One frigid February morning in 1977, soon after Jimmy Carter was inaugurated, Keith Stroup came in from the cold.
Or so he thought.
He walked the dozen blocks from NORML'S office to the White House, but it was more like a walk through time, from one life to another. Six years earlier, when he started NORML, Stroup had been a freak, an outlaw lobbyist who dealt with the White House only via angry letters and defiant gestures. Now, incredibly enough, he was the leader of a respected national lobby, and he was on his way to see his friend Dr. Peter Bourne.
Two months earlier, during the post-election transition period, when every lobbyist in Washington was scrambling to get a handle on these unknown Georgians, Stroup had persuaded Bourne to be the keynote speaker at NORML'S annual conference. That had been an impressive show of the dope lobby's intimacy with the new administration, but today's visit was what counted: Stroup was going to the White House to talk policy, to try to define how NORML and the Carter administration could work together toward common goals.
He marched up briskly to the guardhouse outside the West Wing and announced that Mr. Stroup had arrived to see Dr. Bourne. There was a brief delay, as there always is, but that was all right. The trick was to be cool, as if you came to the White House every day, and not to notice the tourists who gawked and wondered who you were. Stroup was wearing jeans and a blue blazer with his gold marijuana-leaf pin in its lapel. He had thought it over and decided he couldn't not wear it just because he was going to the White House. After a moment the guard gave Stroup a pass and pointed him up the driveway to the West Wing door.
For all his professional cool, Stroup felt his heart beat faster when he stepped inside the White House. You couldn't deny it: There was something awe-inspiring about the place. If you were a power groupie, this was your Mecca, your Rome, your rainbow's end. Stroup did a double-take as he started down the stairs to Bourne's office. James Schlesinger had passed by, puffing on his pipe. Stroup thought about lighting a joint, and laughed.
In truth, Stroup was already high, but not on drugs. No more would he have to do battle with hostile, faceless bureaucrats. He would be dealing with friends now, with Peter Bourne and with Mathea Falco, from the Drug Abuse Council, whom Peter had put in the top drug-policy job at State. These were people who knew the score, people now with the power to pick up the phone and make the bureaucrats snap to.
And it was more than Peter and Mathea. A new generation of political activists, smokers, had come to power. He'd heard plenty of stories about people using drugs in the Carter campaign. Hunter Thompson had found himself doing so many drugs with Carter staff that he'd pulled back, gone home, because he'd become one of them instead of a journalist. And it didn't stop with the staff. Carter's three sons had all smokedtheir mother told a reporter this during the campaignand the oldest one, Jack, was booted out of the Navy for smoking.
Bourne's was a windowless office in the White House basement (the Ground Floor, its occupants called it). Bourne was waiting there, and he seemed stiff at first, uncomfortable. Stroup wasn't surprised. That was the purpose of this meeting, really, to clear the air. Stroup had some specific points to discuss, but mainly he wanted to say to Peter, in so many words, Okay, what are the rules? How do we play this game? Are we the outsiders rattling your cage, or are we insiders?
The meeting stayed stiff until the door burst open and Bob McNeally ran in the started shooting pictures and yelling, "Blackmail! Blackmail! I've got you now, Bourne!"
McNeally was a friend of Stroup's who'd signed on as a White House photographer. His office was next to Bourne's, and this was his idea of a jokebusting in, as in a raid on a motel room, and photographing the dope lobbyist and the drug-policy czar.
After that the meeting loosened up. Stroup thought Bourne was pleased that he hadn't made any demands, hadn't set any deadlines, had only set out NORML'S agenda and his hopes of working cooperatively. Bourne must have been pleased, because he suggested that Stroup stay for lunch in the White House mess.
Ellen Metsky joined them. She was Peter's assistant from the campaign, a plump, pleasant young woman with dark hair, a sly smile, and oddly slanted, feline eyes. The mess was subdued and elegant, with dark walls and red leather furnishings, and it offered excellent food at ridiculously low prices. Stroup tried not to rubber-neck as he ate, but it was difficult. He saw Jody Powell across the room, and Stu Eisenstat, and once or twice someone had a phone plugged in beside his table so he could solve some crisis while he ate.
Stroup believed there was no such thing as a free lunchcertainly not in the White Houseand he wondered why Peter had brought him here. Perhaps he wanted to show off his hip friend to his White House colleagues, to show he wasn't as stuffy as they thought. Or perhapsand this bothered Strouphe was trying to co-opt him, trying to "stroke" him, as the Nixonites put it. It worried Stroup because he saw how seductive this whole White House routine could be. It was hard not to start thinking in terms of "we happy few who run the world."
