Apr 192009
Authors: Matt Minich

Tearing a piece of this newspaper in half and throwing it on the ground is committing a more substantial crime than possessing less than an ounce of marijuana in Colorado, or so says Commander Tim McGraw of the CU-Boulder Police Department.

Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is considered a class 2 petty offense, which is punishable by a fine of no more that $100.

Because of the drug’s relaxed status in Colorado, Fort Collins police are saying they will not provide any increase in enforcement today — a date when pot smokers across the country will gather to promote the decriminalization of the drug.

And nowhere is more popular for the celebration than the famous center of the CU-Boulder campus for people to toke.

But Fort Collins sees a much lighter influx of smokers, according to police.

Rita Davis, the public information officer for Fort Collins Police Services, said that the city did not see a significant amount of illegal activity on last year’s holiday.

“In the past, this festival has not been a problem,” she said.

Davis said if police saw any locals partaking in the day’s festivities they would confiscate the contraband and enforce the laws.

Sgt. Mike West of FCPS, who patrolled during the holiday last year, said there is no reason for a higher level of enforcement in Fort Collins.

“I have no recollection of anything significant up here related to that event,” West said.

The department will run its usual patrols today, which involve anywhere from 10 to 15 officers divided among seven districts. The CSU Police Department will do the same.

Frank Johnson, the acting chief of the CSU Police Department, said 4/20 celebrations do not pose any significant problems on the CSU campus.

“All the officers are made aware of it,” Johnson said, adding that if students used marijuana on the campus on 4/20 in the last few years, they did so out of sight of law enforcement. He said there were no marijuana-related arrests on April 20 in 2008, 2007 or 2006.

While the department will not step up its enforcement today, Johnson said it will continue the standard patrol schedules, which place anywhere from four to eight officers on various areas around campus.

Johnson said that marijuana was not a major criminal problem on the CSU campus.

“We have more problems with alcohol than anything,” he said, adding that the department kept watch for marijuana use and that they hoped to crack down on dealers on campus.

“We keep an eye open for anything,” he said.

Unlike Fort Collins Police, McGraw said his department is forced to adjust its enforcement to supervise the thousands of smokers that turn out to CU’s Norlin Quad each April.

“We have a finite personnel resource,” said McGraw, who added that it was impractical for the police to attempt to issue tickets, and that they instead prioritized maintaining safety and preventing property damage. For many of the estimated 10,000 people who attended the smoke-out last April, the event is an act of civil disobedience for those who believe in the legalization of marijuana, McGraw said. He added that just as many people were there for the party alone.

“We’re not blind,” he said.

The cause for the legalization of marijuana has gained enough momentum in Colorado to place an initiative on the ballot in November 2008 that would have legalized marijuana use and possession for anyone over the age of 21.

The measure did not pass. McGraw said despite the annual event, he does not feel CU sees more marijuana use during the rest of the year than most other universities.

“I would doubt on a per capita basis that there are a whole lot more (people smoking marijuana),” he said.

Lt. Jerry Schiager of the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force was unaware of the celebrations that take place every year on April 20, but said that, while marijuana is very present in Fort Collins, it is not law enforcement’s top priority.

Schiager estimated that around 5 percent of his task force’s actions were directed toward marijuana. He said the drug is a concern for his task force in that users were violating the law, but that there was not as much violent crime associated with it as other drugs.

“There’s certainly lots of people that are breaking the law,” Schiager said. But he added that the task force took into account the level of crime when approaching marijuana enforcement, and that their priorities were on drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.

Staff writer Matt Minich can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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