After the unexpected victory in Oregon in the summer of 1973, the marijuana-law reformers waited anxiously for the walls of resistance to come tumbling down. For a long time they waited in vain. The rest of 1973 passed, and all of 1974, without another state following Oregon's example, although many states were considering decriminalization bills.
Then, in 1975, the dam broke. Five statesincluding two of the nation's largest, California and Ohiopassed decriminalization bills. The most obvious reason for this dramatic breakthrough was political: In August of 1974 Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency in disgrace. A month later, his hand-picked successor, Gerald Ford, granted Nixon pardon for whatever crimes he had committed in the Watergate affair. Two months after that, the voters of America took revenge on Nixon's political party by ousting Republican incumbents in Congress and in the state legislatures in record numbers.
There was a new, post-Watergate mood across the land. In Washington this new mood was most perfectly expressed in the person of Dr. Robert L. DuPont, the director of the White House Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (ODAP, to its friends), who delivered the keynote speech at NORML'S third annual conference, in November of 1974, just three months after Nixon's resignation.
DuPont was a tall, handsome, sandy-haired man in his late thirties, a psychiatrist who was rapidly making a name for himself as a drug expert. He was an engaging, outgoing man, a natural politician who was quick to explain that he was not one of the rich chemical-company duPonts. He was, however, blessed with aristocratic looks and self-confidence. He had gone to Emory University, in Atlanta, where he was a friend of both Tom Bryant and Peter Bourne, and from there to the Harvard medical school, where, in the early 1960s, he tried marijuana a few times but never managed to get high. By the early 1970s he was gaining a national reputation as the head of a methadone program in Washington, D.C., and in June of 1973, although he was a registered Democrat, he had been recruited by the Nixon White House to head its anti-drug program. He would later say that he had favored an end to jail penalties for possession of marijuana since 1970, but "knowing of the strong feelings of President Nixon opposing any move toward 'decriminalization,"' he "carefully avoided any comment on the issue until [Nixon] turned over the presidency to Gerald Ford."
With Nixon out and Ford in, DuPont gladly accepted an invitation to address the NORML conference and to declare that criminal penalties had not prevented marijuana use, had needlessly disrupted lives, and should be replaced by a noncriminal fine, perhaps twenty-five dollars or so. For NORML, to have the top White House drug-policy adviser endorsing its no-jail policy as DuPont's old friend Tom Bryant, another speaker at the conference, beamed his approval was dramatic proof both that the dope lobby had achieved respectability and that there was a thaw taking place after the long, cold winter of Nixon.
There was, to be sure, no national surge toward legal marijuana, but as the state legislatures convened in January of 1975, there was a growing sense that the existing laws were too harsh. Democrats in many states were in their strongest position in ten years, and many of the new Democratic legislators were young, had used marijuana and other drugs, and were committed to marijuana-law reform. The reformers sensed the stirrings, and their hopes were high, nowhere more so than in California.
When the new legislature convened in Sacramento, the Democrats held a fifty-five-to-twenty-five majority in the assembly and a twenty-five-to-fifteen majority in the senate. Moreover, Ronald Reagan, who had vetoed several marijuana-reform bills, had been succeeded as governor by Jerry Brown, who had said in his campaign that he favored a law based on the Oregon model. Also, the Democratic leader in the state senate, George Moscone, who was committed to reform and had sponsored several bills in years past, was determined to pass a decriminalization bill in 1975. Part of Moscone's motivation was that he was planning to run for mayor of San Francisco. It was a city that had voted decisively for the CMI proposal in 1972, and a decriminalization bill would obviously be popular there.
Moscone's closest ally, through six months of intense political conflict, was NORML'S man in California, Gordon Brownell. Throughout the first half of the year, Brownell spent two or three days a week in Sacramento, working out of Moscone's spacious majority leader's office. There was no friction or suspicion to the relationship. Moscone regarded Brownell as he might a member of his own staffexcept that his services came for free. Moreover, besides Brownell's help, NORML was willing to spend whatever had to be spent to fly in witnesses, get out mailings, and otherwise support the California effort.
Stroup largely stayed out of California, partly because he trusted Brownell's political judgment and partly because he had a dozen other states to worry about. But California was always number one in his thinking. It was the nation's most populous state, it was the scene of roughly a fifth of the nation's marijuana arrests (eighty-eight thousand in 1975), and it was an acknowledged political style-setter for the rest of the nation. Stroup went all over America that spring promising that decriminalization would soon pass in California. He put NORML'S credibility on the line, and he came to think that if the reform bill didn't win in the Golden State, NORML would be wiped out politically.