Still, Stroup left the White House that afternoon feeling that everything had gone just as it should. They had spoken frankly, neither side had made demands, and they had opened communications. It was clear that Peter would deal with him as an insider, as the spokesman for a legitimate and important constituency. Stroup was jubilant as he walked back to his office. He liked the view from the inside.
The honeymoon was soon over. Within a week Stroup had managed, quite deliberately, to outrage Peter Bourne, Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn Carter, Chip Carter, Jody Powell, and Hamilton Jordan, among others, and in the process to make himself persona non grata at the White House.
It was quite a remarkable performance, and to understand how it could have happened, it is necessary to consider not only Stroup's volatile, very personal view of drug politics but also Peter Bourne's ambiguous, even precarious position in the Carter circle.
Peter Bourne's father, Dr. Geoffrey Bourne, was a distinguished Australian scientist whose career took him first to England, where Peter was born, in Oxford in 1939, and then in 1957 to Atlanta's Emory University, where he became the director of the internationally known Yerkes Primate Research Center. From the first, Peter Bourne seemed destined for a career as distinguished as his father's. He earned his medical degree at Emory, studied psychiatry, and in the mid-1960s served his adopted country as a U.S. Army doctor in Vietnam. He was shocked by the violence and human misery there, so much so that when another Army doctor, Howard Levy, was court-martialed for refusing to train Green Berets, Bourne agreed to testify in his behalf. It was a courageous act for Bourne, a rather shy, diffident young man, quick to blush, anxious to please, and having thus outraged his military superiors, he proceeded, soon after his release from the Army, to help organize Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
He returned to Atlanta to teach at the Emory medical school, and he might have proceeded to a quietly distinguished academic career had he not happened to catch the eye of the state's new governor, Jimmy Carter, and thus make his way into the world of politics. Heroin use was increasing in Georgia, particularly among blacks in Atlanta, and the local newspapers had declared a state of emergency. At Carter's invitation, Bourne set up a program that soon converted several thousand drug addicts from heroin to methadone. The program was hailed a success, and Bourne began advising Governor and Mrs. Carter on ways to improve the state's mental-health program. Bourne began to develop a national reputation, and in 1973 he took a job in the Nixon White House's drug-policy office, which was encouraging methadone-maintenance programs across America. But Bourne, with his English accent and his liberal views, was an outsider in the Nixon White House, and he stayed less than a year. By then, his friend Jimmy Carter was planning to run for president, and Bourne intended to help him.
Tom Bryant was an old friend of Bourne's from the Emory medical school, and he made Bourne a consultant to the Drug Abuse Council, with plenty of free time for politics. Bourne, with his knowledge of medical and health matters, was in effect Carter's first issues adviser. In mid-December of 1974, only days after Carter amused the political world by announcing he would run for president, he spoke at a drug conference in San Francisco. Bourne wrote Carter a statement in which, without really committing himself, he said it bothered him for young people to go to jail for using marijuana, and he would be watching the results of the Oregon law with interest. Later, Chip Carter would push his father toward outright endorsement of decriminalization.
Bourne's job, for all of 1975 and half of 1976, was to be Jimmy Carter's man in Washington. He arranged Carter's meetings with reporters and courted the local political establishment, and when the candidate came to town, Bourne gave him a bed in his Capitol Hill town house. Bourne's was a thankless tasktrying to sell an anti-Washington candidate to Washingtonand he probably did it as well as anyone could. Certainly the candidate had nothing but praise for him; in the early days, when reporters would challenge Carter to name someone of importance who supported him, he would often mention his good friend Dr. Peter Bourne, the distinguished psychiatrist and former White House adviser. But even as Bourne was pleasing the candidate, he was running afoul of the two big, tough, shrewd young South Georgians who were his closest advisers, Jody Powell, the press secretary, and Hamilton Jordan, the political strategist.
It was possible to distinguish between Powell and Jordan on a personal levelPowell's hair was light and Jordan's was dark, and Powell was the more intelligent and stable of the twobut politically they were indivisible. They had learned, back when Carter was governor, that if they stuck together, they could rule Jimmy Carter's world, Powell as Mr. Outside, managing the media, and Jordan as Mr. Inside, controlling politics and patronage. They were indispensable to Carter because they could see people he didn't want to see and do the dirty work he didn't want to do. To win their favor, via loyalty and humility, was to rise in Carter's world; to lose it was to twist slowly in the wind. They were proud, cynical men, and it was Peter Bourne's misfortune that they came to view him with what was, even for them, a high degree of scorn.
