By MATT PEIKEN

St. Paul Pioneer Press; April 21, 2006©

A festival at Macalester College for the reformation of marijuana laws went up in smoke Thursday morning when college administrators abruptly canceled the student-organized event, just hours before its scheduled start.

Administrators cited public confusion about the nature of the festival, called CHEEBAdanza, and the potential that people could see the school as condoning illegal activity.

The cancellation came a day after a Pioneer Press article about the event. Alumni and others contacted the college in the wake of the article, playing a role in the school’s decision, said Jim Hoppe, associate dean of students.

Hoppe pointed to the student-made flier for the festival, rather than the Pioneer Press article, as the source of the confusion. The poster touted CHEEBAdanza as “the Twin Cities premier marijuana festival” and featured an illustration of two squirrels passing a joint between them while sitting next to a marijuana plant. Organizers had distributed fliers at the University of St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota, among other off-campus sites.

“It’s one thing to say there’s a rally, and it’s another to bill this as the ‘premier marijuana festival,’ ” Hoppe said Thursday morning, adding that he hadn’t seen the green flier until the day before.

“It would be a double standard to support one thing and have people come to campus thinking another,” he said. “Given the publicity that went out, it wouldn’t be possible to have an event the students had hoped.”

CHEEBAdanza was the second annual festival thrown by the school’s CHEEBA Club (Creating a Harmless Environment to Enjoy Buds Appropriately). The 2005 event drew about 200 people and was deemed a success, leading the school’s student government to grant CHEEBA $2,300 for this year’s festival.

Along with informational booths and a short parade through the streets surrounding Macalester College, organizers had hired several local bands and a caterer to roast a pig. Spencer Edelman, a Macalester senior and festival co-founder, said the cancellation cuts into the school’s credibility as a home for free speech.

In canceling CHEEBA-danza, Hoppe left the door open for a similar event next year with more focused advertising. A private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Macalester has a long reputation as one of the most politically progressive campuses in the country.

“I’m just pretty bummed out,” Edelman said in an e-mail. “We had worked so closely with them in planning the event. Nothing we were doing should have crept up on them. I don’t know what people are going to do who show up and expect free pig and sweet music and fire dancers, but I’m sure we’ll look like jerks.”