4/20 Becomes Free-Speech Rally 

4/20 Becomes Free-Speech Rally 
Posted by CN Staff on April 22, 2005 at 10:36:08 PT
By Adam Silverman, Free Press Staff Writer
Source: Burlington Free Press 
The annual marijuana-smoking celebration at the University of Vermont quietly transformed into a free-speech rally Wednesday, a transition aided by rainy weather, heavy police presence and the desire of students to do something different.The so-called 4/20 event -- observed at 4:20 p.m. April 20 to honor the police code for marijuana possession -- had been a UVM tradition since the mid-1990s, when it began as a protest of marijuana laws. The intensity of the event began to decline, though, after a crackdown following a 1,500- student, drug-fueled gathering in 2001.
Last year, about 600 students congregated on the green of the university's Redstone campus. Many encouraged their classmates to light up, but dozens of police officers and three arrests dampened the crowd's vigor.This year, no pot-smoking calls could be heard from the crowd that, at its height, was composed of about 70 people on the green with another 50 watching from the periphery.The chants, speeches and placards instead focused on civil liberties, including relaxation of marijuana laws and opposition to the day's plentiful police presence. Smoking involved only tobacco."I'm not encouraging anyone to smoke marijuana. I'm encouraging people to stand up for their rights," said Tommy Wheeler, a 20-year-old junior from Putney, who was one of the three students arrested a year ago. "An institution of higher learning shouldn't be infringing on freedom of speech; it should be promoting it."Wheeler stood on the green and clutched a banner that read "Free speech or police state?" as a cold rain and brisk wind raked across the students, as well as dozens of police officers and yellow-clad university staff who watched the proceedings.Observers also included UVM President Daniel Fogel and Dean of Students David Nestor. At the entrance to Redstone off Prospect Street, two police officers stopped cars and asked people to show UVM identification cards to gain access to campus. Closer to the green, university staff stopped pedestrians and also demanded IDs.The procedure -- designed to control crowd size and deter any illicit lighting-up -- angered many students, who said the presence of so many officials stamped on their rights to assemble and speak.Courtney Cutrone of Colchester said she joined the protest after seeing other students stopped on the green."Their rights were being violated," the 20-year-old sophomore said. "Most people were coming back from classes. I don't care about 4/20 at all, but I do care about my friends' getting frisked. We're basically under house arrest, and we're not going to let them take away all our rights just because something might happen."UVM should balance the need to prevent open pot smoking with the right of students to express themselves, said Cindy Marcelle, a 24-year-old sophomore from Burlington."It's about the right to free speech rather than the right to smoke," she said. "That's good for UVM's reputation. It seems the point of a liberal-arts university."Nestor stood near the throng at the center of the green and said he was pleased this year's event focused on open expression and civil liberties rather than drug use. "I'm glad to see it have some substance this year," he said.Wheeler said his goal was to help disentangle 4/20 from its marijuana roots."I would love to twist this into, like, a free-speech day," he said.Source: Burlington Free Press (VT)Author:  Adam Silverman, Free Press Staff WriterPublished: Thursday, April 21, 2005     Copyright: 2005 Burlington Free PressContact: letters bfp.burlingtonfreepress.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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