As1972 began Stroup had big money from Playboy and big plans to go with it. One of his first decisions was to move NORML'S office from the basement of his home to a rundown row house a block away, in the middle of a restaurant's parking lot on Twenty-second Street. He opened two new offices, too. One, in New York City, was headed by the tall, likable Guy Archer, who had left his Wall Street law firm to work with NORML. The other, in Phoenix, was run by a short, energetic drug dealer who vowed he had given up dealing in order to work for legalization.
There was movement on the political front. Two other reform groupsBLOSSOM, in Washington State, and Amorphia, in Californiawere determined to put pro-marijuana initiatives on the ballot in their states, and Stroup had to decide how NORML should relate to them. Moreover, the Marijuana Commission's report, due in March, was rumored to be favorable, and Stroup hoped it would set off a national election-year debate on marijuana. Then, if a Democrat could beat Nixon in November, the revolution might be at hand.
Such were the fantasies as 1972 began. The reality was that Stroup and his closest friends, Larry Schott and Larry Dubois, had entered a period of drug use that was both destructive to their personal lives and harmful to their work with NORML. They had begun using hallucinogenic drugs, particularly MDA, a substance developed by Dow Chemical Company and produced illegally in clandestine laboratories.
Stroup was introduced to MDA by Dr. Andrew Weil, a twenty-eight-year-old Harvard-trained expert on mind-altering drugs. Weil had studied drugs in Haight-Ashbury, at the National Institute of Mental Health, and in such places as the Amazon basin, where he investigated tribal drug use. When he met Stroup at a Marijuana Commission hearing in mid-1971, he was working on a book called, The Natural Mind: A New Way of Looking at Drugs and the Higher Consciousness, wherein he argued, among other things, that "stoned thinking" was superior to "straight thinking."
Weil, who was living in the Washington area, called Stroup and invited him and Kelly to dinner. Their talk soon focused on hallucinogens, or "psychedelics," such as MDA, LSD, and mescaline, and what Weil saw as their mind-expanding qualities. Stroup had heard all these "higher consciousness" arguments before from freaks he had met in his travels, but to hear them now, from this very sophisticated, articulate, Harvard-trained scientist, was far more impressive.
Weil stressed that the hallucinogenic experience would help Stroup in his work, and he added that he had a friend at Harvard who could supply some excellent MDA. Stroup, never shy about new drug experiences, was soon on a plane to Boston. He spent an evening with Weil's friend, a chemist who was making large quantities of MDA. The chemist was impressed to meet Stroup, having read about him in Playboy, and he showed him around his lab and told him about a problem he'd had recently. There is a point in the production of MDA when the mixture is highly explosive, and the chemist's lab had blown up. That was bad enough, but then the FBI, thinking that radicals were starting to bomb the Harvard campus, had swarmed over the damaged lab, causing widespread panic among Harvard's MDA-tripping community. As it turned out, the FBI never discerned the true nature of the blast, and the lab was soon back in production. When Stroup returned to Washington, he took with him several hundred tabs of MDA, enough to keep him and his friends in outer space for months.
Stroup was curious about the hallucinogens and saw them as a natural step up from marijuana. By then, marijuana was part of his daily life. It relaxed him, it was fun, but it was no big thing: It was the equivalent of a couple of beers at the end of the day. MDA was not a couple of beers. Once you swallowed the little pink pill, you were gone for eight hours; you were on the bus and there was no getting oŁ The first rush could be frightening, but after that the drug was mind-expanding, or so it seemed. Music, for example, became more intense, more meaningful, far more so than with marijuana. MDA brought a sense of intimacy, a sense of community. You became intensely interested in the people you were with. You wanted to know all about them, and so you talked a mile a minute, seeking communication, seeking understanding. Your ego seemed to fade away, you cared more about others than about yourself, you saw the unimportance of the individual in the universe.
MDA was an immediate sensation with Stroup and his friends, one of whom, after his first trip, proposed that they fly immediately to Cambridge and buy up the chemist's entire supply and put it in a bank vault, lest they run out of this priceless substance.
Stroup and Dubois and their wives, Schott, and two or three other couples, close friends of theirs, began to make MDA-tripping the center of their lives. On weekends they would gather at someone's house and get high and listen to records and sip endless soft drinks, because MDA made you so thirsty. Or they would go outdoors. There was an urge to be outdoors when you were tripping, to climb mountains, to get close to God, and since there were no mountains nearby, they would go wander through Rock Creek Park or sit by the Potomac for hours, watching the sea gulls.
Once they went to a ballet at the Kennedy Center while they were tripping. Stroup, very high, felt himself become a part of the dance, caught up in the syncopation, but when the intermission came and the audience got up, he freaked out, because it seemed that they were all part of the dance, everyone but himself. He ran out of the theater, racing across streets, oblivious of traffic, and he might have been killed if one of his friends hadn't caught up with him.
His work was affected. After a weekend of tripping he would be irritable, depressed, and later he felt that his judgment had been impaired by the drug. Once, starting off on a trip to another city, Stroup bought himself a pair of high-heeled, three-toned shoes. The purchase seemed perfectly logical at the time, but later he thought it was crazy. What was a middle-class reformer doing turning up at a meeting in pimp shoes? Worse, Stroup never got around to arranging to testify before the Democratic Platform Committee that spring, simply because he was too incapacitated by MDA to do his job.
