At 4:20 p.m., Andres Goodman took a hit from his enormous blunt -- in unison with thousands of fellow pot smokers -- and the sky above the University of Colorado's Norlin Quad turned hazy.

So did many of the 4/20 participants.

"I grew it myself," declared Goodman, 24, before generously passing the marijuana-packed cigar along to friends.

The university estimates that 8,000 people showed up for Tuesday's unofficial smoke-out, about the same number as last year, said Bronson Hilliard, spokesman for the Boulder campus. Police officers took the rough crowd measurement while standing on a top floor in Norlin Library so they could get a bird's-eye view of the quad, he said.

But Alex Douglas, executive director of the CU chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, estimates there were at least 15,000 people assembled on the quad.

"I've never seen the field so full," he said. "I think CU is trying to downplay it."

Douglas said he was pleased with the event, except for the CU Police Department's decision this year to ticket people before the smoke-out. Police issued a dozen tickets before 4 p.m., 11 of which were for possession of marijuana, police spokeswoman Molly Bosley said. Last year, police only issued two possession tickets on 4/20.

Goodman, of Westminster, snubbed a similar smoke-out in Denver to come to Boulder.

"You get higher at higher elevations," he said, in between coughs.

CU: Weather, security put damper on crowds

Leading up to 4/20, CU's NORML chapter had expected that 15,000 to 20,000 people would show for the event --partly a protest advocating the loosening of marijuana laws and partly a celebration of cannabis culture. Smoke-outs at 4:20 p.m. are said to have grown from a northern California pot-smoking tradition.

CU's NORML chapter expected a boom in medical marijuana to give extra momentum to the event.

A partly rainy afternoon, coupled with strict parking security, were likely behind the lower turnout, Hilliard said, but students said many stayed away until the clock struck 4:20 p.m. because of police crackdowns.

CU sophomore Renny Ratliff said he secured a medical marijuana license because he has an ankle injury, joint pain and attention-deficit disorder.

"Legalizing marijuana would be a big change for the better, and we're here to support that but mainly just to enjoy," he said.

But police said holding a medical marijuana license was not a "get-out-of-jail-free card" for public pot smokers. Bosley said at least one ticket was issued to a license holder for smoking in public, an offense not covered by the possession of a license.

Over the years, CU has changed its enforcement tactics at the 4/20 rallies -- turning the sprinklers on pot smokers one year when the crowd was smaller and gathered on Farrand Field. Another year, police posted pictures of pot smokers online and offered cash rewards to people who could make identifications.

After a few years of issuing few tickets, CU sent an e-mail last week to students warning that they could be ticketed if they were busted smoking marijuana before, or after, the 4:20 p.m. event. Campus officials acknowledged it would be too difficult to issue tickets when the crowd reached thousands.

Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a petty offense that carries a maximum $100 fine -- which means participants could get hit with a bigger fine for littering their Doritos bags than puffing from a pipe.

'Best day ever'

Many attendees dressed up for the event, wearing necklaces made of plastic marijuana leaves or green Mardi Gras beads. One man wore a scuba mask, another donned a T-shirt that said "4:30: Better late than never" and a teenager made sure she matched her purple and pink earrings with her glass pipe.

"This is like a second spring break for us," said Stefan Visty, a freshman from CU's Colorado Springs campus who lounged on the quad. "It's a chance to relax and enjoy before finals and all that."

Abdul Dashbi, 21, said he traveled all the way from Kuwait for a weeklong visit and to partake in Boulder's 4/20 smoke-out.

"Best day ever," he said, then started surveying Boulder residents about whether Tuesday afternoon was like a normal day on the campus.

Metropolitan State College of Denver student Marshall Tugman, 18, spent the afternoon filming high people walking through the crowds. The footage is for his friend's mockumentary project, which will morph the people into zombies, he said.

Chris Bartsch, a 31-year-old musician with a medical marijuana license, described the gathering at CU as "surreal."

"I work in apartment maintenance, and that's a really stressful job," Bartsch said. "I smoke pot. It makes me calm down."

He said he attended in the spirit of "peace, love and freedom." Bartsch said he believes marijuana is on the cusp of becoming legal.

People began to disperse after 4:20 p.m., but smokers could be overheard philosophizing. (Grandiose ideas included turning the Norlin Quad into a dog park and de-legalizing cigarettes).

By 5 p.m., the quad had nearly emptied out, and police officers politely asked people to pick up their trash and go home.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or