Chapter 1It was destined to be Washington's party of the year, even before the great cocaine scandal. One participant recalled it enthusiastically as the moment when "the drug culture met the Establishmenteverybody came out of the closet at last." Each year a big Saturday-night party climaxed NORML'S annual conference, and each year the NORML party had become more fashionable, more talked about"outlaw chic," some called it. This one, on a bitter-cold December night in 1977, promised to be the biggest and best of all.
Because three or four hundred guests were expected, the party was for the first time being held away from NORML's offices on M Street NW. Keith Stroup, NORML'S national director, had asked two of his friends, Fred Moore and Billy Paley, co-owners of the Gandy Dancer, a fashionable Capitol Hill restaurant, to suggest a suitable location for the party, and they in turn had consulted another of Stroup's friends, a young man who worked in the Carter administration. This young man had arranged to borrow the big town house on S Street, not far from DuPont Circle, in Northwest Washington.
The young man from the Carter administration arrived early, to make sure the food and the band and the security men were all in place, and as the first wave of guests poured in, he was increasingly pleased with his selection. The town house was perfect for a big, noisy, get-it-on party. An architect had bought and restored the house a few years earlier, opening up its inside so that the stairs were exposed and you could see all the way from the basement level to the fourth floor. The house was like a huge stage on which everyone could see everyone else performing. The only real privacy to be found was in a small bedroom on the top floor, and the young man from the Carter administration had promised the owner that it would be kept closed off, except perhaps for a few special guests. Otherwise, as people streamed in downstairs, they were thrown together in a way that demanded intimacy. It was cold outside but hot and loud inside; introductions were unnecessary, and flirtations were inevitable. The rock band began to beat out a tune, the psychedelic juggler began to toss balls up into flashing strobe lights, the music and shouts and laughter became deafening, and soon many guests were very open about their drug use.
Silver trays were being passed among the guests. Some held caviar; others, hand-rolled joints made of the finest domestic marijuana, seedless, which on the open market sold for as much as $400 an ounce. This very expensive, hand-cultivated marijuana had been grown by a young Southern farmer who had first tried the drug as a helicopter pilot with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. When he returned home, he brought with him some choice Laotian marijuana seeds, and he proceeded to convert his family farm to a new cash crop. Illegal marijuana soon made him rich, and, what's more, he believed in the weed, believed it liberated men's minds, believed it should be legal. He became an early supporter of NORML, and it had become a tradition that each year he would donate a few pounds of his finest product to the NORML party. That afternoon two young NORML employees had watched a football game on television, tripped on a hallucinogenic drug called MDA, and patiently rolled the several hundred superjoints that now were being circulated on the silver trays.
Many people had brought their own drugs, of course; to serious drug users a party like this was an opportunity to show off their "special stash." Soon joints glowed like fireflies in the dark, crowded rooms. Soon, too, some guests produced small vials and spoons and began to snort cocaine. To the uninitiated it might have seemed an unpleasant, even an offensive sightmen and women sucking white powder up their nosesbut to others "snorting" cocaine was no stranger than smoking cigarettes or sipping wine. Indeed, in an America still deeply divided over drugs, this party could be seen in vastly different lights. To its guests it was simply a great party, and perhaps also a symbol of their defiance of repressive drug laws. But to millions of other Americans this party would seem a different symbol: It was degeneracy, decline and fall, Babylon on the Potomac.
Not everyone at the party was using drugs, of course, although most of the guests were professionally concerned with drugs in one way or another. There were lawyers, Congressional aides, state legislators, and other young politicians from around America who had worked with NORML on marijuana-law reform. There were scientists from government agencies and great universities, men and women who were concerned both with the possible harm and the possible benefits of drugs. There were lawyers and writers and administrators from Washington's ever-expanding drug-abuse bureaucracy (for one man's problem is another man's bureaucracy), which included the Drug Abuse Council, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Food and Drug Administration. These experts had participated that weekend in NORML conference workshops on such topics as "Marijuana and Science" and "Research and Regulation."