But the worst, most destructive part of it was the sex. MDA was the aphrodisiac of drugs; it was often called the "love drug." The sense of intimacy it created led inevitably to sex. Moreover, it created a sense of community, of sharing, of new relationships, that could lead to great complications. There was talk among Stroup and his friends of living together communally. They never did that, but as 1972 progressed, there were far too many instances of one friend ending up in bed with another friend's mate. It all seemed fine when you were tripping, but when you came down, you faced the reality of guilt, anger, broken friendships, collapsing marriages. Stroup's period of heavy tripping lasted a year, and when it was over, he had come to view hallucinogenic drugs with sharply divided emotions. He thought, on the one hand, that they could be useful, broadening. In later years he always thought he could spot people who had tripped, as they tended to be introspective, relaxed, not hung up on rigid rules and concepts. On the other hand he saw hallucinogens as having great potential for abuse, and he thought he and his friends had tripped far more than was good for them.
He also tried LSD for the first time that winter. He'd gone to Lehigh University to make a speech, and after his speech he went back to a fraternity house where he was to spend the night. He was playing pinball when a boy offered him a tab of LSD. Stroup laughed, thinking that frat-house life had certainly changed since his day, and swallowed the tab. Soon he was caught up in the worst drug experience of his life.
An LSD trip, Stroup came to think, could be a good, useful experience, if you undertook it with a friend who could guide you through it, reassure you so that when the walls started to melt or a tree started to attack you, your friend could remind you that it was only the acid, that you hadn't really lost your mind. Unfortunately, Stroup had no such guide on his first acid trip. The fraternity boys were either tripping themselves or indifferent to his plight, so he spent the night in the basement, seeing the walls close in, not sure who he was or where he was, thinking he was dying, thinking he was dead, thinking he had lost his mind, suffering all the agonies of a very bad trip. By morning he had come down enough to catch his plane back to Washington, but he wanted no more of LSD, at least not for a while.
For better or worse, Stroup was still running NORML, and one of his prime concerns in those days was how he should relate to the various other reform groups that were scattered around the country. There were quite a few of them, often with wonderful acronyms: BLOSSOM (Basic Liberation of Smokers and Sympathizers of Marijuana), CAMP (Committee Against Marijuana Prohibition), CALM (Citizens Association to Legalize Marijuana), COME (Committee on Marijuana Education), POT (Proposition of Today), SLAM (Society for the Legalization and Acceptance of Marijuana), MELO (Marijuana Education and Legalization Organization), and STASH (Student Association for the Study of Hallucinogens).
From the first, Stroup sought out such groups. He wanted to know them, wanted to exchange ideas with them, and of course he wanted NORML to emerge as their national leader. For the most part Stroup found these groups to be composed of freaks, hard-core smokers, people who viewed smoking as a sacrament, people who might be kind and well-meaning but who, politically speaking, were still living in the Stone Age.
One such group, which Stroup worked with in early 1972, was BLOSSOM, in Washington State. A legalization bill had been introduced in the Washington legislature in 1970, but its sponsor was unable even to find a cosponsor for it. It was in the aftermath of this legislative disaster, in December of 1970, that BLOSSOM was formed. Its leader was a big, bearded mountain man named Steve Wilcox, who wrote to Stroup in April of 1971, as soon as he read about NORML in Playboy. Wilcox and six or eight followers were living a communal life in some cabins beside a lake outside Olympia. Convinced that marijuana could save a world gone mad, frustrated by the legislative defeat, Wilcox and his friends dreamed of a legislative initiative on the 1972 ballot. They filed official notice of their intent early that year and had to submit the signatures of 102,000 registered voters by July 7 in order to get the initiative on the November ballot.
Voter initiatives are provided for in the constitutions of more than twenty states. In theory they are a way for people to bypass a balky legislature and make law themselves. The voter initiative seemed ready-made for marijuana's true believers, who tended to talk only to themselves and thus to think there was vast (the pun is unavoidable) grass-roots support for legalization, waiting only to be proved by a direct vote.
In state after state Stroup argued against the initiative approach, and in state after state he thus made himself suspect to hard-core smokers. Stroup began with the assumption that there was no state where a majority of voters favored legal marijuana. It seemed to him that if you lost your initiative, you were at a political dead end. If you went back to the legislature, your opponents could say, with some logic, Forget it; the people have spoken.
As Stroup saw it, to win an initiative, even at best, would require a huge outlay of money on advertising and public education, and that sort of money was not available. Logic demanded a legislative strategy. In a legislature you only had to persuade, say, two hundred men, not millions of voters, and they were politicians who perhaps could be reached by some combination of reason and pressure. In any event, you could keep going back to a legislature, year after year, picking up a few more votes each time, until you had your majority.
The real difference between Stroup and the freaks was their timetables. Stroup was braced for the long haul. The freaks, living on the edge, in despair, in fear of arrest, wanted to gamble everything on one roll of the dice.