By the time the new legislature convened early in January, Moscone and Brownell had agreed on the sort of bill Moscone would introduce. The original bill was more liberal than they thought would pass, in order to leave room for negotiation. Existing California law still made possession of any amount of marijuana a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison. The Moscone bill proposed to make possession of up to three ounces of marijuana an "infraction," punishable by a fine of up to $100. Existing felony penalties for sale or cultivation would remain unchanged.
It was not enough to satisfy the puristsit did not allow free backyard grassbut Moscone and Brownell thought it realistic. If their bill passed, 90 percent of the hundred thousand people who were being arrested in California on marijuana charges each year would not face jail, only a citation and possible fine. It was a start; cultivation could come later.
Hearings were scheduled for February in the senate judiciary committee, a graveyard for past reform bills. Seven votes were needed for passage therea majority of the committee's twelve membersand those seven were by no means certain. As it developed, the decisive vote belonged to a newly elected Democrat named Robert Presley, who had previously been the undersheriff of Riverside County. Moscone had campaigned for Presley, and Presley wanted to support Moscone's bill, but he and others on the committee thought up to three ounces of marijuana was too large an amount to decriminalize. Also, they didn't like calling possession an infraction; they wanted to call it a misdemeanor, even if only a fine was provided as punishment.
Presley was supported in these concerns by the lobbyist for the District Attorneys Association, who said many DAs would oppose the "infraction" terminology but might not oppose the bill that called possession a misdemeanor. Brownell and Moscone agreed to fall back to one ounce, but they were more concerned by the infraction/ misdemeanor issue. In one sense, it was only face-saving terminology for the law-enforcement people, but in another sense it went to the heart of the question of whether or not smoking was a crime.
Finally, knowing that without Presley's vote the bill might die in committee, they agreed to the "misdemeanor" terminology, but they extracted some concessions in return, notably a provision calling for the destruction of the felony records of more than half a million people who had been arrested in California in past years for simple possession.
When the bill thus amended, hearings began. Tom Bryant came to testify and brought with him a new, politically important survey of attitudes toward marijuana in California. The poll had been conducted by the respected Field Research Organization and paid for by the Drug Abuse Council. It showed that 46 percent of those questioned favored a civil-fine approach to marijuana use. It also showed that only 9 percent of Californians were regular marijuana usersa figure that could be used to counter Senator Eastland's claim of a marijuana epidemic. To legislators the survey strongly suggested that a vote for reform was politically safe in California. Pat Horton, Steve Kafoury, and Stafford Hansell came from Oregon and attested to the success of decriminalization in their state. NORML paid for the expenses of their trip.
The bill was not without opposition. A lady from the Women's Christian Temperance Union asked if NORML might not be a Communist front. Dr. Hardin Jones, of the University of California, a star of the Eastland hearings, claimed that regular marijuana use could cause loss of memory, sterility, and chromosome damage equal to that of survivors of the Hiroshima blast. Another outspoken opponent of reform was Los Angeles police chief Ed Davis, an unannounced candidate for governor, who warned an American Legion convention that marijuana use was probably responsible for poor test scores in California schools and added that George Moscone was becoming the Marie Antoinette of Californiaone who said "Let them smoke pot" instead of "Let them eat cake."
The bill cleared the judiciary committee with the bare seven votes required, and went next to the full senate.
Twenty-one votes were needed in the senate, a majority of its forty members, and those twenty-one were by no means certain. Everything depended on Moscone's personal leadership. He was the Democratic leader, he was popular, and he was calling in his IOUs on the marijuana bill. He was able to win the vote of the conservative, seventy-five-year-old dean of the senate who had opposed previous reform bills. He swung the vote of a Chicano senator who had strong anti-drug feelings. It was an intense, all-out effort by a first-rate politicianMoscone the Magnificent, Brownell would call him in later yearsand even so, his bill cleared the senate on March 20 with only the minimum twenty-one votes it needed, and that included the support of two liberal Republicans.
