One afternoon in the spring of 1974 a bearded, disheveled young man wandered into Stroup's office. Stroup took him for a street person and silently cursed his receptionist for letting him slip past her. If he spent five minutes with every hippie who wanted to talk about the glories of staying stoned all day, he'd never have time to run NORML. Still, they had a pleasant chat, and when the boy got up to go, he said he had a present for Stroup in his car. He returned a moment later, not with the ounce of grass Stroup had expected but with a handsome set of antique scales.
A few days later the boy returned again, and this time he brought an even more welcome gift: a $500 donation to NORML. He said he'd once attended the University of Maryland, and Stroup took him for a small-time dealer who wanted to contribute to the cause. The third time he came to call he was treated as an honored guest; he and Stroup shared a joint, and in time their talk turned to the NORML ads that appeared twice a year in Playboy.
"Those ads are great," the young man said, "but why do you only have them in Playboy?"
"Because they give us free space," Stroup explained.
"Why not run one in the Reader's Digest?"
"In the first place, because we can't afford it," Stroup said. "Besides, the people who read the Digest aren't going to send us contributions. The right and the left already have their minds made up. We need to go after the middle. What I'd really like to do is run ads in Time and Newsweek."
"Why don't you?"
"We can't afford it."
"What would it cost?"
Stroup shrugged. "Let's find out," he said, and grabbed his phone. He found someone in Time's advertising department who said that a full-page ad would cost about $10,000.
"I'll give you that," the young man said, to Stroup's astonishment. It developed that he was the heir to a major American fortune.
With the $10,000 promised, Stroup burst into action. He knew the ad he wanted to run: the Queen Victoria ad, which had already appeared in Playboy. It featured a humorous portrait of Queen Victoria puffing a joint, and it asked why people should be jailed for smoking a weed that Queen Victoria used to relieve pain from menstrual cramps.
In truth, the ad rested on an uncertain historical foundation. It was a fact that Queen Victoria's doctor advocated the use of marijuana to relieve menstrual pain, but it was not known whether his royal patient had followed his advice. However, Stroup was willing, as he put it, to make the leap of faith necessary to assume she had.
Stroup submitted the Queen Victoria ad to Time, only to be informed by phone that Time's copy-acceptance committee had rejected it. Stroup flew into a rage, shouting at the caller that it was discrimination against marijuana smokers, that it showed the hypocrisy of the Establishment, that they were happy enough to print cigarette ads, and so on.
However, later in the evening, as he and Schott got high and analyzed the matter, Stroup realized two things: First, the situation was bizarre: He had $10,000 cash and Time magazine wouldn't take it. Second, he had an issue. He had Time on the defensive, and there was both fun and publicity to be reaped from the situation.
His next move was to submit the ad to Newsweek, who also rejected it. He then began writing indignant letters to executives of both magazines, pointing out that they ran alcohol and tobacco ads, declaring that NORML wanted only to keep people out of jail, and warning that legal action would follow if this discrimination did not stop.
Ms. magazine also refused the ad, and Stroup wrote its advertising director that he was pained that she failed to see the parallel between discrimination against women and against smokers.
Along with writing indignant letters, Stroup was leaking the story to friendly reporters and getting a good deal of mileage out of it. Eventually he had a call from Hedley Donovan, an elder statesman at Time, who said the real problem was that the ad concerned menstruation. Give us an ad without that, Donovan said, and we'll print it.
"What's this, a secret we're letting out?" Stroup demanded. "Half the people in the world do it every month, and you can't tell your readers?"
"It's a matter of taste," opined the Time executive.
Stroup thought it over. He felt he'd won a moral victory, since Time had agreed to print a NORML ad. He'd already got more free publicity than the ad would bring him for $10,000. Most important, he desperately needed money to pay NORML's bills. So he called his young benefactor, explained the situation, and asked if he would simply donate the money. The young man agreed, and Time's readers were spared NORML'S importunings.
Fund-raising was not always so easy.
NORML existed in a state of permanent financial crisis. This was true despite the fact that its income increased each year that Stroup directed it, from $87,000 in 1972 to $520,000 in 1978. The problem was Stroup's habit of always spending about 10 percent more than he took in, which meant he was under constant pressure to find new sources of money.
The ideal was a smoker-financed lobby. If a hundred thousand smokers had contributed $10 a year, NORML would have been on easy street. Alas, NORML never had much more than ten thousand dues-paying members, and even with direct mailings and the sale of T-shirts and lapel pins, individual smokers never paid more than half of NORML'S expenses. For the rest NORML had to look to rich liberals, foundations, and sympathetic magazines.
The Drug Abuse Council donated some $55,000 over a three-year period. Stewart Mott, the General Motors heir and philanthropist, contributed some $120,000 over the decade. Max Palevsky donated about $25,000. And then there was Playboy. The Playboy Foundation had at the outset viewed its contributions as seed money to get NORML started. But Stroup, because of the personal ties he forged with Hugh Hefner and people close to him, was able to keep its funding between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, so that over the decade Playboy's seed money became more than half a million dollars.