Stroup made his first of several trips to visit the BLOSSOM people in the spring of 1972. Wilcox and his friends met him at the airport, and soon they were pressing their best weed on him. That was a ritual he encountered almost everywhere he went, and he was never entirely comfortable with it. It was always possible that his new friends with their "special stash" might attract the policeor, for that matter, might be the police. But Stroup always smoked with them. He had to, to prove he was one of them, willing to run risks with them. He and the BLOSSOM people dropped by the water-bed store that was their headquarters, then drove out to their cabin beside a lake near Olympia to spend the night. The cabin had a gorgeous view, but it lacked electricity and running water. The BLOSSOM people, who were mostly vegetarians, lived a simple life there, staying high most of the time. It was a ritual always to have at least one joint in circulation, like an eternal flame.
They talked most of the night. Stroup explained his reservations about an initiative, but the others were unconvinced. Washington is different, they insisted; the people are with us. Stroup thought Wilcox and the others were decent, well-intentioned people but hopelessly naive politically. In the long run he didn't think there was anything he could do for them, except possibly give them a little money.
The next morning, Saturday morning, Stroup got up, shaved with cold water, ate pancakes on a deck overlooking the lake, and then they all set off for the state capital, where BLOSSOM was holding a rally in support of its signature-gathering campaign. Two or three hundred students and street people were waiting there on the capitol steps, along with several watchful state troopers.
The two guest speakers at the rally were Stroup and the state legislator who'd introduced the unsuccessful legalization bill. As Wilcox introduced Mr. NORML, the Washington political celebrity who had come to back their efforts, he casually lit a joint, took a hit, and handed it to Stroup. Oh, shit, Stroup thought, I've come to a smoke-in.
Stroup assumed he would eventually be arrested on a marijuana charge. He rationalized that it would be a useful experience. A few days in jail might fire his resolve, and it might also increase his credibility with people like these. Still, he saw no reason to hasten his incarceration by smoking on the capitol steps in front of the state troopers.
But he did. He had no choice. He took a hit, grinned at the crowd, and passed the joint on. And nothing happened. The state troopers were observing that day, not making arrests. Stroup made his speech, tried to raise his audience's political consciousness, tried to make them see themselves as part of a political movement, but he didn't think he had much success.
BLOSSOM never got the 102,000 signatures. A few weeks later many of its people were arrested on marijuana charges, and thereafter their energies were directed at staying out of jail. Stroup was sorry but not surprised. He still thought initiatives were not the waymuch less smoke-insand a lot of people were going to be busted until they figured that out. A group like BLOSSOM was no threat to NORML. It was only in Amorphia that Stroup encountered a serious rival. Blair Newman, Amorphia's founder, was a brilliant and creative young man who had grown up in the Washington, D.C., area, the son of a successful real-estate woman. He dropped out of college, grew a beard, discovered hallucinogenic drugs, ran a record store, started an all-rock radio station, and by 1968 was talking about starting some sort of legalization lobby in Washington. When that didn't work out, he moved to San Francisco and began to give very serious thought to the rolling-paper business. As a businessman he saw there was a great deal of money to be made from the marijuana boom, from selling rolling papers and other paraphernalia.
Had Newman stopped there, he would have become a millionaire, as did several other young businessmen who arrived at the same conclusion at about the same time. But Newman was also interested in social change. He believed that marijuana should be legal, and it was his inspiration to create a nonprofit organization that would sell rolling papers and use the proceeds to work for legalization. He believed that smokers, given a choice, would buy his papers, knowing the profits would be used in their own interests, rather than those made by the "profiteering" paper companies.
Newman spent more than a year studying the international cigarette-paper industry, finding $16,000 in start-up money, and negotiating a contract to import papers from Spain. Once here, the papers would be put in his copyrighted Acapulco Gold packets and sold. But there was one remaining question: his credibility. Would the smokers trust him? Or would they think his "Amorphia: The Cannabis Cooperative" was just another rip-off?
Newman's very shrewd solution was to recruit Mike Aldrich to come to San Francisco and be the co-director of Amorphia. Once Aldrich agreed, Amorphia had instant credibility with LeMar's supporters, with people like Ginsberg and Leary and Sinclair, with the readers of Marijuana Review, indeed with all the radical left that concerned itself with the marijuana issue.
By late 1970, as Amorphia was starting businessand as, across the continent, Stroup was trying to figure out how to finance NORMLNewman had his long-range plan clearly in view. Amorphia's profits would go for a pro-legalization program that would include a media campaign, a news service, a speakers' bureau, court tests of marijuana laws, and expert witnesses to appear before state legislaturesa program, in short, very much like the one Stroup was proposing to Playboy. The money would be there. Newman estimated that for each 10 percent of the rolling-paper market Amorphia could seize, it would net $150,000 a year. Moreover, when marijuana became legalby 1980, Newman estimatedAmorphia could produce high-quality marijuana on communal farms, import the best foreign marijuana, and once again use the profits for social change. He estimated that the legal marijuana market would be about $3 billion a year. If Amorphia could control one sixth of that, it would gross $500 million a year, and should have a profit of $30 million a year to put into social action.
It was a bold plan, to say the least, and for a time all went well. By 1972 Amorphia's gross was something like $300,000.