Some guests at the NORML party had achieved a degree of celebrity. A few were born to it: Christie Hefner, the slender, pretty daughter of Playboy's publisher; Billy Paley, the son and namesake of the CBS founder; David Kennedy, one of Robert Kennedy's sons. There were eight or ten guests whose celebrity flowed from their association with Jimmy Carter, the nation's new president. They were young men and women, still in their twenties, who had climbed onto Carter's improbable bandwagon, served as advance men and staff assistants in his campaign, and been rewarded with jobs in the White House and in executive agencies, jobs that paid enough to support the expensive tastes in drugs that many of them had acquired.
There were a good many news-media people present, too, young writers and reporters from the Washington newspapers and television stations and from the out-of-town newspaper bureaus. These journalists were not working, although this party might have made quite a good story. They were young reporters who, although in theory objective, were in fact sympathetic to NORML and its cause, for they used marijuana and other drugs and they were, therefore, technically criminals, although they tended to consider themselves very responsible citizens. In a sense the young media people and the young political people, however much they might disagree on other matters, were united as drug users and as victims of the double standard that surrounded drug use in America. At the Washington Post, no less than in the Carter White House, young people who were part of the drug culture rarely admitted that fact to their superiors, who were usually part of the alcohol culture and tended to think that marijuana or cocaine use was a sign of irresponsibility. It was said that sex was the "dirty little secret" of the Victorian era; in the America of the late 1970s drug use seemed to have become the secret vice, the one that almost everyone enjoyed and almost no one admitted to.
There were some guests at the NORML party that evening who were emissaries from the very heart of the drug culture: Yippie political activists; marijuana growers and smugglers; pilots in what was called the MAF, or Marijuana Air Force. One of the Yippies, Aaron Kaye, had achieved a certain celebrity by throwing pies in the faces of Mayor Abe Beame, singer Anita Bryant, and others whose political views he found distasteful. Aaron Kaye was not a wealthy manthe next day he would have to borrow six dollars to buy a piebut there were several young men at the NORML party who had become marijuana millionaires, either through smuggling or through the sale of rolling papers and other paraphernalia. The most celebrated of these tycoons was a small, intense man named Tom Forcade, who had first been a Yippie, then became a smuggler, then started a phenomenally successful magazine called High Times, which was to drugs what Playboy was to sex.
The thirty-year-old Forcade had contributed tens of thousands of dollars to NORML, and he had flown down from New York for the party like a royal prince on tour. He wore a white suit, a white hat, and sharkskin cowboy boots, and he was accompanied by an entourage of High Times writers and executives. He had rented the biggest suite at the Hyatt Regency, the conference headquarters, and the High Times hospitality suite soon became immensely popular, perhaps because Forcade's "bar" served cocaine instead of whiskey.
Another young man at the party that evening might, with any luck, have been a marijuana millionaire. He was bright and ambitious, he had been a business major in college, and he had been in the rolling-paper business at a time when fortunes were being made. But Mark Heutlinger had worked for Amorphia, a group in California that used the profits from its Acapulco Gold papers to finance pro-marijuana politics, and when Amorphia went broke, he had ended up as NORML'S business manager. This evening he had volunteered to guard the front door.
It was an important job but not an entirely pleasant one. There was a long line of people waiting outside in the near-zero cold, and many of them did not have invitations. Moreover, the doorknob had somehow fallen off, and Heutlinger had to use a screwdriver to twist the lock open every time he let someone in. The job had one important fringe benefit, however: The people he admitted were often so grateful that they would press drugs on hima hit of this, a snort of thatso that as the evening progressed, Mark Heutlinger was complaining less and less and smiling more and more. Still he was glad when Keith Stroup arrived, around nine-thirty, because he wanted to propose an open-door policy: They should let everyone in, rather than making people wait out in the cold while he checked invitations. Heutlinger thought it was the obvious thing to do, but he didn't want to do it without Stroup's approval. It was, after all, Stroup's party.