Still, by the mid-1970s, as NORML'S expenses soared, more money was desperately needed, and Stroup found it in the person of a man he once called, with affection, "the craziest, most drugged-out motherfucker I ever met": Tom Forcade.
One evening in the fall of 1976 an attractive, sixtyish woman with impeccable social credentials gave a fund-raising party for NORML at her elegant Park Avenue apartment in New York. She had become interested in the marijuana laws because her granddaughter had been arrested, and she had invited more than a hundred of her friends, at $25 each, to come meet Stroup and Frank Fioramonti. Stroup was glad enough to shake hands and make small talk for an hour, if it meant several thousand dollars for the cause, but he feared the party would be deadly dull, so he invited his friend Tom Forcade to drop by.
The party was indeed dull, but Stroup was playing Mr. NORML, all solemn and statesmanlike, hoping a few big donations might be forthcoming, when Fioramonti whispered the bad news in his ear: Tom Forcade had arrived and was causing trouble.
Forcade had indeed arrived, along with Jack Coombshis bodyguard, pilot, and closest friendand several of his employees from High Times magazine. Forcade was a small, pale man with a wispy black beard who was wearing a dirty trench coat and who was, it happened, in the midst of a nervous breakdown. It had been one of those days at High Times when he grabbed a knife and cut the telephone lines and, when the office was still too noisy to suit him, fired his entire staff.
Forcade and Coombs, a big man in black leather who looked like a biker, plopped themselves down in a small sitting room, put their boots up on an antique table, pulled out a bag of prime Colombian, and started rolling joints.
Stroup, arriving upon this scene, could only pray that no one else would notice the intruders. Alas, the butler, a small black man, spied them and ran to alert the hostess, who in turn took Stroup aside.
"There are some strange men in the next room," she said. "I'm sure they can't have been invited. My butler says they're smoking marijuana." Stroup promised to investigate. Hurrying back to the sitting room, he found that Forcade had lit all the candles in an ornate candelabrum, the better to light his joints.
"Tom, you crazy fucker, cool it," Stroup pleaded.
"What the hell?" Forcade said with a growl. "It's a dope party, isn't it?" He took a hit and passed the joint to Stroup, who sighed and followed suit. He decided this wasn't his problem; he was the guest of honor, not the bouncer.
The hostess ordered her butler to eject the intruders. The butler gamely tried to usher Forcade out, whereupon Coombs lifted him howling into the air. Stroup tried to persuade Forcade to go peaceably, but Forcade muttered incoherently and stood his ground. Guests began to peer in the doorway, thinking perhaps this was some sort of skit. Finally, Forcade shuffled reluctantly toward the elevator. When the elevator door opened, Forcade still wasn't sure he wanted to leave, and his irate hostess gave him a shove. Forcade shoved back, and the butler began struggling to force him into the elevator, whereupon Forcade grabbed a large vase and flung it at the troublesome black man. It struck a guest who had ventured too close to the melee, and left him sitting on the marble floor of the hallway with a bleeding scalp. At that point Stroup and Fioramonti were able to push Forcade and Coombs into the elevator, and they all descended to the relative safety of Park Avenue, with Forcade still puffing on a joint and muttering darkly about capitalist pigs.
A few days later Stroup wrote the lady and apologized for the "unfortunate incident." That did not stop her from resigning her new membership in NORML. Stroup was sorry about the incident Fioramonti was furious with himbut the cold fact was that he could afford to lose a lot of Park Avenue matrons so long as he kept the support of Tom Forcade, whose good will was bringing NORML upward of $50,000 a year.
Tom Forcade, Yippie, drug smuggler, and founder of High Times magazine, was described by his closest friends as a paranoiac and manic depressive, and even Stroup, who had grown tolerant of eccentric behavior, viewed him as clearly over the line. Yet Stroup also regarded Forcade as a genius of sorts, perhaps the most creative figure the drug culture had produced, a man, like Hefner, with a sense of where things were going. Vicky Horn, who worked for Forcade at High Times, said, "He had so much energy it was spooky. He was like a man who has lived many lives. He'd walk into a room and you'd feel him before you saw him." Craig Copetas, Forcade's friend and star reporter, says, "He was the King of the Smokers. He was the most generous, idealistic person I ever met. He was a Renaissance man in an age with no renaissance."
Forcade was variously a writer, editor, publisher, pilot, smuggler, political activist, filmmaker, and bookstore owner, and he was successful at all those things. He created an underground news service, produced the annual Yippie smoke-in across from the White House, and founded a spectacularly successful magazine. And yet, as with any Renaissance man, his sum was greater than his parts: Forcade's greatest creation was himself.