Yet Amorphia was pulled in too many directions at once. It is hard enough to start any new business, and it is almost impossible when the profits, desperately needed for expansion, are given away for political action. It is difficult to start a new business, too, when its key executives spend large amounts of time tripping on psychedelic drugs. Perhaps if Newman's business skill could have been combined with Stroup's political talent, a formidable program might have emerged, but that was not to be. The movement was too small, and their egos were too big, for the two of them to work together. They would soon become bitter enemies, and the only question was which of them would force the other out of the movement.
In September of 1971, when NORML and Amorphia met at the National Student Association convention in Colorado, there was some political back-and-forth: Stroup said he was thinking of starting a California NORML; Newman said he was considering a Washington office. To fight, or to merge? An uneasy compromise was reached by December: Blair Newman moved to Washington, worked out of Stroup's basement office, and called himself co-director of Amorphia and deputy director of NORML. Both Newman and Stroup were convinced they had co-opted the other.
At about that time there was great excitement in California. The idea of a pro-legalization initiative on the 1972 ballot was spreading like wildfire.
In October a forty-year-old Foster City lawyer and law professor named Leo Paoli began to think about an initiative. He called John Kaplan, the law professor who had written The New Prohibition. Kaplan agreed to help, and suggested that Paoli also call Mike Aldrich.
There were a series of meetings, and by early December the reformers had reached their first serious disagreement. Kaplan wanted the initiative to propose full legalization, using the alcohol model, with marijuana sold in liquor stores and with quality control enforced by a new state agency. But there were two serious objections to that. One was legal: State legalization would be in conflict with federal law. The other was ideological: Mike Aldrich wanted no part of a commercial, state-controlled, alcohol-model marijuana system. Amorphia, he declared, would support no initiative that did not permit personal cultivation: free backyard grass.
Amorphia got its way. The reformers rallied behind a simple decriminalization proposal, which said no person in California over the age of eighteen could be punished criminally for growing, processing, transporting, possessing, or using marijuana.
By January of 1972 a new group, CMI, the California Marijuana Initiative, had been created to direct the campaign, and a state coordinator had been found for it. His name was Robert H. A. Ashford, and he was a twenty-seven-year-old, Harvard-trained San Francisco lawyer who had been active in the anti-war movement and was willing to devote himself full time to CMI. Ashford was an intense, charismatic figure, controversial from the first, and he and Stroup and Newman were soon engaged in a bitter three-way rivalry.
Stroup opposed the California initiative when he first heard about it, because he thought it would fail, but when it became clear that Californians were going ahead, he had no choice but to lend his support. Stroup's uncertainty about the initiative was intensified in late December when he returned one morning from a trip to Chicago to find Kelly and Blair Newman waiting at his home. They were nervous, uneasy, bleary-eyed, the way people were when they came down from an MDA trip. Stroup knew what was coming even before they got the words out.
His marriage was already in serious trouble. Kelly had found out about a number of his affairs, and she had told him, "Fine, I still love you, but it's an open marriage now. You can have your freedom, and I'll have mine, too." Stroup, preoccupied with his work, had not taken her seriously, but now, as she confessed that she and Newman had tripped on MDA and spent the night together, he was forced to. He might have used the occasion to reflect on his shortcomings as a husband, or her needs as a wife; instead he flew into a rage, threw Newman out of his house, and soon moved out himself, into a small room in NORML'S new row house on Twenty-second Street, a room he painted blood red, as if to reflect his violent state of mind.
The breakup of the marriage was long and painful. For more than a year they would separate, then try again, for the sake of their daughter, and because Stroup at some level still believed in marriage and was guilt-ridden at his failure. But he was emotionally incapable of either accepting sexual freedom in his wife or denying it to himself. Nor was there any possibility that he would cut back on his work or his travels. NORML was his life, and his family came second; there was nothing he could do about it. One irony of the situation was that drugs, particularly MDA, helped their marriage, at least as far as Kelly was concerned. She had found that when they were tripping, Keith would relax, would lose the hostility he seemed to feel for her, would be sensitive and loving. Once, when they were separated and she'd been seeing other men, he came and spent Christmas with her and they tripped, and they had a wonderful time. He told her, "Kelly, I can handle it intellectually, but I can't handle it emotionally." That summed up the problem. What she saw as equality he saw as a deliberate attempt to torture him in the one way that could cause him the most pain.
Stroup's unhappiness after his separation was made worse because he had almost no communication with his parents. Later that year, stoned, Stroup told a writer, "I love this job, but it hasn't been all fun. When I go home, my parents don't want to talk about my work. They think it's somehow illegal. I tell them, 'Don't be ashamed of me. I think I'm doing a moral thing. You don't have to agree with me, but I wish you'd just think I'm a nice person who's doing something he believes in.'"
After Stroup threw Newman out of his home, it was open warfare between NORML and Amorphia. Stroup started telling people that Amorphia was the "biggest setback to marijuana reform since Harry Anslinger." Newman fired back with an article, published in many underground newspapers, entitled "The Playboy Corporation vs. the People," which charged that Stroup was Playboy's front man in a scheme to take over the legal marijuana market.
