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Photograph by Steve Hahn
Smoke Signals: 4/20 revelers were undeterred by new UCSC campus rules designed to minimize participation in the pot party.

Will Walk for Stash

Santa Cruz 4/20 festivalgoers step around new campus rules.

By Steve Hahn

The hike was long and uphill, but for the streams of cannabis faithful trudging their way up Empire Grade it was a worthy pilgrimage. For, once they reached the famed Mecca of Marijuana--UCSC's Porter Meadow on 4/20--a sprawling throng of more than 2,000 students talking, dancing, playing music and selling candy, not to mention rolling blunts and packing bowls, greeted them. Meanwhile, campus authorities, who had promised to finally clamp down on the event this year by restricting the movement of buses and cars onto campus, did little but watch from a nearby hillside as fresh streams of people funneled in from off-campus through breaks in the fence protecting the campus's western border.

The scene at UCSC's Porter Meadow at 4:20pm on April 20 was hardly a novelty. For years the annual 4/20 gathering at Porter Meadow has attracted hundreds, if not thousands, of revelers. But this year was supposed to be different. This year campus authorities were hoping to stem the ever-rising tide of off-campus visitors by requiring but not selling permits all day on Sunday; shutting down UCSC shuttle operations for the entire day; not allowing Metro buses on campus; closing the West Entrance; and making the whole of Empire Grade a tow-away zone.

None of this seemed to have the desired effect. People just parked on Meder and Western streets and walked, and when the time came, the roars of "Happy 420" resounding through the meadow were as loud as they've been in years past, if not louder.

UCSC spokesman Jim Burns explained that there are two main reasons the campus brass was trying to stop the event from happening this year: the ease with which images and videos from the event might stream into cyberspace, creating a negative public image of UCSC, and the sheer number of people in such a small place. "Any time you have thousands of people coming onto campus for an event that is unsanctioned and unplanned, it's an understandable concern to the campus," he said.

The gathering of ganja-lovers at Porter Meadow is now a nationally known event on the radar of concerned parents and potential donors alike. In 2004, after Rolling Stone magazine featured the potfest in an article on UCSC and anointed the campus "Most Stoned on Earth," stunned campus officials tried to minimize the story's impact. But since then, YouTube has picked up where Rolling Stone left off, generating the kind of publicity that has made for some very nervous campus administrators.

"I think it would be fair to say attendance increased after that magazine promoted the event, but it's hard to say exactly what has caused it to mushroom in size in recent years," Burns says.

"It would definitely be safe to say that we want to dissuade people from attending this year."They can want all they wish. Kim Barrett, a third-year history major living off-campus, says she made the long trek from her car on Meder Street for simple reasons.

"Today is the national holiday for weed. So of course in Santa Cruz it's a day that's taken very seriously," she says jokingly, cradling a pipe in her hand. "There's nothing anyone can do to stop that."

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