A lot can happen on campus in one day.
Between an administration that does not condone the event and such a large amount of campus getting so stoned that someone could get a contact high, it’s easy to get mixed up and lost in the haziness of it all. 4/20 is crazy, tiring, and it happens every year.
But for thousands of students and non-students who flock to the Porter Meadow each year for the day’s festivities, 4/20 is more than just a day. It’s an event, an extravaganza filled with smoke, muddled thoughts, and lots of eating. It’s been featured in articles from Rolling Stone to the local Santa Cruz Sentinel, where it is always a top story. The excitement has been the subject of many YouTube videos, with up to 60,000 hits for a single clip. The event has gathered enough steam to take on a life of its own, one that the campus administration does not support.
For some, the day doesn’t mean much. Just ask fourth-year biology and environmental studies major Noah Best — who, at 4:20 p.m. on April 20 — is in, of all places, UCSC’s Science and Engineering Library. Best, who doesn’t smoke marijuana, didn’t even realize the magnitude of the moment the clock struck 4:20 until just a couple of minutes prior. He doesn’t find the event special, calling it “just another day.”
“Tons of kids do it anyway — I bet you a majority of the kids who are there at the [Porter] field right now smoke weed anyways,” Best said. “It’s not like they’re just doing it this one day.”
“This is not a university sanctioned event, this is not something we condone,” said Felicia McGinty, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. “One of our greatest concerns is safety, specifically the safety of our students and our ability to maintain continuity of the learning environment and business operations.”
This continuity becomes harder to maintain due to the enormous amount of people who come onto campus for the event, and the obstacles made to disrupt attendance. Specifically, no overnight guests were allowed to stay on campus from the 19th to the 21st, traffic was diverted from the west entrance towards the main entrance, and the routes of both campus shuttles and city buses changed to avoid the whole Porter college area.
McGinty was especially worried about the event becoming hostile, like it almost did in 2009 when a religious group stood in the Porter meadow holding signs opposing the use of marijuana and condemning those who use it to damnation.
“The problem is you have a large crowd of people — last year there were people with signs saying ‘You’re going to hell,’ that kind of thing — then there was a confrontation between these two groups,” said McGinty. “It didn’t get physical, fortunately, but my concern is, what if it does?”
University spokesman Jim Burns echoed McGinty on the issue of massive amounts of people on campus and how that can affect the university.
“We have implemented a number of transportation measures that are designed to really protect the safety of the people here,” Burns said. “Even if we would rather they not be here.”
Fourth-year astronomy and astrophysics PH.D student Kevin Schlaufman worries that the event does a great disservice to how the University is viewed.
“I think it might have an effect on the way people perceive UC Santa Cruz in general, so I suspect that this might leave people outside the UCSC community with a potentially mistaken impression that Santa Cruz students are somehow less serious academically because this is one way they choose to spend their free time,” Schlaufman said.
Schlaufman does not see any real alternative “thing” for the university community to get behind, despite having various cultural and community events going on every week.
“It seems like most of the activities are focused at small groups,” Schlaufman said. “This [event] at least gives the appearance of an event that everyone can get behind.”
McGinty wonders at this same anomaly.
“I think it’s interesting that our student groups do such great programs on campus, our athletes compete and there are these great sporting events and we don’t get the turnout for those things,” McGinty said. “But then on 4/20 thousands of people show up.”
Porter Meadow is almost mythical in the way it is talked about in conjunction with 4/20, and this year was no different. It wouldn’t be surprising if someone could have seen the smoke rising from the meadow from far down the hill. The field was filled with people, blunts, bongs, pipes, gas masks, and fruit.
If you could smoke with it, it was out in that meadow. The mix of people out there showcased the diversity of the campus, people of various colors, young and old; everyone comes out of the woodwork for 4/20. There were drum circles, there were boom boxes, and there was a lot of marijuana.
That afternoon, two young entrepreneurs were selling T-shirts that read “BONG HITS 4 JESUS” on them, along with bottled water for five dollars. After pausing to think, they told a reporter they go by “Jeremy” and “Bovice.”
Bovice said T-shirt business was good early in the day, but it slowed down as the afternoon wore on.
Jeremy thought the event was a great way for the students of UCSC to come together in a relaxing, tranquil atmosphere and hang out with their fellow peers.
“I think [4/20] is a fine thing. I was recently talking to one of my geology professors and they were saying how they have no problem with it,” Jeremy said. “I think this is a wonderful event and I like when people get together and enjoy themselves. It unifies people and allows them to come together and be merry.”
Bovice noticed the balance that students make between work and play on 4/20. School doesn’t get canceled, students still have to go to class, do homework, and yet still try and take a few moments to relax and enjoy being in the present.
“Everybody isn’t cutting their classes to come out here, you notice a lot of people come out in a mass at 3:45 because everybody waits ‘till after their class.” Bovice said. “Everybody is smoking weed, but we’re still doing our homework, then we’re going to come back and do a little bit more after this, a little bit hazy, maybe get something to eat, but we’re still doing our role as students, we’re just having some fun at the same time, and that’s just a part of college.”
Seventh-year Politics major, Alan Sangster was one of the more energetic and politically minded people at Porter field.
“This is definitely one of the bigger turnouts I’ve seen over the years and what’s drawing a lot of people is the legalization of marijuana,” Sangster said. “People feel more engaged with the political process than when Bush was in office, so you know it’s a different community now.”
Sangster continued, explaining how much the community has changed since he first came to UCSC in 2003. He felt that after the the Bush administration ended, the student community decided to take a more active role in the way they wanted to see the campus run. This is exemplified by the recent March 4 strike that ended by closing down campus for a day, and which gave students a chance to express their views on the current UC crisis.
Sangster touched upon the inevitability of 4/20 and how it forms and shapes the minds, politically, of students on campus.
“This community is very predictable, this sort of energy can be directed in different ways every year, but in the end we’re going to have a bunch of kids who want to smoke weed and live their lives how they want to live them.”
Ben, an alumnus of UCSC who graduated in 1988 and who declined to give his last name, was watching the event from one of the hills. He laid in the grass surveying all that was around him, relating what he saw to how it was when he used to attend UCSC.
“At that time marijuana was totally illegal and much more prosecuted by the city police in particular,” Ben said. “So it’s really nice to see the shift to this because I feel that marijuana is absolutely harmless, and probably quite beneficial for the majority of people.”
However, Ben was not happy to see Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade. The television channel invaded the UCSC campus, pitched a tent, and lured people in.
“There were people from Comedy Central here today, [who] I had hoped would come and speak to me, because I am really not cool with commercializing this event,” Ben said. “I witnessed this happen: they got this person involved in their whole thing, and put him in this spot where he couldn’t really say no when they asked him to consent to a series of rather demeaning tests.”
Ben began to get noticeably worked up as his firsthand account continued.
“They asked him to thread a needle, fold a sheet of paper, and timed him to see how stoned he was — I thought that was kind of fucked up.”
Overall, Ben supports the celebration of 4/20 festivities, but downplays its importance.
“I honestly don’t know how big of news all this is,” he said.
Yet how could it not be? Whenever thousands of people come together in a peaceful manner, and take part in an event deemed “unsanctioned” and illegal, it has to be news.
“I think it’s a good statement on the harmlessness of marijuana, it’s a real peaceful statement of the acceptance of something that has been defined as a drug but is really something simple,” impromptu entrepreneur Bovice said. “Alcohol is legal but that’s killing plenty of people, but out here we’re all being safe and we’re not fighting each other.”