Graham Greene wrote of a character in one of his novels, "There are men whom one has an irresistible desire to tease, men whose virtues one doesn't share." Peter Bourne was like that, as he tried to find his place among Carter's cadre of Georgians. He was so different from them, and particularly from Powell and Jordan. They were tough as nails, battle-hardened veterans of the political wars, and Bourne was a soft, uncertain man, a political amateur. They were hard-drinking, rough-talking, boots-and-jeans South Georgia shitkickers, and he was an effete Englishman with a flaky accent who drank sherry and wore fancy tweed coats and striped ties, like the Harvards. They had no ideology except winning, and Bourne had liberal ideas that annoyed them, intellectual concerns that wasted their time.
Most of all, Jordan and Powell didn't like the fact that Bourne fancied himself their peer. Their annoyance reached a peak on the morning of June 21, 1976, when a long article about Bourne appeared in the Washington Post. Its headline proclaimed Bourne as Carter's "closest friend," and its first sentence read, "Peter Bourne was the first person to tell Jimmy Carter four years ago he should run for President."
Powell and Jordan happened to disagree with both those assertions, and soon after that story appeared Bourne's star went into rapid decline.
Little items began to appear in various newspapers and magazines, items that were critical of Bourne's performance in the Carter campaign. Peter Bourne was losing influence with Jimmy Carter, the items would say. The candidate and his top advisers felt Bourne was getting too much publicity for himself, or was becoming too fond of Georgetown cocktail parties, or wasn't a shrewd enough politician, or whatever. The criticisms were anonymous, or vaguely attributed to "top campaign aides," so that when Bourne went to Powell and Jordan, to ask what he was doing wrong, they could of course tell him he wasn't doing anything wrong, and commiserate with him about what horseshit those goddamn columnists would print. Still, within a month of the Post story, Bourne was out as Carter's Washington representative.
Peter Bourne was thus one of the first people to be taught a lesson in humility by Powell and Jordan. Later they would give the same treatment to many others: Jack Watson, a talented Atlanta lawyer who seemed to challenge Jordan during the post-election period; Midge Costanza, Carter's first adviser on women's issues; independent-minded Cabinet members such as Califano and Blumenthal; even Vice-President Mondale, when he once or twice got out of line. The treatment was always the same: critical, sometimes humiliating leaks to the press until the troublemaker repented, resigned, or was driven out. It was a foolproof system. The reporters went along with Jordan and Powell's anonymous quotes because they would continue to be important sources, whereas the people they were humiliating or driving from government might soon be nobodies. It worked nicely for Carter, too, for he could remain everyone's dear friend while Powell and Jordan attended to the necessary unpleasantries.
Thus, as Peter Bourne entered the White House in January of 1977, he was not the powerful figure he seemed to outsiders. He had spent the final months of the campaign in agonizing limbo, and he was very much on probation as he started his new job. Jordan had not granted him the top-level title of assistant to the president but rather the second-level title of special assistant to the president. Jordan had not assigned him one of the choice offices upstairs in the White House but rather a windowless office in the basement. Bourne did not even have the job he wanted. He was special assistant on mental health and drug abuse, and he had not wanted to work on the drug issue at all. He wanted to advise Carter on broader issues, on world hunger and national health insurance, but over the years Carter had come to think of Bourne as his drug-policy man, and Bourne was stuck with it. Still, he hoped that he would be able to spend less than 10 percent of his time in the White House on drug-related matters. That wish would not come true, in part because of his friend Keith Stroup.
One of the questions Stroup raised with Bourne that February morning was how the White House could help the passage of decriminalization bills in state legislatures across the country. Stroup had a specific suggestion. There would be a hearing in New Mexico in a few weeks. The vote was expected to be close. Why didn't Chip Carter, the president's son, go testify on behalf of the bill?
The proposal had a certain logic. Carter had said, in his campaign, that he favored decriminalization. And Chip, the second of his three sons, was the most politically active of them, an attractive and articulate young man who would make an excellent spokesman for reform. Bourne promised Stroup that he would take it up with Chip. He did, and Chip rather liked the idea. Chip Carter was very much a part of the 1960s generation: He had smoked dope, worshipped Bob Dylan, opposed the war, and the idea of speaking for marijuana-law reform appealed to him. However, when he took the proposal to Powell and Jordan, they suggested, in the gentle, roundabout way they used with their employer's family, that maybe it was not such a good idea, not just yet.
It was, of course, a crazy idea. Jordan and Powell knew that in an instant. Send Chip to testify for marijuana? Sure, and why not send Rosalynn to testify for abortion too? That'd be swell on the evening news. The fact that Bourne would even take such an insane proposal to Chip was an example of why Powell and Jordan held him in such scorn. Anyone who understood anything about Jimmy Carter would know there was no way in hell that he would ever let Chip do such a thing.