That was the state of the reform movement as spring of 1972 arrived: CMI was struggling to collect half a million signatures for its initiative, and Stroup and Newman were trying to destroy one another. Then, on March 22, something of great importance to them all occurred back in Washington: The Marijuana Commission issued its report.
The thirteen-member commission, aided by a large staff, had spent a year preparing its report on marijuana. It had held three sets of public hearings, and countless private meetings with public officials and with private citizens, including one group of respectable Americans, doctors and lawyers, who were marijuana smokers. Members of the commission had traveled to many foreign nations to talk to scientists and political leaders. The commission had carried out major public-opinion surveys to determine the number of people who smoked and national attitudes toward smoking. It was the most exhaustive study of marijuana ever conducted in the United States, perhaps in the world, and the commissioners were citizens above suspicion. Appointed by Richard Nixon, they included two U.S. senators, two U.S. representatives, a Republican governor, and various public-health officials, scientists, and law-enforcement officials.
But on March 22, to the surprise of almost everyone, including themselves and the president who appointed them, this eminently respectable group reported to Nixon and to the nation that marijuana, smoked in moderation, is in effect harmless and that its private use should be legal and even its public use punished not by jail but only by a fine.
Here, to be precise, is what the commission said about the effects of marijuana.There is no evidence that experimental or intermittent use of marihuana causes physical or psychological harm. The risk lies instead in the heavy, long-term use of the drug, particularly of the most potent preparations.On the basis of these scientific findings, the commission made specific recommendations for federal marijuana policy. Stripped of the legal jargon, they were these:
Marihuana does not lead to physical dependency. No torturous withdrawal symptoms follow the sudden cessation of chronic, heavy use. Some evidence indicates that heavy, long-term users may develop a psychological dependence on the drug.
The immediate effects of marihuana intoxication on the individual's organs or bodily functions are transient and have little or no permanent effect. However, there is a definite loss of some psychomotor control and a temporary impairment of time and space perceptions.
No brain damage has been documented relating to marihuana use, in contrast with the well-established damage of chronic alcoholism.
A careful search of literature and testimony by health officials has not revealed a single human fatality in the United States proven to have resulted solely from the use of marihuana.Possession or use of marijuana in private would "no longer be an offense," which in effect meant it would be legal.The commission thus advocated a policy toward marijuana that went by the mind-numbing name of "decriminalization," and that they presented as a policy of official "discouragement," but the fact remained that as far as the use of marijuana was concerned, it came very close to legalization. Just how this supposedly conservative panel came up with such a radical proposal became a matter of speculation. (Some years later, at the prison farm where he was confined, former attorney general John Mitchell would grumble to other, pro-drug inmates that he'd always known Raymond Shafer was too wishy-washy to run that commission.) One of the more liberal members of the commission would later say in an interview:
The private distribution of small amounts of marijuana for no profit or "insignificant remuneration" would be legal.
Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in public would be legal, although the marijuana could be confiscated.
The possession of more than an ounce of marijuana in public would be punishable by a fine of up to $100, as would its public use.
Public distribution of small amounts for no profit would also be punishable by a fine of up to $100.
To grow or sell marijuana for profit would remain criminal, felony offenses.We operated under unusual circumstances. Law-enforcement people were very cooperative with us, because we were perceived as conservative. They were very candid about how they practiced selective enforcement. We talked to "hanging judges" who were quite proud of throwing the book at marijuana smokers. We talked to federal officials who admitted they'd lied about marijuana for yearsit had been official policy to lie. Some of us were impressed by the secret meetings we had with successful people, doctors and lawyers, who were smokersthey obviously didn't belong in jail. After a while it became very hard to maintain the old myths. Of course, some of us had children who smoked.As is often the case with high-level commissions, the staff had no small role in the Marijuana Commission's conclusion. The two key staff members were Michael Sonnenreich, the staff director, and Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law professor who worked closely with Sonnenreich in drafting the commission report. Bonnie had in fact published an article in the University of Virginia Law Review in 1970 in which he called for decriminalization of possession of four ounces or less of marijuana. One member of the staff said, "Bonnie was always for decriminalization, and Sonnenreich reached that conclusionhe was an honest man, despite his reputation as a Nixon loyalistand they simply had to mold the consensus, being very careful how they presented the issues to the commissioners, until the commissioners did what they wanted them to do."
Another factor was simply how damn much money we had. We could do anything we wanted, go anywhere we wanted. If someone said there was evidence of brain damage among smokers in Morocco, we'd go take a look. Some of us visited as many as thirty countries, and time after time the same thing would happen. We would talk to the government officials and they would give us the official line: marijuana use is very serious, we are concerned about it, we want to work with your government to stamp it out. Then, that night, we'd go out drinking with them, and they'd tell us the truth: they thought marijuana was harmless, but the Nixon administration wanted a hard line and they feared economic reprisals if they didn't go along. It all came down to money. We saw so much corruption. In one country, the king's brother had the hashish concession. We went to some countries where they would let the Americans out of prison before we arrived, and to others where they wouldn't let us see the dungeons where they kept them. By the time it was all over, and we'd seen all we had seen, there was really not much debate. No one could argue that people should go to jail for smoking marijuana.