He was born Kenneth Gary Goodson, in Phoenix. His father was an engineer and political conservative who had once been a celebrated football hero in Arizona and who died in an automobile crash when his son was about ten. The young Goodson went to high school in Phoenix, and there began his smuggling career. At first, he and his friends would bring a few pounds of marijuana hidden in their car back from Mexico. The border searches were a threat, however, so they started throwing sacksful over the fence that ran along the border, then going to pick them up later. In time Forcade became a pilot and would fly across the border at night in small planes filled with grass. He found time to enroll in the University of Utah and get his degree in business administration in two years. Threatened by the draft in the mid-1960s, he joined the Air Force, then decided he wanted out and acted crazy enough to make the Air Force agree. He grew his hair long, lived for a while in a commune in Arizona, and became politically active after the police raided it and arrested some people for possession of LSD. He started a radical literary magazine called Orpheus, operating it from a 1946 Chevy school bus he drove around the state to avoid police harassment. By then he called himself Thomas King Forcade; he changed his name to spare his family embarrassment at his radical antics, and the name he chose, Forcade, was a deliberate play on "facade."
In 1969 he drove his bus to New York's Lower East Side and helped start the Underground Press Syndicate, a left-wing wire service providing news to college and underground papers that didn't trust the Establishment media. Forcade had worked with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s, and some say he had ties to its terrorist faction, the Weathermen. By 1970 he emerged as a Yippie.
Most Americans who opposed the war in Vietnam did it in a law-abiding manner. A few became anti-war guerrillas, and many of those ended up in prison or dead. The Yippies chose a third means of protest: ridicule. They dressed in Uncle Sam suits, threw pies instead of bombs, and in 1968 ran a pig for president, on the theory that he was a better man than Nixon or Humphrey. The Yippies were, among other things, brilliant media manipulators who understood that if you threw a brick at a politician you would be put in jail, but if you threw a pie at him you would be put on the evening news.
Forcade first won national attention in 1970, when he testified on behalf of the Underground Press Syndicate before a congressional commission on pornography. Dressed in black, as a priest, he accused the commission of "a blatant McCarthyesque witchhunt." When a commissioner objected, Forcade shouted, "The only obscenity is censorship," and threw a pie in his face, thus inaugurating the Yippie custom of pieing political antagonists.
Stroup first met Forcade in Miami Beach in 1972, where the Yippies were demonstrating against both Nixon and McGovern. Besides leading an anti-Nixon piss-in and assorted riots, Forcade was engaged in an intra-Yippie power struggle. He denounced the Yippie's founding fathers, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, as too old, and they in turn denounced Forcade as a government agent. In Yippiedom no proof was needed, only an interesting allegation, and the charge haunted Forcade for years, even after he was indicted for conspiracy to firebomb the Republican convention.
In the summer of 1974, after the conspiracy charge was dropped, Forcade pulled together $12,000, from friends and from a drug deal, and put out the first issue of High Times. Twenty-five thousand copies were sold in a week. Like Hefner before him, Forcade had seen a magazine audience that no one else knew existed: hard-core drug users, in Forcade's case. His magazine soon became slick and well edited. New York Times reporters sometimes wrote for it under pseudonyms. Its model was Playboy, but its obsession was not sex and its centerfolds featured ripe marijuana plants instead of ripe young women. Soon several hundred thousand copies were being sold each month and advertising was pouring in, mostly from the drug-paraphernalia industry. The magazine's success came about despite the fact that for most of its first year, Forcade was running it from his hideout in a flophouse, where he was avoiding a subpoena in a drug case. But having a fugitive publisher could not stop High Times: It was a magazine whose time had come.
Forcade called Stroup when he was starting High Times and asked if it might be possible to get an interview with John Finlator. Stroup arranged an interview and later, when he was in New York, went by the High Times offices to meet its editors. They arranged for him to visit Forcade in the flophouse. He found Forcade in a tiny room with no phone or electricity, but, typically, the publisher had several ounces of the finest Colombian, which he was eager to share.
"I never met a drug I didn't like," Forcade liked to say, and in truth he was a prodigious drug user. He once described the early days at his magazine thusly: "Walking through the offices of High Times was like going through the midway in a sleazy carnival. There were people with pills in one room, grass in another, coke in another room, nitrous in the next room, glue in another room, and so on down the hall."
One of Forcade's favorite drugs was nitrous oxide. This is the "laughing gas" that dentists give their patients, but dentists limit its strength and Forcade did not. He usually had a tank of it at hand, and at his parties people would fill High Times balloons with the gas and walk about inhaling it. It is a drug that takes people deep into themselvesan astral high, Stroup calls itand it contributed to Forcade's habit of sitting alone with his thoughts at parties, ignoring everyone and everything around him. He also loved marijuana, which he saw as a kind of vitamin. "Most people walk around with a marijuana deficiency," he would say. He didn't much like cocaine, but kept it around for his friends, and he took Quaaludes when he was depressed, which was often, because Forcade saw DEA and CIA plots everywhere. He was never able to reconcile his paranoia with the fact that he was getting rich publishing a pro-drug magazine.
Even after he became a publisher, he remained a smuggler, so his basic editorial philosophy was pro-smuggling. Just as Stroup believed that smokers had a right to smoke in peace, Forcade believed smugglers had a right to smuggle in peace. He was proud of being a smuggler, and he was fond of saying "There are only two kinds of dealers, those who need forklifts and those who don't." Forcade needed a forklift.
