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Going Gonzo with NORML

Russ Belville

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As I reported last Friday, I was embedded with the attorneys of the NORML Legal Committee covering their annual Aspen Legal Seminar at the Gant Resort this weekend. The attendees get continuing legal education credits by learning from attorneys who’ve defended such criminally accused people as Kobe Bryant, Manuel Noriega 2 Live Crew, Jon Benet Ramsey’s father and, of course, late Aspen resident Hunter S. Thompson.

On Friday, we learned about the use of mediation in marijuana cases from Denver’s Cathy Klein. Ed Mallett of Houston discussed new tactics for defending drug cases. San Francisco’s David Michael explained the corruption of civil asset forfeiture cases. Boulder’s Marc Milavitz detailed the government’s super-secret surveillance, much of it uncovered by Edward Snowden. Hal Haddon gave us an update on sentencing, pardoning and commutation.

That evening, we were all guests of Gerry Goldstein, the former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in his Aspen home. The meal was catered by Chef Chris Lanter and his restaurant, Cache Cache, and featured salmon in hollandaise sauce that was exquisite. Dessert was strawberry shortcake with your choice of cannabis-infused glaze. Rain tried to dampen our spirits and made for a funny moment when a thunderclap preceded the entrance of Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.

You know you’re through the looking glass when you’re smoking a joint at a party and talking to the county sheriff, and there aren’t handcuffs involved.

Saturday the weather eased up and provided a gorgeous crisp sunny Colorado day. Michael Stepanian, the legendary San Francisco defense attorney, opened the day with his take on legal ethics. Hilary Bricken from the Canna Law Group in Washington State explained the latest changes to the medical and recreational systems. Jerri Merritt of Denver instructed on how to defend clients against charges relating to someone else’s drug overdose. Abe Hutt, also from Denver, cracked everyone up by using a satirical pharmaceutical ad about blow jobs to explain the ethics of setting fees.

The seminar concluded, as it always does, with Gerry Goldstein’s presentation on the latest federal court decisions. His fast-paced presentation included the recent Supreme Court case that decided delaying a traffic stop to get a drug-sniffing dog is unconstitutional and praise for the Supreme Court’s recognition of the greater privacy protections necessary for electronic data.

Almost all of these presentations are available for listening on my Soundcloud page.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, we all made the pilgrimage through the Woody Creek area, past the Woody Creek Tavern and on to Owl Farm, the sacred land of Hunter S. Thompson. His widow, Anita, has been hosting a cook-out and jam session at Thompson’s home for years now, and I’m overcome with awe every time I go. Upon arrival, you’re greeted by security and motioned to park on the grassy expanse surrounded by wooden fencing and a vista of the Rocky Mountains to be envied.

Walking to the home, you’re bound to see an old rusted water heater, blasted with numerous bullet holes from Thompson’s favorite means of relaxation—shooting stuff. There are blasted up beer kegs and CO2 canisters as well. As you get closer, Anita has placed Hunter memorabilia all about.

There’s a large board with “It never got weird enough for me” engraved on it. There’s a large sign reading “When government fears the people, there is freedom. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Large banners featuring the Gonzo logo—the red, two-thumbed closed fist—were all about, as well as framed posters of Thompson—one in his younger days wearing the iconic yellow aviator shades, another in his older days holding a kitten close to his face.

Inside Thompson’s home, his writing room has been preserved as it was in his last moments of life. Bulletin boards of notes, a letter from Jimmy Carter, signed boxing gloves from the Ali-Frasier fight, photographs and more. A small group gathered inside and took turns reading from Hunter’s works.

Outside, the band We Are Not Crooks was playing standard rock and blues tunes. The seminar attendees and their families enjoyed the music, beer, wine and weed. I went on a short hike up the property to a 30-foot circle that has been leveled off and bordered with rocks. This was the place where the 150-foot cannon had been used to shoot Thompson’s ashes into the sky. A labyrinth has been made at the circle, with red rocks as the borders of the maze. As I walked around the path to the center, I passed a joint to each person who passed me on the way. We vowed to leave the roaches at the center for Thompson, along with the grapefruits and the handle of Jack Daniels someone else had already left.

As I returned from the labyrinth, We Are Not Crooks invited me up to sing and play bass. It was my second time getting to jam at Hunter S. Thompson’s place, and it was again one of the most memorable gigs of my life. It’s always fun when people who know me only as a professional pothead learn that I was once a professional musician, too.

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