The reformers celebrated that night. The senate had traditionally been the more conservative of the California legislature's two houses. The assembly, with its more than two-to-one Democratic majority, and with several Republicans favoring reform, seemed to pose no problem. Brownell, in a memo to Stroup, predicted smooth sailing there.
He was wrong.
The reform bill's sponsor in the assembly was Alan Sieroty, who represented Beverly Hills and had worked for reform in the past, but the two key actors in the drama there proved to be the Democratic speaker, Leo McCarthy, and a conservative Republican gadfly named John Briggs. In early May, as a vote neared, Brownell began to hear rumors that conservative Republicans, led by Briggs, would try to evoke unit rule on the marijuana bill. This meant that if two-thirds of the Republican caucus opposed the bill, they could require the other third to oppose it, or at least abstain from voting, or else lose all party rank and privileges. However, unit rule had almost never been invoked in the assembly, so Brownell hoped the talk of its invocation was some sort of bluff.
It wasn't. On the morning of May 8, the day the vote was scheduled, the Republicans caucused, and John Briggs argued forcefully for unit rule. The Republican leaders opposed his proposal; several of them planned to support the reform bill. Briggs was, in effect, leading a conservative rebellion against his party's more liberal leaders. But there was more than factional hostility here. Briggs, an outspoken, publicity-prone politician who later allied himself with Anita Bryant's anti-homosexual crusade, had a very clear strategy in mind.
As he and many Republicans saw it, their party had been decimated the previous year by an issue that had nothing to do with them: the sins of Richard Nixon. They were fighting for survival, and if the Democrats wanted to go out on a limb on the marijuana issue, why give them a free ride? If every Republican in the assembly opposed the bill, several things would happen. For one, they could probably defeat the bill and thereby embarrass Moscone and other Democrats who had put their prestige on the line. Moreover, if every Republican opposed reform, a clear-cut issue would be raised for the 1976 elections: The Democrats would be the pro-pot party. In particular, a pro-marijuana vote might be enough to defeat several of the first-term Democrats who had been elected in 1974 in traditionally Republican districts.
The Republican caucus did invoke unit rule, outraging Republican liberals who had planned to vote for the reform bill and sending into panic several Democrats who had hoped their votes would not be needed to pass it.
There was a further complication that hectic Thursday morning. Assemblyman Willie Brown's "consenting-adults bill" was voted on and passed narrowly; it removed criminal penalties for homosexuality and was sometimes called the "gay bill of rights." The timing was terrible: It was very hard for many Democrats to vote for both gay rights and marijuana reform on the same day.
Worried Democrats started streaming into Speaker McCarthy's office, particularly the first-termers from conservative southern California districts. His advice: Don't walk into the trap. Don't support the marijuana bill. McCarthy wanted to postpone the vote. He knew that one pro-reform legislator was in Europe, and that a vacant assembly seat would soon be filled by a pro-reform liberal. McCarthy had his majority to think about. Why should young Democrats risk their careers on a pro-marijuana vote when, in a month or two, the bill might pass without their votes' being needed?
To wait, or to vote? Moscone, Sieroty, and Brownell debated the issue, amid much confusion. Sieroty wanted to wait, but Moscone and Brownell wanted to go ahead, despite the speaker's recommendation. They thought they could still count forty-one votes, even without Republican support.
They were wrong.
The vote was thirty-eight to thirty-four, a majority of those voting, but still three votes short of the forty-one needed. Three first-term assemblymen the reformers had counted on had backed away, apparently at the urging of Speaker McCarthy.
Brownell called Stroup in Washington to break the news. Brownell was outraged, furious. He had been waiting five years for this vote, waiting since the days when he worked for Ronald Reagan, and now all his hopes and efforts seemed down the drain.
Stroup, hearing the news, could only mutter, "Oh, my God." So much was riding on Californianot only NORML'S credibility but perhaps the fate of reform bills in five or ten other states. Stroup was soon on his way to California, not because he had a plan to save the day but because he didn't know what else to do.
The reformers were furious. Moscone spoke bitterly to reporters about legislators whose only concern was self-preservation. It was not clear, in the immediate aftermath, whether there would be a second vote, or whether the bill would pass if there was. Brownell was more angry at Speaker McCarthy than at anyone else. He started calling FM radio stations, asking announcers to tell their listeners to call Leo McCarthy if they didn't like what the assembly had done. Within hours McCarthy's lines were tied up by hundreds of calls, and that afternoon he took the extraordinary step of calling Brownell, asking him to call off his troops, and giving his personal assurance that the bill would pass when it came up for a second vote.