His friend Craig Copetas viewed Forcade as an honest, righteous smuggler in a business turning increasingly dishonest and violent. Copetas has said of Forcade, "Not a seed entered this country without Tom knowing about it," and he tells a story that suggests how close the publisher kept to the smuggling scene.
Copetas was at the High Times offices and was in touch by ham radio with some smugglers who were loading three freighters on a beach in Colombia. Coast Guard planes zoomed down from the sky and began firing. The smugglers fired back. Over the ham-radio hookup, Copetas, safe in New York, could hear the crackle of gunfire and his friend's desperate cry: "They're still firing.... We're carrying our wounded into the jungle.... We need help...."
Copetas rushed into Forcade's office to tell him what was happening. "There were tears in his eyes," Copetas recalls. "He said, 'Craig, hire a planeI don't care what it costsand get our people off that beach."'
It was a scene from a John Wayne movie, Fighting Leathernecks, perhaps. "Come on, Marines, we've got to get those men out of there"except that John Wayne was a pale, intense little man with long hair and dark glasses, dressed all in black, who believed that the CIA and DEA were trying to destroy him.
Stroup liked Forcadehe admired his creativity and enjoyed his crazinessand Forcade respected Stroup's political efforts on behalf of the drug culture. They became friends, and Forcade agreed to publish a free NORML ad each month. Soon those ads were bringing in donations of about $1000 a week. Twelve High Times ads a year brought in about as much money as the two ads Playboy was running each year, and Stroup always told Forcade he was doing more for NORML than Hefner was. That was not necessarily trueit depended on how you figured itbut he knew how it pleased Forcade, who liked to see himself as the new Hefner.
Stroup was criticized by conservative members of NORML'S board for his alliance with High Times, but he didn't see how he could turn down $50,000 a year just because it came from a magazine for dopers. Stroup's friendship with Forcade meant that Forcade's Yippie friends sometimes showed up at NORML'S office. Stroup would try to talk politics with them, but a political discussion with Yippies always began with conspiracy theories and ended with everyone stoned. Stroup was glad to have the good will of the Yips. Previously they had denounced him, called him a government agent, and picketed television stations where he was being interviewed, on the theory that they were the true spokesmen for America's marijuana smokers. As Stroup saw it, it was better to have them inside his office getting stoned than outside denouncing him.
Forcade never asked for anything in return for his support. Sometimes he would grumble that NORML should champion the marijuana smuggler as well as the smoker, but Stroup insisted that he couldn't function politically if his opponents could accuse him of being a front for smugglers, which they did anyway, as NORML'S ties to High Times became known.
The question of accepting money from smugglers came up in 1975 when a San Francisco lawyer told Stroup he had clients, major marijuana growers, who wanted to donate several hundred thousand dollars a year to NORML. Stroup was suspicious. On the one hand, he feared it might be some kind of government effort to entrap him. On the other hand, he feared that if he took the money and it really was from dealers, the dealers might turn up at his office one day armed with baseball bats and announce they were NORML'S new policy committee. So, reluctantly, he turned down the money.
He did not always turn down mysterious donations. In the summer of 1976 he was given $10,000 in cash. A note attached to the money said it came from "The Confederation," an alliance of marijuana growers and distributors. Forcade's friends said later that Forcade, knowing NORML needed money, made the donation in hopes of shaming other drug dealers into supporting NORML.
Stroup, with the $10,000 in hand, might have simply put it into the bank, but he decided instead to turn the windfall into a media event. He called reporters in, spread the money out across his desk for photographers, and declared that the money might be some sort of government setup and he had therefore summoned the media to show he had nothing to hide. It didn't make much sense, but it was a slow news day and Stroup wound up with $10,000 and national publicity as well.
Forcade was the mastermind behind the annual Fourth of July Yippie smoke-in in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. Stroup had for years refused invitations to speak at the smoke-in. It was the sort of crazy hippie stunt he thought not in keeping with NORML'S middle-class image. Forcade loved the smoke-in, however, and in time he changed Stroup's thinking on it. If there were several thousand people in America who worshipped marijuana, who smoked it constantly, and who were willing to travel to Washington at their own expense to demonstrate for its legalization, Stroup reasoned, then perhaps he should not ignore them. Stroup thus agreed to speak at the 1977 smoke-in, and also to handle the negotiations leading up to it. The Yippies had never bothered to get a permit, but Stroup decided that if he was to speak, the demonstration should at least be legal. He therefore met with representatives of the Park Police, the Secret Service, and the District of Columbia police.
"Is there going to be marijuana-smoking at this thing?" a Park Police official demanded indignantly.
"Jesus Christ, man, it's a smoke-in," Stroup said. 'What do you think they're going to do?"
The smoke-in went off uneventfully. Stroup and others spoke, bands played, joints circulated, and the only way a Yippie could get himself arrested was to scale the White House fence, which some did. Stroup felt he'd helped legitimize the smoke-in, and he was glad to do that favor for Forcade. He took some heat inside NORML for being involved, but he thought it was well worth it in exchange for Forcade's continued support.
