Computer science senior Nico Pitchon was told by University Police Department (UPD) to stop putting up flyers advertising his cannabis business, Slo Dro Co., Jan. 22. Ltd. Bryan Cox contacted Pitchon and said he was violating federal law because Cal Poly campus is on federal land, where cannabis is still illegal.
During this time, there were also flyers posted on campus with racial statements and statistics.
A Cal Poly student reached out to UPD expressing her concerns with these flyers. UPD Police Chief George Hughes responded that no criminal law was violated.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong condemned the racially charged flyers being posted on campus in an email.
“As we have said in the past, hate has no place at Cal Poly. We condemn any act intended to intimidate, frighten, harass or hurt a member of our campus community,” Armstrong wrote.
The difference in reactions to these two sets of posters frustrated Pitchon. He said his flyers are not involved with hateful speech and he is only trying to advertise his business.
“We’re not breaking any campus rules or our flyers impeding on other people’s freedoms, which hate speech actually does, and they’re allowing [that] on campus, but ours doesn’t even go that far,” Pitchon said.
After Pitchon confronted Cox with those issues, Cox said the only thing he can realistically do is fine Pitchon for littering, according to Pitchon.
Pitchon said there are a number of problems with that statement.
“One, Cal Poly is federally funded, but it’s actually on [San Luis Obispo] County land, so at the end of the day, if anyone breaks a law on campus it gets referred to the [San Luis Obispo] County sheriff’s department and you go to court in [San Luis Obispo] County; it’s not a federal crime, you don’t go to federal court,” Pitchon said. “The second part of the problem is that medical cannabis businesses are actually protected under the spending bill in congress where basically no federal dollars can be used to prosecute medical delivery services or medical dispensaries that are following state law.”
University spokesperson Matt Lazier said it is incorrect to conflate non-commercial, First Amendment-protected postings on campus with commercial advertising by non-university entities.
“Cal Poly’s university policies limit the posting of commercial advertising,” Lazier said. “Placement of commercial, for-profit advertising on campus is governed by Campus Administrative Policies. While such advertising generally may be permitted in specified areas of campus, the postings must conform with university policy.”
UPD informed Pitchon that his postings did not conform with university policy, according to Lazier, not that they were in violation of the law. Lazier added that Pitchon was informed that some of his postings had been removed because of violations of campus policy and that any remaining postings must also be removed and, if not, he could be held responsible for the cost of their removal.
Pitchon argues that the issue is not because he is a commercial business, but because he is a cannabis business.
“What I’m promoting is my business and for people to consume cannabis legally and safely — not to bring any cannabis on campus, not to break any sort of rules. For example, I do not deliver any cannabis on campus and we ask students to keep any of our products off campus,” Pitchon said. “Just like PULSE operates on peer-to-peer education, talking to them and teaching how to responsibly and safely consume alcohol and cannabis. We’re doing the same at Slo Dro Co. and at Cal Poly with NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).”
On Monday, Jan. 29, Pitchon had a meeting with the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities concerning this incident.
After receiving a warning about getting commercial flyers approved by the university, the case was dismissed.
Still, Pitchon said his biggest concern is how administration is approaching this issue and the continuous stigma surrounding cannabis. He said he hopes to find a solution to this problem that works for everyone, including the students, administration and UPD.
“[My goal] has never been to entice anyone or cause any sort of problems, but I do feel like they have treated me unfairly because I have a cannabis business,” Pitchon said. “I know this is new to them and cannabis is a sensitive topic because of federal funding, but the administration and the university police department need to get a little more open-minded and understanding the circumstances and I would say refrain from scare tactics, even false scare-tactics like they did in this situation.”