The question had become one of timing. In retrospect, the reformers had been wrong to push for the first vote, and it was imperative they not make the same mistake twice. There had been several reasons Brownell and Moscone had ignored McCarthy's advice and demanded the first vote. One was that political crusades take on a certain momentum; they are easier to start than to stop. Passions are aroused; hopes are high. To stop becomes a kind of political coitus interruptus: easier said than done.
Also, the marijuana reformers lived in fear that some sudden development might swing public opinion against them. Senator Eastland might hold new hearings, or some scientist might claim that marijuana caused cancer, or some Manson-type atrocity might be blamed on drugs. (Later, in Michigan, after a reform bill had narrowly passed, its sponsor was bitterly denounced by another legislator, who said his son had smoked marijuana and it had led him to heroin and to death. With passions thus aroused, another legislator attacked the bill's sponsor with an ashtray, and when the dust settled, a second vote was taken and the bill was defeated.)
Perhaps most important, California was the keystone of NORML'S national strategy. In California itself it didn't matter if the bill passed in May or November; it would still go into effect on the first day of 1976. But NORML was counting on early passage of the California bill to have a domino effect, to blast loose the passage of bills in perhaps five or ten other states. It was imperative that those bills pass in 1975, because the next year, 1976, was a national-election year, a time when many legislators might not risk a pro-reform vote. It was now or never, or so it seemed.
When Stroup arrived in Sacramento, Brownell took him around to meet several Democratic assemblymen, one of whom took him for an outside agitator and threw him out of his office, whereupon Stroup carried his lobbying campaign to Beverly Hills, where he rallied rich liberals to contact their assemblymen. The Playboy mansion was made available for lobbying efforts, a fact that reflected Hefner's intense interest in the legislation.
The second vote came on June 24. The Republicans invoked unit rule again. During two hours of emotional debate, Assemblyman Willie Brown, a black liberal, waved a hand-rolled cigarette and declared that people who smoked a few joints were not criminals. (He later said the joint was made of tobacco). John Briggs, the anti-gay, anti-pot leader, gave the Democrats a candid summary of his political strategy: "It's quite possible that in 1976 your platform will be 'Grass, Gays, and Godlessness."'
The bill needed forty-one votes, and it got forty-two. In Brownell's eyes the heroes of the second vote were two first-term Democrats from conservative districts who voted no the first time but switched to yes on the second vote. One of them was Floyd Mori, a Mormon who neither smoked nor drank. The reformers had succeeded in convincing him that a vote against jail penalties did not amount to an endorsement of marijuana. The other convert was Richard Robinson, a former Marine officer in Vietnam who decided that as a matter of conscience he could not oppose reform, even if his vote was not needed and might harm him politically.
The bill's passage was denounced by Ed Davis, who said the legislature was favoring "pansies and potheads" and urged Governor Brown to veto it. In fact, Brown postponed action on the bill until it was within hours of becoming law without his signature; then he signed it with a minimum of ceremony. Still, he signed it, and on the first day of 1976, California stopped putting people in jail for smoking marijuana.
A state agency later conducted a survey of the results of the new law in its first year. It found that arrests dropped from about eighty-eight thousand in 1975 to about ten thousand in 1976 (these were for possession of more than an ounce), and about forty thousand citations were issued for possession of less than an ounce. An estimated $25 million in police and court costs was saved.
Finally, in the 1976 elections, there was a political footnote: None of the Democrats who supported the reform bill was defeated.
That spring, as the battle raged on in California, strange things were happening in Alaska.
The Alaska saga actually began in 1972, with two young lawyers sitting around one evening smoking marijuana and grumbling about the marijuana laws. The two lawyers in Alaska were about thirty years old, and their names were Robert Wagstaff and Irwin Ravin. Wagstaff was a native of Kansas City who had done his undergraduate work at Dartmouth. It was there, in 1961, that he first smoked. Marijuana was not readily available in those days, but Wagstaff was a jazz fan, and some black jazz musicians introduced him to the weed. He returned to the University of Kansas law school, then moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he became an assistant district attorney. It was in Fairbanks that he met Ravin, a native of Newark, New Jersey, and a graduate of Rutgers. Later they moved to Anchorage and practiced law together.
