As the news of the passing of Pitkin County’s beloved former sheriff swept through the community last Friday, the country’s top minds in marijuana law were in session at the annual NORML Aspen Legal Seminar.
Bob Braudis, a longtime supporter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) — the nonprofit public-interest advocacy group founded by Keith Stroup in 1970 — was famously in favor of legalizing all substances, a cause he continued to champion after winning the sheriff’s seat of Pitkin County in 1986; he retired in 2011. A close friendship with the late Hunter S. Thompson, one of NORML’s earliest Advisory Board members, is said to have contributed to shaping Braudis’ anti-authoritarian and pro-humanitarian ethos.
His obituary in The Aspen Times read, “(He) believed in treating illegal substance use as a health issue instead of a criminal one, and advocated for the legalization of drugs.”
Local defense attorney and Colorado NORML board member Lauren Maytin shared with me via text, “Bob Braudis was Aspen … he was a giant, a larger-than-life law man … a sheriff I wanted to keep my community safe from the right things. Bob was a philosopher, friend to both marijuana and NORML and one of my personal heroes. This true icon will be remembered forever in Aspen and beyond.”
While reading the tributes that poured onto the internet over the weekend, I came across one of the more candid conversations ever published with the legendary leader in The Independent (Sept. 13, 2009): “A law unto himself: Robert Chalmers meets Aspen’s gonzo lawman Bob Braudis.”
Here, High Country honors Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis’ unwavering stance in support of legalization — a legacy that has helped pave the path toward progress.
Robert Chalmers: ”There’s a perception, among your opponents, that you don’t give two hoots what substances Pitkin County residents consume; is that fair?”
Bob Braudis: ”I’ve been labelled the sheriff who doesn’t enforce drug laws. That is categorically untrue. A couple of years ago I was in a bar — not in this state — with a very senior undercover drug enforcement officer from the FBI. I saw him turn a blind eye to people smoking cannabis. You presumably wouldn’t turn in a friend for using marijuana? No. I am pro legalisation.”
Chalmers: ”Of everything?”
Chalmers: ”Politically, that must be quite a hard sell.”
Braudis: ”Very hard. What I would emphasise is that I don’t distinguish between chemicals. I don’t think most of them are particularly healthy. I do not promote or advocate their use. But I don’t believe they should be regulated by the criminal justice system. If you have an addiction to anything — be it alcohol or heroin — I believe you should be placed in the hands of physicians. I don’t think that you should go to prison. It costs $35,000 a year to incarcerate a non- violent drug inmate. Add the cost of probation, prosecution, all those other ‘tions’, and it runs into billions. And what has been the result? Availability has soared. The price has gone down and the potency has increased.”
Chalmers: “Is there anything we can learn from Bob Braudis? What would our world be like, if its police officers implemented his philosophy to the limit?”
Braudis: ”In Britain, until the early 1970s … registered heroin addicts were prescribed the drug by their doctor. Those people, for the most part, paid taxes, bought their children bicycles and did not rob old ladies in the street. Today — and you’ll just have to take my word on this — senior police chiefs that I meet admit, behind closed doors, that drugs should be made legal. But they can’t say those things in public.”
Chalmers: ”Will you run again, in 2010?”
Braudis: “That is the subject of a difference of opinion between Dede and myself. She would prefer that I retire. The community is getting a little nervous, which is very flattering.”
Chalmers: “What are they nervous about? Perhaps the huge figure of Braudis — more even than that of Hunter S. Thompson — has come to embody the defiantly unorthodox spirit of this small town. Maybe they suspect that, should he retire, the creeping process of normalisation will begin, bringing high-rise developments, more drunken drivers, pink underwear for convicts and large jets screaming down the newly extended runway. And, worst of all, a dramatic rise in what Bob Braudis has always regarded as the most pernicious menace of all: boredom. Perhaps what’s really troubling them is an irrational fear — though who’s to say it’s unfounded — that once Sheriff Braudis leaves Aspen, the party lights will go out for good.”