To Stroup, it was all part of the coalition-building process. He worked with Tom Bryant on the right and with Tom Forcade on the left. As far as the Yips were concerned, he agreed with Lyndon Johnson that it's better to have people "inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in." What Stroup did not fully appreciate was that the Yippies, let inside the tent, might keep right on pissing in. He would learn this later, and it would be a costly lesson.
By the mid-1970s Stroup could relax a bit. NORML'S early struggles were over; the pot lobby was increasingly solvent and respected, and its founder ("the John L. Lewis of the marijuana movement," New Times called him) enjoyed ever-growing celebrity. The reform movement's successes had transformed Stroup from a political curiosity to a political star. He was on the Tom Snyder show, the Phil Donahue show, the Geraldo Rivera show (Rivera joined NORML'S advisory board), and he was the subject of countless newspaper and magazine articles, even a Playboy interview. Stroup liked running NORML, heading a national organization, playing political chess with all of America as his chessboard. He had taken up the smokers' cause because he was looking for an issue, a good horse to ride; it could have been jail reform or saving the whales. But as the years passed, he had come to take the issue very seriously, very personally. He defined himself as a smoker, a member of an oppressed minority. Since childhood he had sought social acceptance, and it outraged him that boozers passed laws against smokers, treated them as second-class citizens. He identified, in this regard, with the gay activists; for Stroup, it wasn't enough for the larger society to say "Okay, we'll stop putting you characters in jail." He wanted to force society to say "Yes, your life-style is just as good as ours." And of course that was what America would never say.
He had, over the decade, become more and more candid about his own smoking. He had come out of the closet, so to speak. In the early days he minimized the emphasis on his smoking, but by mid-decade Stroup would confront a hostile legislature by saying, "Gentlemen, I've been a daily marijuana smoker for years," as if defying his opponents to match wits with him, if they really believed the weed rotted men's brains.
The mid-1970s was a good time for Stroup and NORML. The paranoia of the early 1970s was gone, and the anti-marijuana reaction of the late 1970s was still to come, unforeseen. There were still many arrests, still many outrages, still many battles to fight, but the new national mood that had begun with Nixon's banishment seemed to have taken root across the land. Reform was popular; reformers were respectable. There were endless signs of this. Down in Louisiana, the NORML chapter had rented billboards outside New Orleans to put across its message: SHOULD PEOPLE WHO USE MARIJUANA GO TO JAIL? CALL YOUR STATE LEGISLATOR! In Washington, Bob DuPont was saying that cultivation of marijuana for personal use should be decriminalized and that alcohol and tobacco were without question bigger health hazards than marijuana. The opposition seemed mostly to be cranks, bitter-enders like Ed Davis, who was warning that cultivation would lead to "two-year-old addicts" who would become hooked by eating leaves off the marijuana plants their parents were growing.
In Washington, Sens. Phil Hart and Jacob Javits had joined NORML'S advisory board, along with Sheriff Richard Hongisto, of San Francisco, and one representative said that if smokers were disqualified from membership in Congress, "they wouldn't be able to raise a quorum." John Denver and Mary Tyler Moore, perhaps the most wholesome man and woman in America, had declared that they smoked; Moore said she considered marijuana no more dangerous than her pre-dinner martini. The bar association of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Little Rock, Arkansas, went on record for decriminalization, as did the Democratic party of New Mexico, and a government report acknowledged that alcohol was the most serious drug problem in the U.S. Army. Throughout the spring of 1976, Stroup kept busy flying to the fund-raising parties that NORML chapters were giving around the country: a showing of Reefer Madness in Phoenix, a dinner dance in Philadelphia, concerts in Atlanta and Milwaukee events that were almost as decorous as Jaycees banquets. Smoking and smokers were out of the closet and into the mainstream, or so it seemed.
Stroup rushed about America, buoyed by the new national mood, higher on the sweet wine of political success than he would ever be on drugs, fighting the good fight and having plenty of good times in the process. Craig Copetas, his frequent companion in those days, recalled, "There was a great intensity to our lives then. It was a time of serious work and serious play. Keith's commitment was fantastic. To get some kid out of jail he'd go for three days without sleep, calling reporters, hounding judges, yelling at cops, whatever it took. But the work was so depressing that you had to go out and blow your mind sometimes."
Copetas recalls a time when he and Stroup were flying first-class and built themselves a tent of blankets to smoke under, explaining to the stewardess that they wanted privacy as she passed food into their smoky cave. (Stroup eventually began smoking openly when he flew, and no one seemed to know or care, except for an occasional stewardess who would say, "I can't believe you're doing that!" and then smile and ignore him.) There was another time, at a NORML conference, when Copetas and Hunter Thompson were on a hotel balcony shooting Secret Service flares at cats down in the alley, and another time when Forcade poured long lines of cocaine around the tile floor of his hotel bathroom and some people were crawling around on all fours, snorting madly, like dogs following a scent. Forcade's parties were the most insane of all. He would rent a nightclub and invite hundreds of peoplethe High Times crowd, the dealers, the Yippies, the punk-rock crowd, the Andy Warhol crowd, the transvestites, every freak in New Yorkand the ballroom would be filled with tanks of nitrous oxide and stoned people wandering around breathing in and out of balloons.