Stroup arrived fashionably late, with his nine-year-old daughter at his side, and in answer to Heutlinger's question he cried, "Hell, yes, let 'em all in," a decision that drew cheers from the twenty-odd people waiting in line. Stroup beamedit was the sort of dramatic gesture he lovedand then he plunged headlong into the party, for this was his element, his world. He had founded NORML in 1971, viewing it as a public-interest lobby that would use Ralph Nader-style techniques to change the marijuana laws. Improbably, he had made a success of it; many people on Capitol Hill thought that, dollar for dollar, NORML was the most effective lobby in Washington.
But Stroup was more than an effective lobbyist; he had made himself a star. In a city of dull, careful men he was an outlaw, an adventurer, and finally a celebrity who hung out with the likes of Hunter Thompson, Hugh Hefner, and Willie Nelson. He caused a stir as he pushed through the crowded party, pumping the hands of the men, kissing and hugging the women, taking a hit of grass here, a snort of cocaine there, getting high rather quickly and not much caring. Keith Stroup was on top of the world this evening. He had survived the Nixon years, and now Jimmy Carter was president; he had friends in high places, and the prospects for the movement he headed seemed bright indeed. He was a few weeks short of his thirty-fourth birthday, a slender, good-looking, rather intense man who was just under six feet tall, wore rimless glasses, and kept his dark-blond hair trimmed at shoulder length. For the party he had dressed in jeans, a Pierre Cardin shirt, and a blue velvet dinner jacket, topped off by the burgundy bow tie that was his trademark.
Stroup was inevitably a controversial figure, even within this world he had created. Some saw him as a latter-day Jay Gatsby. Like Fitzgerald's bootlegger-hero of the 1920s, Stroup had rejected his drab Midwestern origins and created a glamorous new persona for himself. Others seeking a literary analogy might have compared Stroup to Budd Schulberg's opportunistic Sammy Glick. There was some truth in both views, for Stroup was a politician and as such many-sided. He was idealistic enough to have started a marijuana-law-reform program and tough enough to have made it succeed. He was a fast-talking, fast-moving, high-energy performer, a magnetic figure, an actor who this evening, at this gaudy party, was glorying in his favorite role: Mr. Marijuana, the Man from NORML, the Prime Minister of Pot.
He left his daughter watching the juggler with a friend and fought his way upstairs. He was pleased to see so many young professionals present, people who even a year earlier might not have ventured into a NORML party. He wondered if some of these very respectable people might think it dangerous here, might fear the police would break down the door at any moment. In theory, they could all have been arrested, but in reality, Stroup knew, this party was one of the safest places in Washington that evening. Stroup's friend in the Carter administration had been an advance man during the campaign, and he understood how police officials relate to political power. He had called the precinct station that afternoon and told the police about the party, and he had pointedly mentioned that numerous people from the White House, the District government, and Capitol Hill would be among the guests. That was why police cars kept cruising past the town house all evening: not to stop the drug use in progress inside but to make sure that no politically important people were murdered, mugged, or otherwise molested as they walked to and from their cars.
Upstairs, Stroup joined two of his favorite people, Christie Hefner and Hunter Thompson. Christie was twenty-four, slender, and very pretty, with long brown hair and a bright, disarming smile, She was also an ambitious, sophisticated feminist who fully intended to take control of her father's publishing empire someday. She and Stroup had met some five years earlier, when she was still in college and he was hanging out at the Playboy mansion, trying to win her father's favor. They had become close friends and though they had their separate careers and their various romantic entanglements, once or twice a year they would slip away to spend some time together, getting high and giggling at the madness of it all.
If Christie Hefner was a princess of the drug culture, forty-year-old Hunter Thompson was its poet laureate. He had written brilliantly, violently, of presidential politics in the pages of Rolling Stone, excoriating Hubert Humphrey as a senile old whore; Ed Muskie as a demented, drug-numbed geek; Richard Nixon as a blood-sucking vampire. His book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ranked with Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test as a classic of the drug culture. Absurdly, he had achieved his greatest celebrity not for his writing but as the model for the Doonesbury comic strip's drug-crazed character Ambassador Duke. He was a Hemingway of his generation, a writer-adventurer whose talent was in constant danger of being overshadowed by his much-publicized nonliterary exploits. In fact, Thompson lived a quiet life outside Aspen, Colorado, most of the time, but in his public appearances, such as this one at the NORML party (he was on the organization's advisory board), he was very much "on" as a celebrity, always puffing on a joint or swigging a beer, talking loudly, arguing politics. He made some people uncomfortable, for he was a big, rugged-looking man, and there was an aura of violence about him, as if at any moment he might explode.