They also smoked marijuana, and as they talked that night in 1972, they agreed the legal and political climate in Alaska was such that a good test case, with the right client, could overturn the marijuana laws. But who would be that client?
That question was left unresolved. Then, a couple of nights later, fate intervened in the person of a Fairbanks policeman who stopped Ravin because a taillight was out on his car. It was a routine traffic violation. All Ravin had to do was sign the citation and go on his way. But Ravin decided the time had come to take a stand. Knowing he had a couple of joints in his pocket, he refused to sign the citation. That left the arresting officer no choice but to take him to the station. There he was routinely searched, the two joints were found, and the case of Ravin v. Alaska came to be.
Wagstaff and another lawyer, R. C. Middleton, filed a motion to dismiss the charges before trial, arguing that the state law prohibiting possession of marijuana was unconstitutional because it violated the right of privacy guaranteed by both the U. S. and the Alaska constitutions. In a sense, the issue was not so much legal as political. Reformers in other states had made the same right-of-privacy arguments and had always been turned down. But Alaska was not like other states. It was a frontier. People went there for privacy, for freedom; for Alaskans the right of privacy came near to being sacred. That, at least, is how Wagstaff hoped the courts would see things, and he was aware that the Alaska supreme court was the youngest and most liberal in the nation.
Lengthy hearings were held in district court on the constitutional question. Wagstaff was a member of the national board of the ACLU and he had legal and financial help from it. He also had help from NORML, who paid the expenses for Drs. Thomas Ungerleider, Joel Fort, and Lester Grinspoon to go to Alaska to testify. The district court denied Wagstaff's motion to dismiss, and he appealed the constitutional question to the Alaska supreme court. By the spring of 1975 the court was near a decision, and Wagstaff was increasingly optimistic that it would be a favorable one.
Meanwhile, things were happening in the state legislature. State Senator Terry Miller, a clean-cut Republican in his early thirties, had introduced a decriminalization bill similar to Oregon's. Stroup never went to Alaska, but he kept in touch with the situation there through Wagstaff, who had agreed to be NORML'S state representative. As legislative hearings drew near, an unexpected conflict arose between Stroup and Wagstaff. Wagstaff was convinced there was a very good chance that the supreme court would make smoking legal in Alaska. For that reason he was very skeptical about the decriminalization bill. It provided for $100 fines for private possession and $1000 fines for public smoking or possessing while driving. As far as Stroup was concerned, it was a good bill, but Wagstaff feared that if the bill passed, it would take the pressure off the supreme court to rule in favor of Ravin. Thus, Alaska might settle for a system of fines when it could have had full legalization of private possession. He therefore announced to Stroup that he intended to go testify against the bill.
Stroup couldn't believe it. Wagstaff was the kind of smart, able lawyer he dreamed of finding to be a NORML state coordinatorand now he said he was going to testify against decriminalization. Stroup thought it made him and NORML look like idiots. A transcontinental shouting match ensued.
"Bob," Stroup insisted, "we can't have NORML opposing a decriminalization bill. It may not be a perfect bill, but we've only been able to pass one in America so far."
Wagstaff was not moved, and he did in fact testify against the bill. It didn't matter. On May 16 the Alaska bill passed, and the state's new Republican governor, Jay Hammond, keeping the promise he had earlier made, did not veto it. The bill became law without his signature.
That made Alaska the second state, after Oregon, to adopt decriminalization. Then, eleven days after the legislature acted, the state supreme court, in a stunning decision, ruled five to none that possession of marijuana by adults at home for personal use was constitutionally protected by the right-of-privacy provision in the state constitution.
In its fifty-four page opinion the court said there was "no firm evidence" that marijuana was harmful to the user or to society, and that "mere scientific doubts" could not justify government intrusion into the privacy of the home. The court added, "It appears that the use of marijuana, as it is presently used in the United States today, does not constitute a public health problem.... It appears that effects of marijuana on the individual are not serious enough to justify widespread concern, at least as compared with the far more dangerous effects of alcohol, barbiturates and amphetamines."
The ruling stuck down the legislature's new system of fines for marijuana use. Private cultivation of marijuana was not mentioned by the court, but later the state attorney general ruled that the right of privacy included cultivation. It was as legal to grow marijuana in Alaska as it was to grow tomatoes. Only sale remained illegal.