In the course of its report the Marijuana Commission dismissed many of the reefer-madness myths of the past: that marijuana was addictive, that it led to violence, and that it led to heroin and other hard drugs. Of the latter, the so-called "stepping stone" theory, the commission said, "The fact should be emphasized that the overwhelming majority of marihuana users do not progress to other drugs. They either remain with marihuana or forsake its use in favor of alcohol.... This so-called stepping-stone theory first received widespread acceptance in 1951 as a result of testimony at Congressional hearings.... When the voluminous testimony given at these hearings is seriously examined, no verification is found of a causal relationship between marihuana use and subsequent heroin use." What the commission found is that peer-group pressure is the greatest factor on what drugs people use.
The commission's proposed decriminalization policy, while familiar to people in the drug field, was a new idea to the nation at large. One of the first public figures to respond to it was President Nixon. He had appointed the commission and asked them for a national marijuana policy. They had responded with findings and recommendations that if ahead of their time politically were nonetheless bold and sophisticated. The decriminalization concept was an attempt to find a compromise between two powerful forces: widespread opposition to marijuana use on the one hand and, on the other, a growing sense that to jail people for smoking was a punishment that far exceeded the crime.
The issuance of the Marijuana Commission report was a crucial moment for American drug policy. Another president might have endorsed the report, supported it with the power and prestige of his office, reversed federal policy, and set off a wave of legal reform in states across the nation. Had that happened, there might have been decriminalization, if not outright legalization, in all of America by 1980. It was not inconceivable that even Nixon might have accepted the commission's report: If he could climax a lifetime of zealous anti-communism by going to China to embrace Chairman Mao, he might advocate not putting people in jail for smoking marijuana.
But it was not to be. Two days after the report was issued Nixon told a news conference, "I oppose the legalization of marijuana and that includes sale, possession, and use. I do not believe you can have effective criminal justice based on a philosophy that something is half-legal and half-illegal."
By saying he opposed the legalization of marijuana, Nixon simply ignored the decriminalization concept that the commission hoped could bring a truce in the nation's marijuana war. The commission, struggling with a hard social issue, and Nixon, content to play election-year politics with the issue, were not speaking the same language.
While Nixon was rejecting his commission's recommendations, NORML was embracing them. At first the report had set off a flurry of debate within the pot lobby. Some of Stroup's advisers, notably Harvard's Dr. Grinspoon, wanted to reject the decriminalization concept. It was not intellectually honest, they said: If marijuana was indeed harmless, it should be legal. These purists felt the commission should have called for legalization and put forth a plan for its implementation.
Stroup argued that NORML should embrace decriminalization as a necessary step toward legalization, and this became NORML's official position, although it criticized the commission on some secondary issues, particularly the idea that marijuana use might prove to be a fad. It was one of Stroup's most important decisions. The Marijuana Commission soon went out of business, and its recommendations would soon have been gathering dust had it not been for NORML. Instead, as Stroup and other reformers testified before state legislatures across America, they made the Marijuana Commission's report their Bible. They praised the parts of it that were useful to them (the scientific findings and the no-jail recommendation) and ignored the parts that were not useful (the idea of discouragement). Two years later when the anti-marijuana forces launched a major counteroffensive, they rather lamely complained that the Marijuana Commission's report had been "misinterpreted," which was another way of saying they had been outfoxed.
It was a busy summer for Stroup. In July he, his wife, his daughter, and Schott piled into Stroup's VW van and drove to Miami Beach for the 1972 Democratic Convention. In a sense there was not much for them to do there: McGovern was going to be the nominee, and he was on record as favoring decriminalization. (Indeed, the eventual McGovern-Shriver ticket was what Stroup called a "double-bust" ticket, in that both candidates had children who had been arrested on marijuana charges.) What the NORML delegation was mainly doing was "working the Left"getting to know other reform groups, such as the farm workers, the gays, the feminists, the Yippies, and so on. Stroup spent a part of each day in the People's Park, often hanging out at the Pot Tree, where the Yippies smoked and sold dope. It was there that he met Tom Forcade, the Yippie leader who would later become his close friend.
The next month, August, NORML held the first People's Pot Conference at the St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill. About three hundred delegates came from thirty-six states, and NORML had put together an impressive program for them. An economics professor led a discussion of legalization. Dr. Grinspoon gave a biting critique of the Marijuana Commission report, calling it "half a loaf," but Rep. James Scheuer replied that in light of the political realities, the report was "a minor political miracle." An attorney reported on a lawsuit NORML had brought to force the government to end or reduce marijuana penalties. John Sinclair and Lee Otis Johnson, two well-known political activists who had been imprisoned on marijuana charges and had recently been released from prison, led a discussion of the use of marijuana laws against political dissenters.
