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Legalization Of Weed Won't Change 420 At UCSC

Erika Mahoney
The use of recreational marijuana is legal for adults in California, but UCSC's Chief of Police says it's not legal on campus.

Friday is April 20, or “420”, a code word for marijuana and an annual, unofficial celebration of pot.  Every year on 4-20, thousands gather in a meadow at UC Santa Cruz to smoke weed. It’s always a busy and long day for campus police. Now, recreational marijuana is legal in California. But don’t expect the new law to change this event.

Nader Oweis has been Chief of Police for the UC Santa Cruz Police Department for seven years. He says every year on 420 police arrest some and fine others. He says it’s a wide array of arrests and citations, from distracted driving and DUIs to possession of marijuana. And even though recreational marijuana is now legal in California, he has a clear message:

“It’s legal, but it’s legal with some exceptions. So it’s not lawful for anyone under the age of 21. It’s not lawful in public. It’s not lawful in a smoke-free zone,” says Chief Oweis.

The 4-20 event happens in public at Porter Meadow, and UC Santa Cruz is a smoke-free campus. So Oweis says despite the new law, nothing changes on campus.  Just like in years past, the campus police department will still bring in about 100 extra officers to help out.

Walking to class, Juniors Sawyer Gilley and Nali Seeber say they’re still anticipating a big event.

Usually thousands of students head out to the meadows and hang hammocks and play music and everyone is smoking a lot of weed, or taking edibles. Some people sell edibles. Lots of festivities, people are dancing, lots of music and a huge cloud of smoke, and cops,” Gilley and Seeber say.

The women say that extra law enforcement is enough to keep them away.

“It’s just not fun to be around scared, high people. You know, it just makes people more paranoid,” they say.  

The school tries to discourage the event.  The enforcement on 420 costs UC Santa Cruz about $100,000 a year.  

Erika joined KAZU in 2016. Her roots in radio began at an early age working for the independent community radio station in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2012, Erika spent four years working as a television reporter. She’s very happy to be back in public radio and loves living in the Monterey Bay Area.