When Stroup joined Thompson and Hefner, the writer began immediately to fire insults at him: "Stroup, it's clear to me that you're a neurotic paranoid and you're destined to fuck up badly and bring us all down. I'm not sure I want to remain associated with this organization with you at the helm."
Stroup replied in kind. It was the sort of celebrity banter both men were skilled at, a show they put on for the people pressed around them. Stroup recognized, without resentment, that Thompson was the only person at the party who ranked higher on the national-celebrity scale than he did. But after a while something unexpected interrupted their banter. Christie Hefner grabbed Stroup's arm, said she felt dizzy, said perhaps she should sit down.
"Oh, my God," Stroup said with a groan. He knew at once what the problem was: those joints they had been smoking as they talked, the young Southern farmer's very expensive, very powerful marijuana. As Stroup moved quickly to find Christie a place to sit and to send for a glass of water, he was unaware of another event that was causing a good deal of excitement downstairs.
Peter Bourne had arrived.
He came by himself, entering the town house at a little after ten. In truth, he had not wanted to come. He had addressed the previous year's NORML conference, and he had been embarrassed when television cameras recorded people smoking marijuana in the audience as he spoke. More recently, he and Stroup had clashed over Bourne's support of the paraquat program. Still, Bourne did not want to seem to be snubbing NORML, whose members were part of his political constituency, and so he had dropped by the party, thinking his mission there to be business much more than pleasure.
He could hardly have received a warmer welcome. He had no sooner stepped in from the cold when people began crowding around him, shaking his hand, hugging him, giving him the VIP treatment that reflected both his political importance and the genuine affection that many people felt for him.
Dr. Peter Bourne, who was in his late thirties then, had been a popular, respected figure in the drug-abuse field in Washington since 1973. That year he had come up from Atlanta, where he had directed Gov. Jimmy Carter's drug-treatment program, and had become assistant director of Richard Nixon's Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention. He left the Nixon administration the next year, however, because he had a more urgent political priority: helping to make Jimmy Carter president. He took a part-time job with the privately financed Drug Abuse Council, but he devoted his best energies to the Carter cause. Now Carter was president, and Bourne was his closest adviser on drug policy. Already, in his first year in office, Carter had called for the decriminalization of marijuana and for a ban on barbiturates. People in the drug field assumed that Bourne had prompted these and other presidential decisions, and they hoped to lobby Bourne a bit that night for their own pet projects. In Washington, as everyone knew, a few words in an informal setting might do more good than a hundred official memoranda.
Still, most of the people who would lobby Peter Bourne that night also genuinely liked him. After the Nixon years it seemed a minor miracle to have as the president's senior adviser on drug policy someone as intelligent, humane, and open-minded as Bourne. By White House standards, Peter Bourne was a most unusual man. There was something gentle, even vulnerable, about him. He was a soft-spoken, self-effacing man, almost shy, a man who seemed determined never to give offense. Some of his friends feared he was not as canny a politician as he fancied himself, feared he might be too decent to survive in the jungle of Washington politics. But he had his office in the White House, with easy access to his friend the president, and he was obviously surviving very well.
As Bourne entered the town house, he encountered a friend, a woman named Ann Zill, who worked for Stewart Mott, the General Motors heir, and a financial supporter of NORML. Bourne and Zill tried to stay together, but it wasn't easy with the people crowding around and the rock band playing, so they began to push their way upstairs. At one landing a door burst open and Hunter Thompson staggered out. He was snorting loudly, jerking his head violently, flailing his arms about. It wasn't clear whether he was snorting cocaine or just giving his imitation of some crazed cocaine snorter. The party was full of surprises like that. A woman downstairs passed out, and an ambulance was called. By the time the ambulance arrived, the woman was fine, and the problem was then to get the ambulance crew to leave.
