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

- Article originally from Daily Camera.

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