After a few days, still thinking he was about to bring off a great political coup, Stroup called Bourne's office to find out what had happened. Bourne was out, but Ellen Metsky called back with the bad news: Hamilton had advised Chip that to testify in New Mexico would not be a good use of his time.
Stroup might have taken this news philosophically. He might have said, "Well, win a few, lose a few," and reasoned that the White House would owe him one the next time around. That would have been the reasonable thing for a Washington lobbyist to do.
Instead, Stroup exploded. Those bastards had campaigned as pro-decriminalization, and now they were backing away. The fucking hypocrites! They all smoked dope, knowing they'd never be busted, but they wouldn't lift a finger to keep kids out of jail in New Mexico. But it wasn't just the kids in New Mexico. This was a personal rebuff to Stroup. He had spent six years being treated as a political outcast, and he had trusted the Carter people; they were his contemporaries, his peers, they were smokers. But now, in Stroup's very personal view of the world, they had betrayed him. Hamilton Jordan may not think the marijuana issue is important, Stroup raged, but it's my whole fucking life!
So he decided if he could not get Chip Carter to testify, he could at least get some mileage out of the episode. He would show those bastards that they couldn't play games with him, that he couldn't be bought off with lunch in the White House mess.
He began calling reporters, telling them how Hamilton Jordan had refused to let Chip Carter testify in New Mexico. He added his own allegation that senior Carter staff figures had smoked marijuana during the campaign. "Maybe the police ought to make some arrests closer to Sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue," he declared.
The newspapers were delighted with the story; the White House was not. Rosalynn Carter in particular was outraged, and blamed Bourne for getting her son into this controversy. Bourne was stunned by Stroup's political bomb-throwing, and he did not invite Stroup back for lunch in the White House mess a second time. Mr. NORML was out in the cold again.
It was the first of a series of events that would prove that Stroup was better prepared, by temperament and training, to function as an outsider than as an insider. Stroup had let himself expect too much from the Carter administration. His mistake was in thinking that the change in administrations meant that the White House was suddenly populated with his friends instead of his enemies. The Carter people were closer to the drug culture than were their Republican predecessors, but that didn't mean they would let it cause them any political problems. To Stroup, that was outrageous hypocrisy. To Jordan and Powell, who had shed a lot of blood to get where they were, it was elementary, Politics 101. It was Stroup's misfortune to have let his hopes rise too high. It was Bourne's misfortune to be caught between Powell and Jordan and the political realities they embodied, on the one hand, and the angry zeal of Stroup and the smokers on the other. There was no way to win, not for Bourne, not for anyone.
On March 14 the House Select Committee on Narcotics opened two days of hearings on marijuana decriminalization.
Peter Bourne, the first witness, declared that the Carter administration wanted to discourage all drug use, including alcohol and tobacco, but it didn't believe that putting people in jail was the answer to the marijuana problem. He said the administration favored the decriminalization approach, and he cited the success of the Oregon law, as proved by the Drug Abuse Council surveys. He noted that moderate marijuana smoking caused no known health problems. Finally he stressed that the Carter administration opposed the legalization of marijuana, and would vigorously enforce the laws against smugglers.
Another administration witness was Dr. Robert L. DuPont, director of the National Institute for Drug Abuse, who supported decriminalization and noted that the laws seemed to have little effect on people's decisions to use or not use marijuana. Other pro-decriminalization witnesses included two black political leaders, Mayor Richard Hatcher, of Gary, Indiana, and California representative Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, as well as spokesmen for the American Bar Association and the ACLU.
Bourne's was the most progressive statement any senior government official had ever made about marijuana. The reefer-madness mythology seemed finally dead and buried. A new era of drug policy seemed at handan era of humanism, Bourne liked to call it.
All of which did not make Stroup any happier when he arrived to testify the next day. Stroup felt vast frustration as he took his place at the witness table and looked up at the congressmen seated before him. In particular, he resented the roles that two of them, Paul Rogers, of Florida, and Lester Wolff, of New York, had played in blocking marijuana-law reform.
Rogers was the chairman of the House Sub-Committee on Health, which had authority over marijuana legislation, and for years Rogers had refused even to hold hearings on a decriminalization bill. Stroup found this particularly galling because Rogers, who was a doctor, had been a member of the Marijuana Commission.