On June 16 Maine became the third state, after Oregon and Alaska, to decriminalize marijuana use. The main reason marijuana-law reform passed easily in Maine was that it was part of a new state criminal-code revision that had been recommended by a high-level commission after several years of study. The commission concluded that far too much time and money were being spent on victimless crimes, such as marijuana use and prostitution, and the legislature accepted the view.
In Maine, as in several other states, it was not until after decriminalization passed that its opponents, particularly law-enforcement officials, began to speak out strongly against it. Pressure from police officials, who claimed the new law was causing increased smuggling activity in the state, led to new hearings the next year. A repeal bill was introduced, and anti-marijuana scientists, veterans of the Eastland hearings, were brought in to testify. But now the pro-reform legislators were in the unusual but enjoyable position of defending the status quo, and they saw to it that the repeal bill never got out of committee.
In 1974 Stroup had found himself part of an unlikely scheme to legalize marijuana use in Colorado. While visiting the state, he had met a handsome, Yale-educated rancher and politician named Michael Strang, who was a liberal Republican and a member of the state senate. One day, as they discussed the marijuana laws, Strang declared, "Hell, why don't we just legalize the stuff, tax it, and put the money in the old folks' pension fund?" Strang introduced a bill to that effect, and Stroup testified in support of it, along with Dr. Dorothy Whipple and Ed Brecher, the author of the Consumers' Union report on drugs. Stroup never expected the bill to pass, but the hearings drew plenty of publicity, and it was all part of the consciousness-raising process.
In 1975, however, a decriminalization bill was introduced that had a serious chance of passage. NORML'S man in Colorado then was James Moore, a tough-talking cowboy lawyer in his mid-forties who was the deputy district attorney for Pitkin County, which includes Aspen. Perhaps the turning point in Colorado came when Moore, as a middle-aged, whiskey-drinking law-enforcement official, was able to persuade the state senate's Republican majority leader, a Denver lawyer named Richard Plock, to be the floor manager for the decriminalization bill.
Certainly the bill could not have passed without the Republican leader's support, and even with his support it passed the senate by only one vote, and after two days of intense debate. Moore's impression was that the most effective argument in Colorado, an essentially conservative state, was that millions of dollars were being wasted needlessly on enforcement of the marijuana laws.
In May, as the states began to move, the reformers got an unexpected boost from Washington. Sen. Birch Bayh, of Indiana, held hearings before his Juvenile Delinquency Sub-committee on a federal decriminalization bill sponsored by Sens. Jacob Javits, Ed Brooke, Alan Cranston, and Gaylord Nelson. Bayh's support of decriminalization was a personal turnabout and one that many people assumed was intended to win support for him among the young when he ran for president in the next year. The witnesses included Stroup, Pat Horton, of Oregon, and Richard Bonnie, of the Marijuana Commission staff, but the dramatic highlight of the hearings came when Sen. Philip Hart, of Michigan, one of the most respected members of the Senate, explained that he had changed his mind on marijuana after his son was arrested. "I knew then we had a topsy-turvy operation here. He spent twenty days in jail for a stub this big. I'm from the older generation who thought taking marijuana on Tuesday meant heroin on Friday. His arrest was all the education I needed."
On August 22 Republican governor James Rhodes, of Ohio, signed a bill that made Ohio the sixth state, and the fifth since May, to decriminalize marijuana use. It was a remarkable victory for the reform movement. Oregon, Alaska, California, and Colorado were all Western states with a pioneer tradition that government should leave people alone. Maine was a flinty, no-nonsense New England state, proud to go its own way. But Ohio? Ohio was the heartland, one of the most conservative states in the union. It made no sense at all that Ohio would pass the nation's most liberal marijuana lawnot, that is, unless one understands the unique role played there by a Republican businessman and civic leader named Richard M. Wolfe.
Dick Wolfe's grandfather was a shoemaker. He and his brother, in the best Horatio Alger tradition, became successful shoe manufacturers and went on to found an Ohio dynasty. By the 1970s the Wolfe family owned among other things, the Columbus Dispatch, television stations in Columbus and Indianapolis, hotels, radio stations, and a major interest in the state's largest bank. The Wolfes were rich, Republican, and ultra-respectable, and Dick Wolfe was very much in that tradition.