It was a good program, but Stroup wasn't sure all the delegates were making the most of it. Many of them seemed mainly interested in sitting out under the trees and getting high. On the last day of the conference Stroup was standing outside the church talking to Ed Miller, a bearded, balding disc jockey from Fort Worth. As they talked, Miller started the engine on his car, produced a small bag of marijuana, and calmly raised the hood of his car and put the bag on the engine. The idea was that the heat of the engine would dry the grass. He never got that far, however, because two plainclothes policemen appeared and put him under arrest. A crowd gathered, and as the cops led the disc jockey away, John Sinclair was calling for everyone to storm the police station to demand Miller's release. Stroup insisted he would go alone to bail Miller out. Stroup got his way, barely, and the People's Pot Conference broke up with that final confrontation between the revolutionaries and the reformers.
Back in California a massive effort was under way on behalf of the marijuana initiative. It was hampered, however, by constant infighting between CMI, Amorphia, and NORML.
The situation improved somewhat after May 1, when a tall, neatly dressed, twenty-eight-year-old Republican named Gordon Brownell became CMI's statewide political coordinator. Brownell was to remain a central figure in the reform movement throughout the decade, and he was, with the possible exception of Stroup, its most politically sophisticated leader.
Gordon Brownell's father worked for thirty-five years as a sales representative for the American Can Company. Gordon lived most of his first fourteen years in Westfield, New Jersey, and later graduated from high school in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He got his undergraduate degree from Colgate and his law degree from Fordham, where he was vice-president of his class. He was always the most conservative member of his family; his parents were Baptist and Republican, but they leaned toward the Eastern, liberal wing of their party. Gordon, by contrast, was a fervent Goldwater supporter in 1964. He worked on the Nixon campaign in New York in 1968 and was rewarded with a job at the White House as an assistant to Harry Dent, the South Carolinian who was a top Nixon political adviser.
In May of 1970, anxious for more political experience, Brownell became an assistant to the director of the Reagan reelection campaign, but before the Reagan campaign ended, Brownell had been turned on by drugs and turned off by the Reagan-Nixon brand of politics.
Brownell had smoked marijuana while in law school, as did most of his classmates. He didn't smoke during his year in the Nixon White House; but he did smoke with other young Reagan campaign workers. His turning point came when he began using mescaline, a drug that was, for him, truly mind-expanding. He was introduced to the drug by a young woman, also a worker in the Reagan campaign, with whom he had fallen in love. Their first mescaline trip together was at the Grand Canyonthe most stunning experience of his life.
Reagan's victory was not in doubt, and in mid-October, three weeks before the election, Brownell and the young woman drove for a weekend at the Grand Canyonher first visit, his second. On Saturday morning they drove around the rim of the canyon, taking in its spectacular vistas, and in the afternoon they returned to their campsite, built a fire, and took mescaline. As the mescaline took effect, Brownell had a sense of flying, soaring above the canyon, becoming one with its vast beauty. He could not have said who he was. It was an ego-shattering experience; he was one with the universe. For a time it seemed that both he and the woman were outside their bodies and had achieved a spiritual and psychic union that was more powerful and more beautiful than any emotion he had ever known or imagined. He had a sense of being born anew, and in fact Gordon Brownell's life would never be the same again.
Soon, the use of marijuana and of psychedelic drugs helped him confront the great contradiction in his life: that the politicians he was working for regarded him and his closest friends, including the woman he loved, as criminals because they used drugs.
"I look upon the hallucinogenic drugs as an enlightening, illuminating experience," Brownell said later. "They made me see the contradiction between my work for Reagan and my belief in individual freedom. I was working for people who pretended to believe in individual freedom, but they didn't when it came to cultures they disapproved of. Up until then I'd been very much the upwardly mobile young man on the make. My drug experience totally redirected me, into the direction I've been going ever since. It was an eye-opening, mind-opening experience; if it wasn't for the drugs, I might have stayed on the same path forever. I came out of it with a clear sense of what I wanted for myself. I didn't want to spend the next twenty-five years working for a dying generation. Once I realized that, I felt a great sense of freedom. Of course, it was a painful and confusing time for me, because I had to break off personal and political relationships with people I'd been close to, and I couldn't explain it, because it would have only confirmed their view that drugs ruined people's lives. But I saw myself differently.
"The young woman crystallized for me that it was people like her who were most important to me, not the politicians who called us criminals. I thought the Republican party had blown the youth vote over the war, and I saw the marijuana issue as a way to win back that vote, and also to be true to a libertarian, small-government philosophy. I saw the older Republicans choosing to ignore reality. I was present once when Reagan and his advisers talked about marijuana. It was the first time I saw that the emperor had no clothes. I thought, These people don't know what the fuck they're talking about. That was when I started to question the whole thing. If they didn't understand the marijuana issue, what did they understand?"
After Reagan's reelection, Brownell moved to the village of Anchor Bay, some 120 miles north of San Francisco. He spent about nine months working on a novel called "Jessica's Story," about drugs and the young woman he had loved. In the fall of 1971, with his money running out and his novel unpublished, he accepted an offer from his friend Kevin Phillips, the conservative writer, to come to Washington for four months and help him start a newsletter. One day in September he saw an item about NORML in the Washington Star. He realized immediately what he wanted to doto use his political skill on behalf of drug-law reformand he quickly called Stroup.
Brownell soon became close to Stroup, Schott, and Dubois. He wanted a job with NORML, but Stroup didn't have a place for him. Brownell also met Blair Newman that winter, during Newman's brief stay at NORML, and the following spring, as CMI got under way, Newman invited Brownell to come to work for Amorphia, for $125 a week, and be assigned full time to CMI.