Bourne stopped for a moment to talk with a tall, bearded man named Craig Copetas, a writer for High Times who for the past year had been singing Bourne's praises in his magazine. A Yippie leader named Dana Beal approached them and offered Bourne a hit from his joint. Copetas, feeling very protective toward his White House friend, waved the Yippie away.
Other people pressed around Bourne, and he and Ann Zill became separated. Soon he was joined by another woman, also a friend of several years, who worked in what was called the "drug-abuse-prevention field" but who was, in her private life, a not-infrequent user of illicit drugs. She and Bourne talked, other people joined them, joints began to circulate, and soon Bourne was enjoying himself, glad he'd come to the party after all.
Upstairs, Christie Hefner had recovered from her dizzy spell, and Keith Stroup was enjoying the party. He was a bit high, and when the woman friend of Bourne's rushed up to him, he did not at first understand what she was saying.
"Peter's here," she whispered urgently. "He wants to get high."
"Peter who?" Stroup asked, confused.
"Peter Bourne," said the woman who was also a close friend of Stroup's. "He's on his way up here, and he wants to do some coke. Do you have any?"
Stroup happened not to have any cocaine on him, but he moved quickly to take command of the situation. Soon he had people scurrying in all directions. Craig Copetas set off in search of the High Times stash, the woman went downstairs to check with a NORML aide, and another friend of Stroup's called a nearby dealer and told him to bring over eight grams of his best cocaine at once.
Having drugs, or having easy access to drugs, was part of Stroup's outlaw mystique. He did not pass out drugs in school yards or otherwise seduce the innocent (there being, some would say, precious few innocents left to seduce in America). Still, he understood the uses of temptation; if some reporter or politician wanted an ounce of good marijuana, Stroup could often help out. His job, after all, was to make marijuana use respectable, and one way to do that was to encourage respectable people to smoke. Some months later, with the wisdom of hindsight, it would be clear that the last thing Keith Stroup should have done was to provide cocaine for Peter Bourne. Indeed, he should have done everything in his power to stop Bourne from using cocaine. But that was not Stroup's instinct.
Bourne finally made his way to where Stroup was standing with Thompson and Hefner, and more celebrity chitchat ensued. Stroup could not have been happier. To have the president's drug adviser present added a final touch of legitimacy to the party and, by implication, to everything Stroup had been fighting for these seven years. Moreover, to have Peter Bourne side by side with Hunter Thompson was a perfect symbol of Stroup's achievement. He had built a coalition that included drug-using crazies, eminent scientists, and influential politicians. Stroup was laughing, joking, smoking a joint, talking a mile a minute, when Bourne's friend appeared at his side and said she'd found some coke.
Soon Stroup suggested that a few of them go upstairs to a private room and have a little "toot"drug users' slang for cocaine use. Bourne smiled and said that sounded fine.
It took a few minutes to get everyone upstairs. The process was a bit awkward, since some people were invited and others were not. The stairs up to the little room on the fourth floor had been roped off, and an ex-Secret Service man was guarding the way. But because the stairway was open, scores of people could see Stroup, Bourne, Thompson, and the others going upstairs, and most of them suspected what was happening. Most NORML parties had a room like that, where the elite could partake of their favorite drugs in private.
The room upstairs was T-shaped, with one small area that held a desk and chair and another area, down a few steps, that contained a bed and a television set. There was also a balcony, where people went from time to time for fresh air. Almost everyone who went upstairs felt a sense of relief. The party downstairs was so noisy and crowded that this little room seemed an island of sanity.
Hunter Thompson made his way to the television set, accompanied by his young friend David Kennedy and by John Walsh, an editor with the Washington Post. They were soon engrossed in the UCLA-Notre Dame basketball game, and Thompson, a sports nut, was engaged in what he called "creative betting" with Walsh: betting a dollar on which way the ball would bounce, on whether a shot would go in or out, on almost anything. They thought they might stay and watch televi8i0n awhile, because Saturday Night Live came next, with Willie Nelson as the guest star.
