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Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Honey, you will be glad to know that I am not running for sheriff. My decision goes a long way to show that when you say, “Are you out of your mind?” I consider your words carefully. When I announced at the dinner table that I was throwing my hat into the ring, the fact that our son Max asked “Is this like the time you got worked up and ran for mayor of Snowmass Village for two days before dropping out?” also led me to reconsider my decision.

I knew I couldn’t win. I am not remotely qualified to do the job. It was only that I felt compelled to voice my opposing opinion. Thanks for reminding me that I have a column for that. Who needs politics?

The reason I wanted to run is still valid. I disagree with Sheriff Braudis and his apparent replacement, Joe DiSalvo, in their philosophy on enforcing drug laws. I think they should; they don’t.

The thing that got me going was a piece in The Aspen Times that said DiSalvo plans to continue with the office’s current policy on drug enforcement. Like Braudis, he is opposed to the war on drugs, contending that addiction should be treated compassionately as a health issue, not a crime. He supports medical marijuana, presumably as ludicrously as it is administered currently. He thinks pot should be completely legalized, except for kids whose minds are still developing. I’d like to believe mine continues to develop, although many will argue otherwise.

I’m with him on treating addicts with compassion. But, is it sympathetic to enable problem users to keep using without consequence? Is it kind to send the message to our kids, many of whom are potential addicts even if we choose to ignore this possibility, that recreational use of dangerous and uncontrolled substances is OK? Some people might see lax drug enforcement as the sheriff doing them a favor. Granted, but don’t confuse that for compassion. The path of least resistance has never been that.

It’s not that I haven’t been exposed to the suffering of addicts. There are way too many people with substance abuse problems in my life, friends and relatives I love dearly. I saw some get started at unbelievably young ages. I watched the degeneration. I cheered the recoveries. I’ve cried through the relapses. Remember? I went through the local school system. I’ve seen the vast wreckage of young lives scattered on the floor after the lights are turned up in Party Town, U.S.A. Amidst the innumerable advantages we give our kids growing up here, the party culture is enough of a negative in too many cases to negate all of it.

In the paper DiSalvo was asked about some locals’ opinion that Aspen has a drug problem. He replied, sounding a bit smug to me, “Compared to who?” Well, I don’t know compared to whom, either. What I do know is that the problem is real, it’s large, and things could be much better. Whether they are smoking more crack in Rifle is beside the point. (Disclaimer: I have no reason to believe that they actually are smoking more crack in Rifle.)

It is popular to say that the “war on drugs” isn’t working. Is that really true, though? Sure, you can count the number of lives that are lost directly and indirectly through the vicious illegal drug trade, but can we stop there and ignore the other half of the equation? That is, trying to honestly figure out how many lives would be more negatively impacted if we decide to give up and wave the white flag instead. It’s just a guess, but I think usage and addiction might go up. There might be more deaths and serious injuries on our highways. Domestic abuse cases might rise. I don’t know, but it seems that a deterrent might be useful.

You can look at history and say that Prohibition had no effect on curbing alcohol consumption in this country. Maybe, maybe not. If you do the research on Prohibition, as with global warming or any other popularly debated issue, you can pretty much find the answer you want. Be that as it may, one paper that I perused by Miron and Zwiebel through the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), seemed less like a sales pitch than most of the others I read.

It concluded, through the use of mortality, mental health and crime statistics, that alcohol consumption dropped to 30 percent of the pre-Prohibition levels immediately after the Eighteenth Amendment took effect on Jan. 16, 1920, but then rose quickly after that in the next two years to 60-70 percent of its pre-Prohibition level. Interestingly, though, alcohol consumption did not dramatically rise after the end of Prohibition in 1933. It increased gradually and didn’t reach pre-Prohibition per capita consumption levels until the 1960s (coincidentally or not, about the time the first post-Prohibition-era babies were reaching legal drinking age. My observation, not theirs). So, it appears that Prohibition worked to reduce alcohol consumption.

The point of this is not to debate the pros and cons of the Prohibition era. I only want to give you some evidence to suggest that drug usage will probability rise if it is legalized or laws suppressing it are not enforced, and warn you to be careful what you vote for.

Clearly some people do not have addictive personalities and can handle recreational use of drugs without any problems (for the record, I don’t actually believe this, but am conceding it because I know lots of people do). But, how about the many unfortunate who can’t? What if those who can handle their drug use go along with measures that make drugs harder to get for everyone so that those who can’t handle them have one more reason not to use them? Would that be considered compassionate?


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