Rain thins crowd at UCSC's 4/20 festivities

SANTA CRUZ - UCSC's Porter Meadow looked like the lawn area of a jam band concert Wednesday afternoon as marijuana smokers refused to let a persistent drizzle put out the flames of their annual 4/20 party.

With rain falling, cannabis culture enthusiasts took shelter in the woods surrounding the meadow near Porter College, where drum circles and picnic blankets were set up.

"I wasn't sure if people would still come out because of the rain but we saw the crowds headed toward the meadow and knew it was still on," UCSC freshman Christian Gaines said. "It's comforting to be surrounded by people with similar moral values."

The crowd of cannabis lovers was smaller than previous years, however. According to estimates from UCSC Student Affairs approximately 3,500 people were in the meadow at the height of the event this year, while previous years drew as many as 7,000.

There were informal vendors selling lemonade, soda and snacks as well as marijuana-laced brownies and cookies.

When cell phone clocks hit 4:20 p.m., the official time to toke, vuvuzelas blared as a collective cheer rang out and puffs of smoke wafted over the crowd.

"Marijuana helps relieve stress," Gaines said. "I get really anxious and I can't sleep, and it helps with the anxiety. It's therapeutic."

The university took measures, as it has previously, to discourage attendance at the unsanctioned event. Tow-away zones were established along Empire Grade,
the west entrance was closed in the afternoon and the campus roads that led toward Porter College were blocked by police vehicles.

Still, people of all ages streamed onto campus, undaunted by the long walks. Many who showed up were unaffiliated with the school.

"I was born and raised in Santa Cruz but this is my first time here," said Ryan Skotland, 29, who has smoked marijuana since high school. "I don't think a little rain could hold this back. Marijuana brings people together. I think its safer than alcohol. It is a medicine and you never hear of violence from smoking pot."

UCSC officials said it is unfeasible to verify every single visitor has a legitimate reason to be on campus.

Extra police were brought in from UC Davis, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco to help with public safety. No arrests were reported, but roughly 100 people returned to their cars to find a parking citation waiting on their windshield.

The UCSC Fire Department was on hand in case of any medical emergencies, but none were reported.

For the school, and those not participating, the event is both a nuisance and a drain on resources. Police, staff and transportation personnel all have to divert resources to the event during tight budgetary times. The campus child care center, used by many staff and faculty, had to close early Wednesday.

"It probably goes without saying right now, but we would rather not have to spend precious dollars in response to an unsanctioned event," UCSC spokesman Jim Burns said.

The unrelenting mist that fell on the revelers seemed to curtail the festivities, as many people streamed out of the meadow right after the collective smoke session at 4:20 p.m. As a result, traffic and parking restrictions were lifted at 5 p.m., earlier than in previous years according to Burns.

The event has grown since the City of Santa Cruz passed Measure K in 2006, making marijuana a low-priority crime. Anti-drug activists have picketed the event in the past, but none were seen Wednesday.

There are 4/20 events around the world, including many U.S. college campuses such as University of Colorado Boulder and University of Michigan Ann Arbor.

Within marijuana culture 4/20, said four-twenty, is known as a short hand reference for lighting up. It also has developed to signify both a time and date popular for gathering to smoke. The magazine "High Times" has said that the term originated with a group of San Rafael teenagers in the early '70s who would meet up after school at 4:20 p.m.

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