With Rogers refusing to act, the initiative had passed to Lester Wolff, the chairman of this "select committee." Stroup viewed Wolff as a lightweight who wanted to use the marijuana issue only to gain all the publicity and round-the-world junkets he could. The cold fact was that this select committee had no legislative authority over marijuana, and these hearings were only Lester Wolff's publicity circus. It was the ultimate congressional Catch-22: The committee that could legislate wouldn't hold hearings, and the committee that would hold hearings couldn't legislate.
Adding to Stroup's anger was the fact that he had clashed several times with the select committee's chief counsel, Joseph Nellis, during the negotiations that led up to his testimony. First, Nellis wanted him to testify along with Peter Lawford, the actor. Stroup refused. He thought it would make him look silly to be paired with an aging English movie star. Nellis, a heavyset man with slicked-back hair, warned that if Stroup wasn't careful, he might not get to testify at all.
"Joe, you don't have to let me testify," Stroup shot back, "but if you don't, I'll testify in the hallway outside your hearing room, and I'll get more press than you will."
Stroup got to testify inside, and after his opening statement, he was delighted to find his nemesis Paul Rogers questioning him. They parried on whether or not decriminalization caused increased smoking, and then, when Rogers finished and started to leave, Stroup turned the tables by demanding to be told why Rogers had never held hearings on decriminalization bills. Rogers answered rather lamely that his committee had more important health issues to consider. Stroup shot back: "We feel that elected officials should by this time be willing to take a position. Either you favor criminal penalties for us or you do not. Right now you are not voting; you are ducking."
It was a sweet moment for Stroup. For years he'd dreamed of having a chance to put Paul Rogers on the spot, and to get a shot at him in a public hearing was almost too good to be true. Their exchange was the day's dramatic highlightlobbyists do not often put important congressmen on the defensiveand it made the day's news. The Washington Post's headline was "Angry Marijuana Backer Tells Hill: 'You're Ducking."'
Once again Stroup had won the battle for the headlines, but his opponents in Congress were still winning the war. And of course he had done himself no good with Congressmen Rogers and Wolff, or with Chief Counsel Joe Nellis, by upstaging them at their own hearing. Nellis, in particular, would be heard from again. Later that year he would play a role in a slapstick, pie-in-the-face comedy that, as much as anything, would lead to Stroup's downfall.
The good news that spring was mostly from the states.
In 1976 only one state, Minnesota, had passed a decriminalization bill, becoming the seventh state to do so. But that was an election year, always a slow time for reform, so NORML had high hopes for 1977, particularly with the new administration supporting reform.
In April, Mississippi became the first Southern state to decriminalize. It seemed quite a dramatic breakthrough, but Stroup had mixed feelings about it. The $250 fine for first-offense possession was part of an otherwise harsh, Rockefeller-style omnibus drug law. Stroup was increasingly concerned that in these legislative trade-offs the reformers were "only trading prisoners for prisoners." He thought NORML'S Mississippi coordinator, a handsome, thirty-year-old insurance executive named Doug Tims, had been too quick to make deals with the law-enforcement officials who opposed reform. At one point Stroup and Tims had clashed because of some pro-cocaine statement Stroup had made on television. It was another example of the difficulty of holding together a national coalition that stretched from a Mississippi insurance man on the right to Tom Forcade on the left. More and more Stroup wondered when the whole damn thing was going to explode.
As Mississippi took a small step forward, South Dakota took a big step back. In the spring of 1976 its legislature enacted the lowest fine in the nation, $20 for simple possession. Unfortunately the new law did not take effect until 1977, and by then a more conservative legislature had been elected. It amended the new law, before it even took effect, to allow a $100 criminal fine and thirty days in jail for possession. It was a blunt reminder of how fragile reform could be.
In June, after a bitter political struggle, New York became the ninth state to decriminalize. Reform efforts had been under way since the Rockefeller law passed in 1973. NORML'S Frank Fioramonti had journeyed to Albany almost every week to meet with legislators and lobbyists and, like Brownell in California, had made himself central to the reform campaign. A bill was introduced in 1977 with support from the state's new Democratic governor, Hugh Carey, but worried Democrats, along with the state's Conservative party, killed the bill in May. There could be another vote, however, and pressures for reform came from many directions.
William F. Buckley, Jr., wrote a column headed "A Cry from the Heart," warning that the conservatives were writing off young voters by their anti-marijuana stand. Governor Carey declared he would personally campaign for any legislator who needed help because of a pro-reform vote. In time a compromise bill passed that provided a $100 fine for possession of an ounce, twice that for a second conviction, and fifteen days in jail for a third conviction.