In 1975, at age forty-two, he was president of WBNS, the CBS affiliate in Columbus, president of the local symphony, chairman of the Franklin County Mental Health and Retardation Board, and involved in more civic affairs than he could keep track of. A graduate of Ohio State and the Harvard Business School, he was a tall, good-looking man, balding, always elegantly dressed, who had a wife and two daughters, a beautiful home, and a taste for expensive sports cars and stereo equipment. He was the very epitome of the Midwestern Establishment, the public-spirited citizen who can work behind the scenes to get things done in his community.
In the late 1960s, while he was chairman of the Columbus Area Community Mental Health Center, Wolfe became concerned about drug use at Ohio State University, and he helped set up a drug clinic, the Open Door Clinic, near the campus. He came to the drug issue as a hard-liner, but as he got to know the doctors and the patients at the clinic, he began, as he later said, to see what was myth and what was reality. He decided that the drug problem was in large part a political problemthat the need was to change the laws so that drug use was seen as a health problem, not a law-enforcement problem. It happened that at about the same time, one of the state's most powerful politicians had reached a different conclusion.
Ohio's attorney general was an ambitious young Democrat named William J. Brown, who wanted very much to be governor and had decided that to sponsor a tough new drug law would help him toward that goal. In 1973 he introduced a bill that was modeled after the Rockefeller law in New York. His bill passed the state house and senate easily, but was defeated in conference committee, not because it was too harsh, but because Republicans didn't want to see Brown get credit for what they knew would be a popular measure.
It was then that moderates began to meet and consider how to cope with Brown's bill the next time around. A series of meetings at Wolfe's home, with civic leaders and legislators attending, led to a model bill, one that called for the decriminalization of marijuana and increased treatment facilities for drug addicts. These moderates assumed that Brown's bill would pass, in some form; their strategy was to amend his bill so they could live with it, all the while giving Brown credit for having sponsored a tough new law. Wolfe liked to say there was a train coming down the tracks and all he wanted to do was change a few of its boxcars.
He had immediate access to any legislator or state official, and he used it effectively. He approached them not as a marijuana advocate (although he had smoked) but as a concerned civic leader and a mental-health expert. He found it was often quite easy to convince legislators that young people shouldn't be jailed for marijuana use; they knew that their children and their friends' children smoked. Their concern was whether they could support marijuana-law reform without getting burned politically. And it was there, as a member of a family that controlled a newspaper and radio and television stations, that Dick Wolfe could play a crucial role.
Wolfe thought, throughout his lobbying effort, that legislators overestimated his influence on his family's media empire. He knew that he could not dictate the news or editorial policies of his television station, even as its president, and he certainly had no editorial control over the Columbus Dispatch. He knew, in fact, that most of the members of his family did not share his views on drug policy. They were mostly hard-liners, as he had been. Still, the fact that he was lobbying on behalf of the drug bill had an impact. Reporters tended to assume the bill had the Wolfe family's endorsement. Certainly his family's newspaper and radio and television stations were unlikely to criticize the bill; to a very large extent, Wolfe's involvement protected the progressive aspects of the bill from right-wing attack.
Wolfe and other supporters of reform were careful always to speak of the new bill as a very tough law, and in part it was. Penalties for the sale of heroin, for instance, were strengthened. But nestled among the hard-line provisions was the decriminalization of up to 100 grams (about three and a half ounces) of marijuana, and also of up to five grams of hashish and one gram of hashish oil. Three and a half ounces was far more than any other state had decriminalized, and no other state had included hashish and hashish oil in its reform package.
The bill's first legislative hurdle was the house judiciary committee, and it was there that Wolfe staged a dramatic political coup: He arranged for Art Linkletter to testify.
In thirty years as a radio and television personality, Art Linkletter had become one of the most beloved men in America. He was a man, like Lawrence Welk and Arthur Godfrey, with whom Middle America could be at ease. Art Linkletter was as American as could be. And then one day drugs tore his life apart.
