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Smoke from 4/20 clears

Jenna Johnson

Tuesday at 4:20 p.m. huge clouds of hazy smoke formed over several college campuses, as students and others smoked pot, got high, had deep conversations, listened to live music and, if they felt like it, advocated for legalization.

April 20 -- aka 4/20 or 420 -- has long been an unofficial "high holiday" for fans of marijuana. The significance dates back to the early 1970s, when a group of Northern California teenagers got together to smoke every day at 4:20 p.m., according to the New York Times. The numbers became a code word parents and authorities didn't understand -- and it grew in popularity, especially as bands put it on concert fliers.

Over the years, the unofficial holiday has gone from being nearly completely underground to mainstream, especially as the pot legalization and medical marijuana movements gain momentum. (Even marketers are taking advantage. In 2008, the stoner flick "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay" was released on 4/20.)

And because everything in higher education tends to revolve around rankings, the Princeton Review put together a Reefer Madness" ranking -- and I checked in to see how students at the top five schools observed the holiday. (The full list is available on their Web site, but you are required to register to see it.)

But first, a round of applause for the law-abiding students at schools that made Princeton Review's other pot-related list, Don't Inhale: Brigham Young University, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy and West Point.

1) University of California, Santa Cruz

Every year thousands of people gather in Porter Meadow on campus to collectively take hits at 4:20 p.m. This year, the cooler weather kept the crowd to about 1,000 people -- but Comedy Central's "This Show Will Get You High" was there, asking smokers joke questions for a future episode, the Mercury News reports.

The campus holiday earned national recognition in 2004 when Rolling Stone magazine published an article entitled, "The Most Stoned Students on the Most Stoned Day on the Most Stoned Campus on Earth." Last year the student newspaper, City on a Hill Press, reported seeing license plates "ranging from New Mexico to Nebraska" and documented the day in an audio slide show.

The event was in no way sanctioned by the university, and in a message to the campus last week, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Felicia McGinty said the "unwelcome and illegal activity diminishes UCSC's reputation and draws negative attention to our campus." In an effort to dilute the gathering, the university prohibited overnight guests in the dorms, redirected traffic and enforced parking rules. To lure students away from the massive smoke cloud, the university organized a "special study-in with light snacks" at the libraries.

2) Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY.

Last year there reportedly was a huge turn-out for a smoke-out: 100 people. Those in attendance had the opportunity to take a hit from a papier mâché red octopus bong. This year, not quite so much success: About 45 people gathered near a pond and listened to some guitar music. The local paper, The Saratogian, did not spot any "open cannabis consumption."

And that's the way campus authorities wanted it. News of last year's puff-by-the-pond had "far-reaching and negative consequences for the entire Skidmore community," Dean of Student Affairs W. Rochelle Calhoun wrote in a letter to students.

Campus officials reminded students that smoking any amount of marijuana in a public place is a misdemeanor crime and students could also be referred to the university's Integrity Board. Officials also forbid students from setting up tents or other enclosures on 4/20. Calhoun ended the letter with this message: "Let our actions on 4/20--and always--be a demonstration of our pride and respect for this wonderful place."

Now, I don't know much about Skidmore, but I am trying to figure out how it ranked higher on this list than the University of Colorado at Boulder. Skidmore Smokers: defend your school.

3) University of Vermont , Burlington

I can't find anything about any 4/20 celebration at UVM, and I thought I had mad Google skills. Do you know if anything happened in Burlington yesterday? Please, shoot me an e-mail.

A College Prowler review gave the University of Vermont a "C" for its drug scene. A student reviewer wrote that campus members used to organize an annual 420 Festival, "a massive gathering of students, professors and community members in support of legalizing marijuana." In 2001, the event was broken up by police and the university started its own, non-drug-related Spring Fest.

4) Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.

Again -- not finding any news.

But an unidentified Bard public relations employee told The Record in Rensselaer County, New York, that the reefer ranking is "a rather spurious review." Bard topped the same list in 2008. A senior editor of Princeton Review's "Best 371 Colleges" responded that institutions "tend to endorse our rankings as very accurate if they view something as a positive" and they "tend to question the validity if they view something as a negative."

Also, in 2008 the head of Bard's economics department was charged with felony possession of marijuana and unlawfully growing cannabis, according to The Daily Freeman.

5) University of Colorado at Boulder

Thousands of people gathered on the quad to light up Tuesday. University police put attendance at about 8,000 (they stood on the top floor of the library to get a bird's eye view while counting) but student organizers say there were at least 15,000 people there, the Colorado Daily reports.

Attendees dressed festively for the grand event, sporting green Mardi Gras beads and necklaces made of plastic marijuana leaves. One man wore a scuba mask. Another donned a T-shirt that said "4:30: Better late than never." A teenager made sure she matched her purple and pink earrings with her glass pipe. A freshman from another CU campus told the independent newspaper, "This is like a second spring break for us."

The police have been changing their enforcement tactics over the years, because it is rather impossible to just ticket the entire crowd. One year they turned on the sprinklers, and another year they posted pictures of pot smokers online and offered cash rewards for ID's, according to the Colorado Daily. Last year, the campus police only issued two possession tickets, but this year there were 11 before 4 p.m. The ticket carries a maximum fine of $100, which the Colorado Daily explains "means participants could get hit with a bigger fine for littering their Doritos bags than puffing from a pipes."

The crowd began to disperse soon after 4:20 and was nearly cleared out by 5 p.m. The Colorado Daily reports that smokers were overheard philosophizing. "Grandiose ideas included turning the Norlin Quad into a dog park and de-legalizing cigarettes."

In other illegal substance news:

On Monday night, authorities raided two University of Iowa dorms and arrested 12 students. The numerous charges included possession of controlled substances, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of burglary tools, The Daily Iowan reports. According to the police report, officers found several bags of marijuana, a large amount of cash and a digital scale in one dorm room.

The number of drug arrests in residence halls at public four-year colleges around the country have increased in recent years, from around 5,500 in 2007 to more than 6,000 in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Education. At the University of Iowa, nearly 175 residence hall residents were sanctioned for possession or consumption of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia in the last three years, and around 60 were suspended from the dorms for drug charges. The university has a "one-strike" policy for illegal drug violations in the forms, according to the Daily Iowan reports.


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By Jenna Johnson  |  April 21, 2010; 10:54 AM ET
Categories:  News Overload  | Tags: Bard, Skidmore, UC Santa Cruz, University of Colorado, University of Iowa, University of Vermont  
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