North Carolina was next, the tenth state, with a bill providing a $100 fine for possession of an ounce and up to six months in jail for second offenders. With bills passed in Mississippi, New York and North Carolina by summer, it seemed that the dam was finally breaking, that five or even ten more states might act before 1977 was over. They did not. The surge of reform that began in Oregon in 1973 was almost over. No more bills passed in 1977 and only one, in Nebraska, in 1978. Increasingly, a new issue would preoccupy both the reformers and the government and bring them into sharp conflict: paraquat, a herbicide that was used to kill marijuana plants in Mexico and that, NORML feared, was also killing marijuana smokers in America.
In 1971 the Nixon administration, anxious to stop marijuana from entering the U.S., offered helicopters and airplanes to the Mexican government for a program to defoliate marijuana fields. That was at a time, however, when much of the world disapproved of the U.S. defoliation of forests and rice fields in Southeast Asia, and the Mexican government indignantly rejected the offer. "Mexico will never allow itself to be used as a proving ground for herbicides nor to suffer damage to the ecology of our country," declared the Mexican attorney general.
By 1975 the situation had changed. There was a new government in Mexico, and it was concerned about the hundreds of thousands of acres in the Sierra Madre that were being used to grow marijuana, as well as poppies from which heroin was made. Their concern had little to do with the health or welfare of American drug users and much to do with Mexican politics. Mexico was then supplying some 90 percent of America's marijuana and receiving in return some $2 billion a year. But who was getting that money? The Sierra Madre was a twenty-three-thousand-square-mile region that had never been under effective government control. Promises of land reform there had been made but not kept, and peasants were starting to take over large farms by force. There were revolutionary stirrings in the region, and the millions of dollars pouring in could only aid potential revolutionaries. That was the ultimate fear: that American drug users might unwittingly finance a Mexican revolution.
The Mexican government therefore decided to carry out a major program to eradicate poppy and marijuana fields, and it wanted American money and technical assistance. The Americans were glad to oblige, for a number of reasons. For the DEA and the White House, it would be part of the war on drugs. For the CIA and the State Department, who didn't want a Mexican revolution any more than the Mexicans did, it was an excellent excuse to have Americans keeping a close eye on what happened in the Sierra Madre. Finally, there was the new factor that had revolutionized U. S.-Mexican relations: oil. The discovery in 1972 of vast new oil and gas deposits in Mexico, at a time when the U.S. had a desperate need for new energy sources, had changed everything. U.S. presidents and secretaries of state, after years of giving orders to Mexican governments, were now forced to go to them, hat in hand, in hopes of winning favorable oil agreements. If the Mexican government wanted a few million dollars and a few dozen helicopters to spray marijuana fields, the U.S. government would be glad to oblige.
John D. Ford, an aviation-services adviser to the Agency for International Development, was one of the Americans who went to Mexico in the fall of 1975 to help set up the spraying program. During test-spraying in October of that year he noticed, and reported to his superiors, something quite unexpected when he returned one day to a marijuana field he had sprayed. "Upon landing, we discovered that a large portion of the field had been harvested after it was sprayed."
What Ford did not understand, but what was quickly apparent to the Mexican peasants, was this: If they harvested the sprayed plants quickly, before the herbicide turned the leaves brittle and the taste bitter, the contaminated plants could still be sold to the Yankee drug dealers. Just what might happen to people who smoked that herbicide-drenched marijuana was not of great concern to the peasants, for whom a marijuana crop could mean, by one estimate, the difference between an income of $200 a year and $5000 a year.
Thus, aided by $15 million a year in U.S. money, the spraying program began and some unknown amount of contaminated marijuana began making its way back across the border into the U.S.
It was well known at this time that paraquat would kill people who swallowed it. Scientists say that more than two hundred cases of fatal paraquat poisoning have been reported in medical journals. A single mouthful will kill an adult, and even a taste will kill a child. There have been several cases in which adults put paraquat in a cola bottle to pour on weeds and then left the bottle in a garage or tool shed; a child, thinking it a bottle of soda, would drink it and die a horrible death. Paraquat, if swallowed, gravitates to the lungs and causes slow suffocation. There is no antidote.
All this was known. What was not known was what would happen to people who smoked marijuana that had been sprayed with paraquat.
Stroup first heard reports of the spraying program from drug dealers who attended the NORML conference in December of 1976. Craig Copetas, of High Times, said he had been hearing the same thing. Stroup, at his meeting with Peter Bourne early in February, asked if there was some sort of herbicide-spraying program going on, and Bourne promised to check into it. On February 16, after his leak about Chip Carter had angered Bourne, Stroup wrote Bourne and formally asked how extensive the program was and what was known about the effects on people who smoked marijuana that had been sprayed with a herbicide.