About ten people had assembled in the room with the desk. Stroup, Bourne, and Copetas were the core of the group, and the others clustered around them included a young woman from High Times, the young Carter aide who had helped organize the party, and two young women from the Carter administration who were friends of Bourne's. When Bourne's woman friend joined the group, she looked uncertainly at Copetas, then at Stroup.
"Is this all right?" she asked.
Stroup knew what she meant. He turned to Copetas. "This is all off the record, right?"
Copetas quickly agreed. The last thing he wanted to do was to hurt Peter Bourne. So the woman gave Stroup the "bullet" she had borrowed downstairsa small, bullet-shaped container that holds cocaine and that, when twisted a certain way, measures out a hit of cocaine, much as cap spouts on whiskey bottles measure out one drink.
There was some talk about the bullet, and how it worked, and about drug paraphernalia in general and how elaborate and expensive it had become. There was some banter, too, about the young woman from High Times, who was olive-skinned and was wearing a loose black dress, and thus was somehow christened the "Lady from Peru." People were high enough for the joke to seem quite hilarious. Still, there was some awkwardness about the cocaine, and finally Stroup took the bullet and gave himself a "one-and-one"a hit in each nostriland then passed it on to the next person. The process took a minute or two for each person. There was a certain protocol to drug use; one did not rush things or otherwise appear uncool. As the bullet slowly made its way around the circle toward Peter Bourne, one young woman, a friend of his from the campaign, whispered to him that he should not be doing this, but he only laughed self-confidently. Bourne had a fatal desire to be one of the boys. When the bullet reached him, he too took a one-and-one. All around the room people were stunned. And well they might have been, for they were witnessing one of the turning points in the war over drug policy that had been so bitterly contested in America in the 1970s.
More people crowded into the room, and there was more joking and laughter. Some lines of coke were laid out on a little hand mirror on the desk top, and people took hits from that, using a rolled-up bill to inhale the powder. There were jokes about whether it was a one-dollar bill or a hundred-dollar bill. Peter Bourne and the woman from High Times were deep in conversation. After a while Bourne's other friend decided to take the bullet and go back downstairs. She said she didn't think they should use up all the coke that had been lent to her, but she was really leaving because she felt uncomfortable about using cocaine in this company.
When she was gone, and the bullet with her, the woman from High Times produced a vial, one with a spoon attached to it by a tiny chain, that held a small amount of cocaine. She gave it to Copetas, who measured out a spoonful and passed it on to Bourne.
Copetas did not feel comfortable about what was happening. As a journalist he saw this scene with double vision. Part of him knew what an explosive story this was, and he feared that even if he didn't write it, someone else would. He felt, too, the sudden silence in the room. As soon as he could, Copetas left Bourne and joined Hunter Thompson at the television set. Thompson threw his arm around Copetas, sighed loudly, and declared, "My God, man, we'll all be indicted now."
Copetas's High Times colleague was uncomfortable, too. She had been having a fine time downstairs. She loved this big, loud, sprawling party. There were different pockets of energy everywhere, she thought, and so many terrific people. She'd never expected Washington to be such fun. Then Craig had asked if she was holding any coke, and had whisked her up here, and suddenly she was doing coke with the president's drug adviser. And she had liked Bourne, liked him a lot. He was such a gentle personso unlike the crazies she dealt with at her magazine. Still, she had to smile when he did the coke; he hardly knew how. When he finished, she reached up and wiped a speck of cocaine off the end of his nose. He was such a nice man, gave off such good vibes, and yet there was something about this scene that gave her bad vibes, too. It was very confusing. After a while she and Copetas went out on the balcony, and they agreed that the whole thing was crazy.
Soon Peter Bourne decided to leave. Again, as he and Stroup descended the open stairway, hundreds of people looked up at them with curiosity. When Bourne finally made his way to the front door, where Mark Heutlinger was still on duty, the NORML aide shook his hand enthusiastically. "We really appreciate your coming, Dr. Bourne," he said. "You don't know what this means to us."