That suited Brownell, and one evening in the early spring of 1972 he went by Stroup's house to break the news. "He blew up," Brownell recalls. "He viewed it as me going over to the enemy. He literally threw me out of his house when I told him, but the next morning he called to apologize."
Brownell gave CMI an immediate boost. He was the only person in the operation with experience running a statewide political campaign. Moreover, the big, soft-spoken Brownell was able to mediate between the large egos of Stroup, Newman, and Aldrich. He organized a massive signature-gathering effort outside the polling places on June 6, primary day, with some 2000 CMI volunteers assigned to key precincts. The effort was successful: By the June 19 deadline CMI had gathered 522,000 signatures, and the marijuana initiative was on the November ballot.
In the fall CMI had two main activities: voter registration, since its natural supporters were people who didn't always vote; and winning whatever free publicity it could for the issue.
There were certain types of standard publicity available to them. Gordon Brownell, as a Reaganite turned pot activist, could give interviews, and CMI staged several news conferences in which scientists spoke in favor of reform. But the greatest amount of publicity generated on behalf of CMI came from the antics of one Keith Lampe, who held the honorary title of entertainment director of Amorphia, and had previously been the Yippies' publicity director. A one-time correspondent for the Hearst newspapers before he turned on, dropped out, and became a founder of the Yippies, Lampe in 1972 was forty years old, a slender, bespectacled man with a ponytail and a long, scraggly black beard. Throughout the summer and fall, Lampe masterminded a series of media happenings that generated publicity for the cause, although the publicity was too exotic to please some of CMI's more staid supporters. There was, for example, the stoned Ping-Pong game, in which Lampe and an artist named Arthur Okamara played a match high on marijuana. Another of Lampe's creations was Jocks for Joynts. Dave Meggyesy, former NFL star linebacker, was chairman of the Jocks, whose goal was to demonstrate that marijuana enhanced, rather than impaired, their athletic abilities. At one point the Jocks challenged an anti-marijuana organization to a softball game, the Jocks to play stoned; the anti-pot forces declined, and the Jocks claimed a great moral victory.
Lampe was also the genius behind Mothers for Marijuana and Grannies for Grass. As he saw it, he was putting a friendly face on the issue, showing that smokers were not all sinister hippies but also mothers, grandmothers, people who liked Ping-Pong and softball. Not everyone agreed. Lampe's antics enabled Stroup to grumble that CMI was a bunch of freaks who wanted to settle a serious issue in a softball game.
But the real issue was never softball; it was money and control of the legalization movement. Stroup, as he contemplated CMI, had mostly negative feelings. In the first place, he didn't think the initiative could pass, and he was too wedded to a legislative strategy to grant any value in a defeat. Moreover, he had to consider what a CMI victory in California would mean to him. Almost certainly, if the initiative won, Bob Ashford, the CMI director, would (with some justice) proclaim himself the national leader of the reform movement and would set out to direct initiatives in other states. If that happened, NORML might be out of business.
The crunch came in July when Ashford sent the Playboy Foundation an impressive fifty-page request for $80,000 to help finance CMI's fall campaign. Stroup, learning of this, opposed it every way he could. His power came from having exclusive access to Playboy's money, and he wasn't about to share that money with anyone. CMI's request was turned down, and its members were furious at Stroup. In an effort to ease the situation Stroup sent the likable Guy Archer from New York to California with a copy of the movie Reefer Madness. Stroup had discovered that spring that the film was in the public domain, and he bought a copy from the Library of Congress for $297. It was the bargain of the year. NORML used it for fund-raising, because 1970s smokers found hilarious its portrait of young people driven to crime and madness by a single reefer. Archer raced up and down California, showing the film on college campuses, asking a dollar donation for admission, and he raised $16,000 for CMI, enough to protect Stroup from charges that he had done nothing for the California Initiative. Indeed, he had not done nothing, only as little as possible.
On election day the initiative won a third of the votes33.47 percent, or 2,733,120 votes. It received 51.26 percent of the votes in San Francisco County, 71.25 percent in Berkeley, and ran ahead of McGovern in four counties. CMI immediately claimed a moral victory. Stroup, in Washington, grumbled that anytime you lose by two to one, you haven't done very damn well.
CMI was closer to the truth, as Stroup would in time concede. There is a certain relativity in politics. For the Democratic candidate for president to get 40 percent of the vote is a disaster, but for a poorly financed proposal for what amounted to legal marijuana to get a third of California's votes was certainly a victory. California politicians, considering the CMI vote, and the thousands of volunteers who worked for CMI had to ask themselves what would happen if all that energy was directed foror againstthem. They would realize, too, that time was on the marijuana movement's sidethat 33 percent would inevitably become 51 percent, as more and more people smoked.
Still, as 1972 came mercifully to a close, the immediate reality was that CMI had lost, the Marijuana Commission report had caused no dramatic turnabout in national opinion, and Richard Nixon had been overwhelmingly reelected. The prospects for the reform movements, to put it mildly, were not bright.