Sane Alternatives to the Marijuana Epidemic

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Sane Alternatives to the Marijuana Epidemic

by Ari Armstrong, March 4, 2002

It's the SAME old story. According to Mike Soraghan and Ryan Morgan of the February 24 Denver Post, "Ben Gelt, 20, who led a post-Columbine gun control campaign all the way to the White House, found himself in a District of Columbia jail Thursday after being arrested... [and] charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana with intent to distribute... Gelt was an 18-year-old senior... in 1999 when the Columbine High School massacre inspired him to join the budding gun-control group SAFE, or Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic [the name of which likens gun control to a disease]. With friend David Winkler, he formed SAFE Students."

The ironies of this story are overwhelming. As a member of SAFE, Gelt advocated "simple, common-sense gun regulations." Something like the "simple, common-sense drug regulations" that now stop America's youth from using illegal drugs. Wait a minute! You mean the drug laws don't stop people like Gelt from using drugs? Oh, but gun laws would work better.

Just as drug prohibition has created a violent black market in drugs that substantially increases the U.S. homicide rate, so gun prohibition would contribute to that violent black market. Of course, yuppie dealers who deal to college kids escape most of that violence.

I feel sorry for Gelt, really. Judging only from the article, it seems likely the cops were looking for a much larger bust and only accidentally caught a(n alleged) small-timer.

The most interesting part of the story is Gelt's parents' reaction to the events. It turns out Gelt's mother, Susan Barnes-Gelt, is a Democrat on the Denver City Council. His father, Howard, is a former chair of the Colorado Democratic Party. It's possible that a couple well-placed phone calls will grease the wheels of justice for young Gelt. Now, if he were a black kid from Denver without political connections, it might be a whole different story. Of course, if that were the case I wouldn't even know about it, because it wouldn't have made page 1B of the Post.

Of course, every well-to-do white kid who gets busted for drugs is a "good kid," whereas poor minority kids rot in prison often longer than murderers and rapists. Here's what Susan had to say on the matter, according to the story in the Post: "This whole thing is heart-breaking... He's screwed up, big time... Even though this is a misdemeanor, there will be serious, serious consequences... I think they might have arrested these kids to get to something bigger... Ben said, 'There are a lot of kids who are way more involved than I've ever been.' He obviously isn't a big player here."

But doesn't Susan know how the game works? Because Ben can rat out his friends, he may have another chance to plea out with a slap on the wrist. Now, if Ben wasn't sufficiently involved in the drug operation to be able to rat people out, he might be in big trouble. The Post reports the police were acting on information from a "confidential source." It could be that this source was another poor kid who got busted on non-violent drug charges and pled down by ratting out Ben.

Interestingly, Susan is also quoted as saying, "I am aware that Ben has been a mild user of marijuana." So what's the difference between being a "mild user" and getting arrested for it? What makes one a "mild" offense but the other a "big time" mistake? Apparently the difference is that, this time, Ben got caught.

Howard said, "He's done some significant things in his life... This is an aberrant thing. It's just something that happened that's not indicative of his character."

Maybe this is an insight into the prohibitionist mentality. Gun violence is just "something that happens." No bad people, only bad objects. (I'm tempted to advise, "Drugs don't make people high, gun-control activists make people high.") However, I sympathize with poor dad. Surely Ben smoking a little weed doesn't justify raiding his home or dragging him off to jail. The fact is, most fathers who send their sons and daughters off to college could have ended up in Howard's position.

So maybe something good will come from this. Maybe the Gelts will realize that prohibitionist laws lead to suffering of non-violent persons. Maybe the Gelts will learn about all the people rotting in jail because of technical, non-violent gun offenses. Maybe they'll figure out the link between drug prohibition and gun prohibition. Maybe they'll consider the effect of prohibitionist laws, not only on the politically privileged, but also on the socially disadvantaged and politically incorrect. In short, maybe they'll take a fresh look at the libertarian perspective.

The Colorado Freedom