It was a month before Bourne replied. He said it was true that the Mexican government was using herbicides to eliminate illegal opium-poppy and marijuana crops. The U.S. government, he said, "has nothing to do with the selection, procurement, payment or reimbursement in regard to the herbicides." He added that the experts he had consulted did not know the effect, if any, the poisoned marijuana might have on the health of people who smoked it.
Stroup, at that point, was at a dead end. He didn't know anything about the spraying program, and having outraged Bourne and the White House, he couldn't look for much cooperation there. And yet if what he feared was true, millions of Americans were smoking contaminated marijuana.
Fortunately, as he pondered the paraquat problem, Stroup was able to turn to a powerful ally: Stuart Statler, his friend since they were young lawyers at the Product Safety Commission a decade before and who had gone on to Sen. Charles Percy's staff, eventually to become chief counsel for the Republican members of the Senate Permanent Investigations Sub-committee, which oversaw, among other agencies, the DEA. It had been in large part because of Statler that Senator Percy had held hearings, back in 1973, into ODALE's no-knock drug raids, and now, in 1977, Statler would become an important ally for NORML on the paraquat issue.
Stu Statler was a short man with a thatch of unruly reddish-brown hair. Despite the conservative way he dressed and the careful way he spoke, he had a certain aura of the leprechaun about him. He liked Stroup and admired the work he'd done at NORML. He felt he'd kept the reform movement from being taken over by the crazies, whose work would only be counterproductive. As a lawyer Statler was concerned by what Stroup told him about the spraying program. One of the basic principles of law, Statler felt, was foreseeability. If you could foresee that your action would harm someone, then you had an obligation not to take that action. It seemed clear to Statler, therefore, that if the U.S. government's support of the Mexican spraying program was foreseeably harming American citizens, then that support should stop. The first step, however, was to learn more about the program, and to that end he persuaded his boss, Senator Percy, to write to Peter Bourne and request information.
Prodded by Senator Percy, and by his own concerns, Bourne then took two steps that indicated his determination to get the facts on the Mexican spraying program. First, he and Mathea Falco flew to Ixtepec, Mexico, for a first-hand look at the spraying program. They walked through fields of ten-foot-high marijuana plants and examined them before and after spraying. Everything Bourne saw, and everything the U.S. and Mexican officials told him, indicated that the sprayed plants would turn brittle and wither away before they could be harvested and shipped back to the U.S.
Pursuing the matter, Bourne next called a meeting in his office, on May 27, of representatives of the DEA, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, and the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), all to discuss the facts and implications of the spraying program.
For Peter Bourne, at that time, the trip to Mexico and the meeting were just further examples of how drug-related issues were taking more and more of his time.
Unexpected controversies kept arising. The president had caused one of them. Bourne went to his office one evening to review his work. Carter asked if there was anything more he should be doing about drugs. Bourne was not caught unprepared. "One thing we could do is take barbiturates off the market," he said. He explained how barbiturates were over-prescribed, and how more people died from their misuse each year than from heroin. Bourne was pleased by Carter's keen interest in what he said, but he was stunned at what Carter did the next day. Carter had his first radio call-in program that afternoon, and when someone asked him what he was going to do about the drug problem, he declared that he was going to ban the sale of barbiturates.
It was an example of Carter's habit of shooting from the hip, and Bourne was kept busy for several days picking up the pieces, explaining what the president really meant and meeting with the drug industry and the AMA and the FDA to work out a compromise whereby the drug industry could "voluntarily" phase out barbiturates.
There were other controversies. Just a few days before the May 27 meeting in his office, Bourne had testified before a Senate committee, and someone had asked if he'd ever smoked marijuana himself. He admitted that he had, with some friends, when he was an Army medical officer stationed in Vietnam, and to his amazement that became the day's big story, in newspapers across the nation. It was incredible, he thought, that so much attention would be paid to one man's admission that he'd smoked.
And there were the mothers. All over America, it seemed, community anti-marijuana groups were springing up. They wrote letters to the president, hundreds of them. Sometimes they came to see the president. "How can we control our children when you're talking about making marijuana legal?" they would demand. There was one group in Decatur, Georgia, that had direct access to Carter. They would send their delegations, and often he would send them down to talk with his expert on drugs. Bourne would have to listen to their outraged complaints. They didn't want to hear about the Marijuana Commission report, or scientific findings that suggested marijuana was not harmful, or the arguments for decriminalization. All they knew was that they didn't want their children smoking the stuff. Their passions were as intense as those of the right-to-lifers during the campaign. "You're destroying our children!" they would cry. And Peter Bourne, a gentle man who did not want to destroy anyone's children, would smile and take the heat.
