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Students split on drug raid

John Colson
Senior Mike Schuster defiantly declares himself to be free of drugs. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)
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In a completely unscientific, random sampling of student opinions, The Aspen Times has learned that some think drug raids – like those at two Aspen restaurants in early December – are necessary.Others, however, questioned their effectiveness, maintaining that drugs will “always” be available to those who seek them and wondering whether it makes sense to put innocent bystanders in harm’s way. In the wake of the high-profile Dec. 2 raids at Little Annie’s Eating House and Cooper Street Pier, where nearly five dozen armed local, state and federal agents arrested a handful of suspected street-level cocaine dealers and undocumented immigrants, Aspenites have split sharply in their opinions about the wisdom of the raids and the conduct of the Aspen Police Department.Detractors have been critical with what they see as strong-arm tactics that risk lives and do little to stem the flow and sale of drugs in town. Supporters say aggressive enforcement is necessary to keep the town safe for young and old alike.”What we’re in favor of is a strong, clear message,” said Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko. “What I don’t want is for there to be ambiguity as to whether these laws [against dealing and consuming drugs] should be followed or not.”

Sirko declined to comment specifically on the wisdom of the Dec. 2 raid. But her opinion has been echoed by many in the community. Over and over supporters of aggressive enforcement say it’s necessary – for the sake of the town’s children.Students at Aspen High School appear to be similarly split.Mike Schuster, a senior who defiantly declares himself to be free of drugs, said that the use of alcohol and marijuana is relatively rampant at the school, although there is little sign that such “hard-core drugs” as heroin are used by students at the school.Students told The Aspen Times that cocaine and “crack” (a smokable, higher-potency form of cocaine) are available at school, but they are not as prevalent as booze and pot.Sophomore Tekiah Elzey said she has one friend who recently underwent rehab treatment for cocaine addiction, and another friend who was addicted to heroin.Schuster said many students at Aspen High School, on any given day, are likely to be carrying pot. One day, he recalled, a classmate filled the room with the pungent smell of marijuana simply by opening up his backpack. Students complained to each other, but “the teacher seemed oblivious.”

He said the school is known as a school full of potheads, just as Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale is known as a school full of drinkers.”I like it,” Schuster said of the busts. “I know [the tactics were] a little questionable. It’s best if they can do it without making a scene about it. But it’s necessary.”Senior Kim Mason pointed out that “it’s illegal [to use and sell drugs]. I don’t know why people have a problem” with police arresting drug dealers. She didn’t think the busts were necessarily a bad thing.One junior at the school, whose parents asked that he not be identified, called the subject “kinda complicated,” and argued that Police Chief Loren Ryerson should have informed Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis of the raids beforehand. Ryerson’s failure to notify Braudis has caused considerable controversy.”I think it’s necessary,” senior Henry Cote said, but “they could have just done it differently.” He thought police could have stationed officers at the doors to the two restaurants and had everybody file out, checking individuals as they went, rather than surging in through the front and back doors of both places while afternoon diners sat at their tables.But, he added, “there’s always going to be some way to get drugs in this town,” implying that the police are facing an impossible task.

Nodding in agreement, the anonymous junior chimed in, “I don’t think it was necessary. It was way over the top, way too extreme.”According to senior Ben Hendrix, the busts “would have been a lot more successful” if they had targeted some of the other restaurants or nightclubs in town. He said the police likely would have found significantly greater quantities of cocaine at one of his former workplaces than the 5 or so ounces seized Dec. 2.”I think it was a little overblown, like showing that they were going to be hard about it,” Hendrix said.Hendrix was doubtful that most of his fellow students were even aware they could purchase cocaine at either restaurant.Police and school officials, as well as some parents, have maintained that the knowledge that cocaine could be easily purchased at the two restaurants, no questions asked, was an open secret among high schoolers and even among middle schoolers.”Drugs are always going to be everywhere,” concluded junior Brittany Zanin.

Zanin said that that drug use cannot be eradicated with busts like the one on Dec. 2, adding that kids who want to find drugs, will find them.”You can’t say you’re doing it to protect the kids,” she continued.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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