It was at Forcade's party in New York in July of 1976, during the Democratic convention that nominated Jimmy Carter, that Stroup first met Margo St. James, the head of COYOTE (Cast Off Your Old Tired Ethics), the prostitutes' lobby, and several of her young activists, and a NORML-COYOTE alliance was proclaimed and vigorously consummated.
High times, indeed, but there was an irony to all this that escaped the revelers. They had rejected their Middle American roots. They scorned the whiskey culture they had left behind, and yet as they fired flares from hotel windows and cavorted with prostitutes, they resembled nothing so much as drunken Legionnaires at a convention, the only difference being that their drug of choice was the Killer Weed, whereas the Legionnaires were true to the Demon Rum.
Still, there was always work, serious work. Stroup's life sometimes seemed poised between the chemical madness of the drug culture and the legal madness of the world outside. One morning in July of 1976 he took a call from a young man who said his name was Jerry Mitchell and that he was in jail in Missouri.
"I called Playboy and they told me to call you," Mitchell said. "I want you to be my lawyer. You've got to help me. The judge sentenced me to twelve years for selling a guy five dollars' worth of marijuana. My parents are blind and they need me."
"Don't you have a lawyer?" Stroup asked.
"He told me to plead guilty. I want NORML to represent me."
"I'll be there tomorrow," Stroup promised, and thus began NORML'S most publicized case.
Jerry Mitchell had just graduated from high school, where he'd been a member of the student council, in the little southwestern Missouri town of West Plains, not far from the Arkansas border. He was a somewhat unusual young man for West Plains. He read a lot, was interested in philosophy, wore his hair shoulder-length, had been opposed to the war in Vietnam, liked rock music, and planned to go to college and study political science and then become a lawyer. He was also a marijuana smoker. That fact had come to the community's attention a few months earlier when he'd been arrested for possession. He'd gone before Circuit Judge Winston Buford and been given a suspended sentence. Unfortunately, he'd continued to smoke, and one night in August of 1975 an old friend had come by with another man, a man Mitchell didn't know. They drove around and smoked three joints, and at the end of the evening the stranger asked Mitchell if he could buy the rest of his marijuana. Mitchell gave him a third of an ounce for $5. Later, the man came back and asked if Mitchell could sell him a pound. Mitchell didn't have a pound, but he took the man to meet someone else who did.
The stranger turned out to be a highway-patrol undercover agent, and Mitchell was arrested on two charges: one for selling the third of an ounce, one for selling the pound. Mitchell hired a lawyer from St. Louis, who entered into plea-bargaining with the prosecutor. As a result, Mitchell pleaded guilty to the lesser charge, and the larger one was dropped. Two months later Mitchell went before Judge Buford for sentencing. His St. Louis lawyer did not attend; he sent another lawyer who was unfamiliar with the case. Mitchell was not too worried. All the courthouse regulars told him he'd get probation or maybe a few weekends in jail. When the judge asked Mitchell if he had anything to say for himself, Mitchell said he did not. The judge then declared, "A pusher of an unlawful substance has the means to poison the whole community," and sentenced Mitchell to twelve years in prison.
The nineteen-year-old Mitchell, stunned, broke into tears. His blind parents wept, too, as they heard the sentence. Betty Mitchell had been blind since birth, and Roy Mitchell had been blind for six years.
Mitchell begged for mercy, saying his parents needed him. Judge Buford said he should have thought of his parents before he became a drug dealer. His lawyer didn't ask for bond, so Mitchell was taken off to jail. A few days later, realizing that the media might be his court of last resort, Mitchell called Playboy, Rolling Stone, and High Times, asking for help. Someone at Playboy told him to call NORML.
Stroup flew to St. Louis, where he was joined by Mike Stepanian, from San Francisco, whom he'd called for help because he considered him one of the best drug lawyers in America. They were joined by Bill Helmer, who edited the Playboy feature called "Forum," which often publicized particularly outrageous drug sentences. The lawyers' first step was to talk to Mitchell's original lawyer and to read the record of the case. They wanted to find out what had gone wrong, why a judge had given such a sentence. Obviously, Mitchell's involvement in the sale of a pound of marijuana was a factor. In theory, that case was not before the court. In reality, both the judge and the community were very aware of it. Mitchell's was the first case of a drug pusher in the county's history. A reading of the record made another problem clear: Mitchell had stood mute, saying nothing in his own defense, not even prior to sentencing.
Stroup and Stepanian went to see Mitchell in the county jail and asked him why he hadn't said he was sorry and asked for mercy. Because his lawyer had told him to remain silent, he said. He'd been scared and confused, and so he'd said nothing, and in the process had made the judge think he was hostile, unrepentant. He was a soft-spoken, intelligent boy who would have made a good witness in his own behalf.
The lawyers next went to see the prosecutor, who was sympathetic and said he would not resist a reduction in the sentence.
