Hunter S. Thompson Nearly Became Sheriff Of Aspen With "Free Weed" Campaign

By Lindsey Weedston 05/29/19

The book Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff provides more mind-blowing insights into this bizarre campaign.

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Hunter S. Thompson
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Hunter S. Thompson, the late journalist famous for both his writing and his unabashed use of any drug he could get his hands on, ran a campaign to become the sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado in 1970, according to a report by Leafly.

Though he ultimately lost, it was a surprisingly tight race considering the outlandishness of Thompson’s proposed policy changes and the campaign itself.

Digging through the Hunter Thompson archive via UC Santa Cruz’s McHenry Library, David Bienenstock unearthed campaign posters featuring a raised fist clutching a peyote button and slogans such as “today’s pig is tomorrow’s bacon.”

The book Freak Power: Hunter S. Thompson’s Campaign for Sheriff provides greater and more mind-blowing insight into this bizarre campaign.

Thompson became interested in Pitkin County politics after purchasing his cabin just outside of Aspen. Shortly after he moved in, the local coal mining operation designated a spot right next to his new property for a slag heap—a pile of mining refuse and waste material. At the same time, the police were conducting a harsh campaign against what was seen as an invasion of hippies and other “undesirables” into Aspen.

This included an incident in which the Pitkin County Sheriff himself searched every locker and bag in an entire high school because an alleged anonymous tip said someone had marijuana. No contraband was found.

The Hunter S. Thompson for Sheriff campaign promoted policy ideas that are extreme even by today’s standards, but that were embraced by the local “Freak Power” movement that nearly propelled him to victory. The journalist promised to disarm the police, aggressively pursue land developers and mining companies, replace concrete streets with sod, and to not only decriminalize cannabis possession but to publicly shame those who would charge money for it.

“My first act as sheriff will be to install on the courthouse lawn a platform and a set of stocks in order to punish dishonest dope dealers in a proper public fashion,” said Thompson. “It will be the general philosophy of the Sheriff’s office that no drug worth taking should be sold for money.”

Though many viewed the campaign as an elaborate prank, something else Thompson was famous for, his ideas quickly gained momentum until he had to clarify that, “despite the natural horror of seeing myself as the main pig,” he was indeed seriously running for sheriff.

The local Democrats and Republicans eventually banded together to defeat Thompson, but the spirit of his campaign continued. 

“In the next election, the entire Aspen City Council was voted out and replaced by Joe Edwards and other counterculture types,” Bienenstock writes. “Then in 1976 Sheriff Whitmire was removed from his post amid accusations of misappropriating funds from the jail, and an ally of Hunter Thompson took over and enacted many of the Freak Power movement’s proposed reforms.”

Colorado also became one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston

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