In 1969 his daughter fell to her death, apparently while under the influence of LSD. Linkletter's first response was anger, outrage. Drugs had killed his daughter; therefore he would use his influence to combat the drug menace. But he could not speak out on the evils of drugs until he knew more about them, and the more he studied the issue, the more he came to see that harsh laws were not the answer. In time, his views on drugs were not greatly different from Dick Wolfe's or NORML'S. Wolfe met Linkletter at a meeting of the Young Presidents Organization in Florida. As they talked, Wolfe felt that Linkletter's transition from hard-liner to reformer was much like his own. He asked if the entertainer would come to Ohio and testify before the legislature. Linkletter said he would. To make the trip as convenient as possible, Wolfe sent his plane to pick up Linkletter. Speaking before the house judiciary committee, Linkletter said that after his daughter's death he had viewed the drug problem as a vengeful parent, but later he had changed his mind. "I don't think any law is going to solve the drug-abuse problem," he said. "I don't think hiring more policemen or devoting more money or building bigger walls is going to be the answer. We've sent far too many young people to jail.
"I'm soft on people," Linkletter concluded, "not soft on drugs."
It was a moving statement, and immensely effective politically. Dick Wolfe, anticipating this, had it filmed. Thus, when Wolfe himself testified before the senate judiciary committee, he took with him a film that featured highlights of Linkletter's testimony and concluded with an even more dramatic segment from the television program 60 Minutes. The segment concerned a young marijuana smoker in Pennsylvania named Billy Nester. Billy's parents found some marijuana in his room. Horrified that their son was using a dangerous drug, they called the police and said they wanted him arrested and sent to prison, if that was the only way to save him from drugs. He was in fact convicted and sent to prison. Soon after his arrival he was gang-raped. Shortly thereafter he hanged himself in his cell.
By the end of Wolfe's presentation, many people in the hearing room were in tears. The bill cleared the judiciary committee without difficulty.
A final obstacle to the reform elements of the bill arose when opponents tried to lower the amount of marijuana to be decriminalized from three and a half ounces to one ounce. The reformers might have compromisedto decriminalize one ounce would have been a victorybut they chose to fight. Wolfe was able to call for help from labor-union lobbyists he'd worked with in the past on mental-health legislation, particularly with regard to alcoholism, a major concern to union leaders. The labor lobbyists weren't greatly concerned with the hundred-grams-versus-one-ounce issue, but they owed some favors to the mental-health people and they believed in paying their debts.
Finally, when a vote came on the question, Lt. Gov. Richard Celeste, a liberal who was presiding over the state senate, arranged for the question to be settled on a voice voteone in which individual members' positions were not recorded. The three-and-a-half-ounces provision won easily.
NORML'S Ohio coordinator was David Weiner, a friend of Stroup's from law school who had joined a leading Cleveland law firm. Weiner attended some meetings at Wolfe's house and worked with student groups seeking reform, but he recognized that NORML was very much the outsider in Ohio politics and Wolfe was the insider who could get things done. So although Stroup and Wolfe had become friends, and Stroup gave Wolfe long-distance advice on strategy and on what outside witnesses could be most helpful with the legislature, NORML stayed in the background. As Stroup saw it, he had created a sort of drug-law supermarket, where reformers like Wolfe could pick and choose the best strategies and witnesses to suit their local needs.
When the bill became law in August, newspaper headlines in Ohio declared, "Ohio Gets Tough New Drug Law," which was true in part, although it was equally true that Ohio had got the nation's most liberal marijuana law. For Attorney General Brown, the-bill was a politician's dream come true: He was able to reap immediate credit for a tough drug law, and later, when decriminalization was seen as a success, he could claim credit for it, too. But, politics aside, supporters of reform knew who deserved credit for the progressive elements of Ohio's new law: Richard Wolfe, the very respectable Republican who had provided a textbook example of how a conservative can bring about the reform that liberals wanted but could almost never achieve on their own.
The political victories of 1975 had given NORML new respectability. Decriminalization seemed no longer a fringe issue but the wave of the future, and Stroup had made NORML central to the movement. If a reporter wanted to write about the issue, if a state legislator wanted advice on how best to write and present a reform bill, if reform-minded citizens wanted to know how they could help, NORML was the starting point, the central clearinghouse for all of them. NORML thus became the national organization it had always claimed to be. Stroup had coordinators, most of them first-rate lawyers, in almost every state, and in many states there was also a network of volunteers to raise money, gain publicity, lobby the legislature, and help individual defendants. As his Washington staff grew, along with his national organization, Stroup traveled more, and increasingly focused his talents on the things he did best. One was publicity, his role as celebrity-spokesman, Mr. NORML. Another was simultaneously expanding and holding together his burgeoning coalition. Another, perhaps the most urgent, was the endless battle to keep NORML afloat financially.