Free Speech Challenge to Blockade of Arcata’s 420 Celebration

A cannabis activist attorney has accused the Arcata police chief and former city manager of free speech violations for their attempts to shut down the Redwood Park 420 celebrations, a “spontaneous” gathering to advocate for legalized marijuana use.

In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in San Francisco, attorney Gregory P. Allen accused officials of unconstitutionally blockading the April 20 protest and party in 2010 after a 2009 TV documentary entitled “Pot City USA” aired nationally describing Arcata as saturated by the cannabis culture.

Arcata has been at the epicenter of what’s known as the emerald triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino and TrinityCounties, where marijuana is widely grown.

Gatherings known as 420, (pronounced four-twenty), began in the 1970s in California to signify April 20, or 4:20 p.m. as a time to smoke marijuana and identify as part of the marijuana subculture.

Over the years since, the 420 celebrations, have grown to recognize April 20 as a day to smoke pot and advocate for legalization of marijuana, with observances in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Boulder, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Quebec, Vancouver and Arcata, according to the lawsuit.

Allen argued that since the 2009 “PotCity” video, Arcata Police Chief Thomas Chapman and former city manager Randal Mendosa worked to block the last four annual gatherings.

The lawsuit states that beginning in 2010, the city posted police officers outside RedwoodPark and blocked people attempting to enter the park for the April 20 gathering and diverted them to a nearby community forest.

People herded to the forest were singled out for increased surveillance and enforcement, writing tickets for smoking or having unlicensed dogs, according to the lawsuit.

In the years since 2010, Arcata officials have attempted to deter the 420 activities by closing the park on that date for tree-limbing operations and in one year dumped 2,000 pounds of smelly fish-emulsion fertilizer in the park to deter gathering.

Signs saying “All marijuana laws strictly enforced” were also posted.

Allen called the actions “subterfuges to close the park in violation of people’s right to peaceably assemble.

By April 20, 2013 the event had nearly died.  “Chapman, Mendosa and their allies at City Hall had succeeded in crushing this large spontaneous public gathering,” the suit states.

Allen asked the federal court to declare the 420 celebration park closures unconstitutional and asked for a jury trial.   No trial date has been set – April 20 perhaps?

Case:  Allen v. City of Arcata, No. 14-4625JD




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