Finally, Stroup and Stepanian went to see the judge in his chambers. It was a delicate confrontation. Judge Buford was not the ignorant hillbilly they had expectedhe was articulate and intelligentbut he was indignant. "Who are you people and where did you come from and who's paying you?" he demanded. They explained that they were from an organization that believed marijuana smokers should not go to jail, that they were representing Mitchell, and that they would receive no pay for their efforts. An hour-and-a-half meeting followed, one in which several things were happening. While Stroup and Stepanian were trying to make friends with the judge, to persuade him they were sincere, well-intentioned people, they were also trying to intimidate him, to make him think they represented powerful forces that were coming to the aid of Jerry Mitchell. In fact, as they became friendly, the judge confessed that the presence of the Playboy reporter in West Plains had started rumors that Hugh Hefner was going to fly in Playboy's lawyers in the Big Bunny.
The judge also told them, as the talk grew candid, that they should not try to paint Mitchell as an innocent ladthat he knew Mitchell was a pusher. "Judge, I know he's a smoker," Stroup said. "I'm a smoker, too. But someone who sells an ounce to a friend for no profit is not what most people consider a pusher." The judge also said that the possible sentence for drug dealing was five years to life, and many members of the community felt he'd been too soft, not too hard, on this young drug dealer. But he hinted that he might consider a reduction in the sentence, and then the three of them left his chambers and went to court.
The NORML lawyers said they wished to enter a motion for a reduction of sentence. The judge said he would entertain such a motion. Mitchell was brought in and given a chance to speak. He said he'd been confused before, that he was sorry for what he'd done and the pain he'd caused his parents, and that he appealed to the court for mercy.
Judge Buford declared that he now saw a "ray of hope" for the boy, and he would therefore reduce his sentence from twelve years to seven.
Overjoyed, the NORML lawyers asked that Mitchell be released on bond, pending appeal, and the judge agreed. The bond was set at what it had been before the conviction. (Mitchell's parents had mortgaged their small house as surety that their son would not flee from justice.)
Stroup and Stepanian went to the jail and personally escorted Mitchell out. It was exhilarating for them both, to have come into a small rural community, to have established contact with the prosecutor and the judge, and to have freed the boy from jail and got five years taken off his sentence. Still, they knew there was a long fight ahead. Stroup's next move was to contact a first-rate lawyer in Kansas City, Howard Eisberg, who was a member of NORML's national legal committee, and to arrange for him to handle Mitchell's appeal. Eisberg took the case pro bonoNORML and the Playboy Foundation paid his travel expensesand while the appeals dragged on, Mitchell enrolled in Southeastern Missouri State College. It would be two years before his case burst into public view once more.
Despite all the successes, all the celebrity, all the parties and the glitter, there was another, darker side of Stroup's life. He was broke, uncertain of his futurehis home a tiny room above his officeliving under constant pressure, both emotional and financial. Money was an endless concern. His salary went down instead of up, as he and others at NORML took pay cuts during financial crises. In 1976, when the government tried to collect some $15,000 Stroup owed it for college loans, he filed bankruptcy, and the government was forced to settle for his watch and his bicyclehis only assetswhich it then sold back to him for half price.
Money was a source of constant friction between him and Kelly. After their separation she had got a Montessori teaching degree. Then she decided she didn't want to teachthat, once more, she was only doing what society said women should doand she returned to college to study film-making. After he filed for bankruptcy, Stroup sought a reduction in his child-support payments, but a woman judge not only ruled in Kelly's favor but gave him a dressing down in the process. Furious, Stroup walked the twenty blocks back to his office, trying to work off his anger. But, soon after he arrived, Kelly came to pick up Lindsey. It seemed to Stroup that she was gloating, rubbing it in, and he went berserk, grabbed her by the throat, pushed her up against a wall, and was brought to his senses only by his daughter's horrified screams.
Another time, he went to National Airport to fly to a lecture date, but the airline ticket agent informed him that his credit card had been canceled, so he had no choice but to return to his office. He encountered a friend there, and they chatted casually enough, but when he got a call through to his lecture agent, whom he blamed for his humiliation, he began screaming at him, cursing wildly, red-faced, out of control. It was the other side of Stroup's cool, confident posethe pent-up frustration of a man who was living at the edge.
Besides the financial and political worries, there was the constant pressure of being at the cutting edge of an issue that aroused violent passions. He was often in hostile situations, confronting anti-reform legislators, parents who thought he wanted to destroy their children, anti-marijuana scientists who felt he had slandered their professional achievements. For every smoker who thought Stroup was a hero, there was a mother somewhere who thought he was the devil incarnate. Dealing with his enemies was exhausting, and so, too, in a different way, was dealing with his supporters. He traveled about the country, appearing at fund-raisers, speaking at colleges, meeting with local chapters, and he was always expected to be the star, to provide energy that he didn't always have.
Stroup sought relief from the pressure in several ways. His closest friend was his daughter, Lindsey, who spent some weekends with him. She was all the family he had, and he was never happier than when they could get away together, perhaps to take his van and camp out at a country-music festival for a weekend. When he was depressed, he would tell her she must be ashamed of him, that her friends must think he was some kind of criminal, and she would hug him and tell him it was all right. In fact, he knew she had been upset when she was younger, had feared the police would take him away, but as she grew older, she came to accept his work, and he was never more proud than when at age ten or so, she told him she wanted him to come to her school and tell the other kids about his work. "About being a lawyer?" he asked. "No," she said, "about NORML."