Bourne was barely out the door when people began rushing up to Heutlinger, asking if it were true that Bourne had done cocaine. Upstairs, Stroup was starting to get the same question. In a way he was as surprised at what had happened as everyone else: "Can you believe Peter did that?" he asked a friend. But he quickly realized where his interests lay, and so he sought out the writers who had been upstairs and reminded them that it was all off the record, and as people continued to ask him whether Bourne had used cocaine, he dismissed the reports as rumors, crazy bullshit.
It was not late, only midnight or so, but Stroup was tiredhe'd been up until dawn the night beforeand he was increasingly concerned about all the questions he was getting about Bourne. He sensed it was time for a strategic withdrawal, and so he found his daughter, who had fallen asleep downstairs, and got a friend to drive them back to the Hyatt Regency.
The party raged on without him. At four o'clock two policemen came to the door and suggested, very politely, that it was time to call it a night. Mark Heutlinger, still on his feet, told the band to stop playing and persuaded most of the remaining guests to leave. There were, however, ten or fifteen people passed out. Heutlinger checked to make sure each of them was breathingthey were, he recalled later, "sleeping and smiling"and then he got permission for them to spend the rest of the night where they were. On that hospitable note, the 1977 NORML conference party ended.
More precisely, the party ended and the gossip began. Gossip is what most people in Washington have instead of money or power glittery scraps of information they can exchange to show their importanceand talk of Bourne's cocaine use became a staple of Washington gossip for weeks. To some, of course, it was more than mere gossip; one man's gossip is another man's scoop. Not long after the party, a writer for Jack Anderson's column confronted Stroup about Bourne's rumored cocaine use; Stroup refused to comment. Another reporter, who had attended the party but had not been upstairs, typed up a detailed account of drug use at the party, for future reference. For good reporters, nothing is ever wasted.
The Bourne incident simmered for months, seemed to have died out, then suddenly exploded into public view the next summer. It was a tragedy for Peter Bourne, but he was not the only person harmed by the affair. Keith Stroup, who contributed to Bourne's downfall, was soon under pressure to resign from NORML. Jimmy Carter was hurt politically by the scandal, once more embarrassed by a member of his inner circle. Finally, the Bourne affair hurt the movement for drug-law reform to which Bourne, Stroup, and Carter were all, in different ways, committed. There were larger political forces at work, of course, but the Bourne incident put the Carter administration on the defensive about drug policy. It destroyed NORML'S political effectiveness and it emboldened the hard-liners who opposed any reform of the drug laws. The political pendulum, which had been moving toward reform throughout the 1970s, and which seemed to have reached a peak with Peter Bourne's arrival in the White House, was swinging back the other way. "The drug-law reform movement vanished up Peter Bourne's nose," one participant later said bitterly.
It was one of those rare moments in Washington when the link between personality and policy was crystal clear. At the highest levels, politics becomes a test of character, and the pressures are such that few men pass the test with flying colors. Peter Bourne and Keith Stroup were friends (although Stroup understood better than Bourne old Joe Kennedy's dictum that in politics you have no friends, only allies), and they shared common goals, yet they were on a collision course, one that in the end would highlight each man's limitations. Peter Bourne's weakness was that he was not tough enough to play the political game at those levels. He did not see the dangers that surrounded him until he was overwhelmed by them.
Stroup's was a different flaw, almost the opposite. He was an angry man, angry at his past, angry at the drug laws and the people who made them, and that very anger had made him an effective agent of political change. He had known how to respond to the Nixons and Agnews and Mitchells who had symbolized U. S. drug policy when he started NORMLhe fought them with all he hadbut he found it difficult to play the more subtle, more restrained political game that is called for when the people in power are your friends. When he became convinced that Peter Bourne had turned against him, he reacted angrily, and his anger contributed to his own downfall. It was a complex, contradictory situation, but one point was clear. The cocaine scandal that rocked Washington in the summer of 1978 was not a fluke, not an accident. Bourne and Stroup, like all of us, were prisoners of their pasts, acting out roles for which a lifetime had prepared them. All that happened was part of all that had gone before.