By Silvia Pettem
Friday, January 25, 2008
When Donald Vendel became Boulder's new police chief in 1967, he
wrote a column in the Camera titled "Chief's Corner." At the time,
illegal drugs had become Boulder's biggest police problem, but the
city's residents knew very little about them. In one of Vendel's
articles, he invited the locals to bring their own popcorn and to
view a free movie at the Boulder Public Library on "the dangerous
mind-warping drug LSD."
Drug use was rapidly increasing. Before long, Boulder became known as
"a home for displaced hippies and a crossroads of the nation's drug
traffic," according to a Camera reporter.
The beginning of Boulder's drug era coincided with major societal
changes all across the United States. The American build-up in
Vietnam fed the country's social unrest and was partly responsible
for the rise of its counterculture.
Closer to home, Boulder voters, after 60 years, finally repealed the
prohibition that had outlawed the sale of liquor within the city
limits. While the Catacombs (in the basement of the Hotel Boulderado)
and Tom's Tavern scrambled to get liquor licenses, the Boulder Police
Department began its crackdown on drugs.
By the summer of 1968, marijuana sold for $100 a kilogram, and LSD
came in lots of 100. The late Harvard professor Dr. Timothy Leary had
encouraged the use of the hallucinogen, telling young people to "turn
on, tune in, and drop out." Transient subgroups hitchhiked to the
foothills west of Boulder, where they freely sold and used drugs from
their makeshift shelters and plastic lean-tos.
Meanwhile, narcotics detectives made the circuit of service clubs and
luncheon groups, urging members to write to their legislators to
demand laws against the possession, use and sale of illegal drugs. In
the first six months of 1969 alone, Boulder police seized more
hallucinogens and amphetamines than did the Denver Police Department,
prompting the Boulder police to add two more narcotics detectives to
the two already employed.
In 1969, after Hill merchants filed numerous complaints about
loitering, panhandling, vagrancy and drug use, the police increased
their patrols of the neighborhood. By then, heroin had become
available on the street, and LSD sold for $4 per tab. Marijuana, most
of which was imported from Mexico, had risen to $125 to $180 per
kilogram, broken down on the street to $15 to $20 baggies. The
stronger drug hashish, a purified resin prepared from the flowering
tops of female marijuana plants, was valued at $10 per gram.
Undercover agents were already at work, mixing with the "pushers" and
setting up sales that led to the drug dealers' arrests. One of the
first "busts" involved two detectives from the Adams County Sheriff's
Department who worked with Boulder detectives, since those from Adams
County were not known to local suspects.
Boulder's drug problem grew so rapidly that a 1969 newspaper article
stated that police were "losing the battle." Boulder dealers supplied
other dealers in St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. The Camera
quoted one police officer at the time who stated, "If the Chicago
vice squad wants to know what they'll have to deal with in November,
they call Boulder in October."
Silvia Pettem's history column appears every Sunday in the Camera.
Write her at the Camera, P. O. Box 591, Boulder 80306, or e-mail