There were women, of course, but for most of the decade his relationships with women were more distinguished for quantity than for quality.
One evening Stroup was making love with a woman in the Jacuzzi at the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles. It was in a kind of cove or grotto, designed to be one of the most erotic spots in the world. You swam in under a waterfall; there were jets of warm water, colored lights, gentle music, and a ledge equipped with soft cushions, thick towels, an assortment of body oils. It was also supposed to be private, but Stroup noticed someone appear briefly at the entrance. Stroup thought it was Hefner, and, sure enough, when he saw Hefner back inside the mansion a little later, playing backgammon with his cronies, the publisher called out, "Well, Keith, I'm glad to know you're heterosexual."
It was a joke of sorts. Hefner knew of Stroup's affairs with several women in the Playboy world. Still, by the standards of the mansion, Stroup was rather puritanical. While other men were trying to hit on the Bunnies, Stroup was trying to hit on potential contributors to NORML.
Throughout his years at NORML, Stroup avoided entanglements with women. Although this was due in part to his obsession with his work, it had mostly to do with his fear of being hurt. When he separated from his wife, he cried for days and avoided women for months, resenting them, fearing them. And a bitter divorce added to his determination not to let himself be vulnerable again. Sex was fine, but nothing more. Typically, he would work at his office until nine or ten o'clock, then call some woman, perhaps one he'd just met, and ask if she wanted to come smoke a joint. If she came, the chances were they'd wind up upstairs in his little bedroom; then, when the sex was over, he'd go back down to his office and return to work, leaving the woman to get the hint and go home. Or, if Stroup had gone to the woman's place, he would leave after the lovemaking. He didn't like to wake up with women; the morning-after scenes were too seductive. Better to have your fun, then hurry back to the safety of work. Once, in the mid-1970s, he was seeing a tall, sophisticated blonde who shared his fascination with sex, drugs, and politics. He started spending a lot of time at her Georgetown apartment, and one night she asked if he'd like to move in. She might as well have put a gun to his head. He soon stopped seeing her.
Finally, there were drugs.
Stroup smoked more or less constantly. There were certain important things he would not do high: go to court, give an important interview. But he believed he could do routine office work just as well high as not. He felt that marijuana focused his attention, energized him, and provided a certain valuable introspection. When he was under pressure, he sometimes smoked his first joint upon arising, and some mornings, when he was irritable and ill-humored, his secretaries wished he would hurry and smoke his first one. He disliked comparing his drug use with other people's alcohol use, but after appearing before a hostile legislative panel, he would unwind with a joint or two the way another lobbyist might unwind with a couple of stiff drinks.
He had tried almost every drug, but marijuana remained his favorite. He viewed it as a drug you could integrate with a productive life, in a way that you could not alcohol or cocaine or hallucinogens. He used a good deal of cocaine in the latter part of the decade, and he thought that in moderation it was a fine drug, with a fascinating high. But moderation was not his strongest point, and he knew that too much cocaine left you jumpy and depressed. He remained a marijuana smoker, as other men are committed to beer or wine or dry martinis.
Stroup always insisted that he used drugs for fun, not because he was addicted to them or to meet any deep personal needs. "I can do without drugs," he would say. "I just don't want to." Still, it was difficult to know Stroup and not think he had at least a psychological addiction to drugs. They clearly had become essential to his self-image, and they were also a kind of sedation, a way he dealt with the pressures of his life, both from without and within. For all his talent and success, Stroup seemed to have, very near his core, a large measure of insecurity. He needed the constant activity, the phone calls, the publicity, the one-night stands, the Mr. NORML persona, to give him constant reassurance of his own worth. It is not an uncommon symptom in Washington, of course; insecurity, a desire to prove himself, to show those bastards back home, has driven many a man to political success, even to the White House.
There was also in him an uncertainty as to whether he wanted to be outsider or insider, rebel or respectable citizen. His Jekyll-and-Hyde quality contributed to his success at NORML, made it possible for him to move between the drug culture and the corridors of power, but it was a difficult balancing act to maintain. All politicians want to be all things to all men, but at some point you have to come down on one side or another.
Stroup came down, was forced to define himself, when the Carter administration came to power. It had been easy enough to deal with the Nixon administration: You opposed it, which took courage, anger, audacity, but not great subtlety. But with the coming of Carter the game became more complicated, because it was a game, played by experts, with the prospect of winning some points and losing others. He had cheered Carter's march to the White House, and not only because Carter supported decriminalization. It was more than policy; it was cultural. Carter and his people were from small towns, were Baptists, were hillbillies. Fine, so was he. The younger ones liked to smoke dope and listen to Willie Nelson. Fine, so did he.
Stroup, like a lot of people, let his guard down, let himself expect too much of the smiling Georgian. Soon he would think he had been wrong, tricked, that Carter, too, had rejected him. Predictably, he took the rebuff very personally, lashed back angrily, hurt himself and others, and in the process defined himself, permanently, as an outsider.