And now there was paraquat.
The meeting in Bourne's office that day happened to include, in addition to the people from State, DEA, FDA, and other executive agencies, a young man named Daryl Dodson, who was a $125-a-week intern on the Senate Permanent Investigations Sub-Committee staff and who was present representing Stuart Statler. More than a year later, when paraquat had exploded into a national controversy, Dodson described the meeting in Bourne's office to Jesse Kornbluth, who was writing an article about the issue for The New York Times Magazine:"The opinion of almost everyone there was that people didn't want to spend resources testing for paraquat poisoning. 'This may be the biggest breakthrough in drug abuse yet,' someone said. There were jokes like, 'Well, we've finally found a way to stop pot smokers.' Richard Dugstad [of the State Department] continued to say there was no evidence contaminated marijuana was being harvestedyet he had forwarded the Ford memos, which directly contradicted him, to us. Over and over, people asked, 'Why are we even concerned about this?' until Peter Bourne said, 'Because we have a responsibility.'"It was Dodson's impression that Bourne alone, of those at the meeting, was seriously concerned about the possibility that the spraying might present a health hazard to American smokers. Bourne's subsequent action suggests that. He ordered DEA to provide NIDA with samples of marijuana confiscated at the Mexican border, and NIDA to test them for paraquat contamination. Because of his own observations in Mexico, Bourne doubted that any contaminated marijuana would be found, but he wanted to find out, if only to settle the matter once and for all.
The meeting in Bourne's office, as described by Dodson, first revealed the attitude that would be taken time and again by federal bureaucrats, which was that marijuana smokers simply had no rights. If paraquat had been accidentally sprayed on a tobacco field in North Carolina, or spilled at the Lem Motlow distillery in Tennessee, the U. S. government would have moved heaven and earth to be sure that no cigarette smoker or whiskey drinker was harmed. But because marijuana was illegal, the bureaucrats reasoned, it was all right for the government to take actions that might harm them. To Stroup, who for years had resented the idea that he and other smokers were second-class citizens, it was the ultimate indignity: The government thought it could poison them with impunity.
Despite his clash with the White House in February, Stroup was dealing socially with members of the White House staff more and more as 1977 progressed. In part this was because of his friendship with two young entrepreneurs, Fred Moore and Billy Paley. Moore was slender and bearded, a lawyer turned restaurateur in his mid-thirties. Paley, still in his twenties, was the son of CBS founder William S. Paley and Babe Paley, a legendary figure in American fashion and society. Billy Paley was a tall, handsome, broad-shouldered man with a jet-black beard, one earring, and a taste for beautiful women, flashy sports cars, and fancy night life. Together Moore and Paley opened a restaurant on Capitol Hill called the Gandy Dancer, which they hoped to make the sort of hip, fashionable spot that would attract media figures and the younger Carter crowd.
To that end, Moore appeared in Stroup's office one day early in 1977 and said he admired the work NORML had done and hoped Stroup would patronize the Gandy Dancer. In fact, Moore said, Stroup could have a "tab," which meant that his food and drinks would be free. Stroup appreciated the offer and frequently took advantage of it. Moore and Paley were equally successful in attracting some of the Carter people, and Stroup began to meet them at the Gandy. Bill Dixon, who'd run Wisconsin for Carter in 1976, was often there, as were Stroup's photographer friend Bob McNeally and Tim Kraft, Carter's appointments secretary. A lot of people from Capitol Hill and the D.C. government hung out there, too, and entertainers, like Jimmy Buffet, would drop by when they were in town. For a time the Gandy Dancer was the in spot for Washington's younger political crowd, much as Duke Ziebert's restaurant had been for the older political generation. For Stroup it became a social headquarters, a place to entertain, to see and be seen, and Moore and Paley became, in effect, NORML'S social chairmen, most notably when he entrusted to them the planning of the NORML conference parties in 1977 and 1978.
If drugs were one of the common denominators that united Washington's younger political crowd, another was rock music. When Willie Nelson or Jimmy Buffet or the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac came to town for a concert, it was important to be there, to be backstage, to be at the post-concert parties, and it was at these concerts that Stroup met many of the Carter people. Often, when a favorite rock group was comingusually to the huge Capital Centre, a long ride out from downtown WashingtonFred Moore would get tickets, organize a party, and the Gandy Dancer crowd would all ride out together. The first time Stroup rode on a bus with some White House people, he was very straight. Beer was being passed around, and he took one and sipped it. Then a Carter aide yelled across the aisle, "Hey, Stroup, don't you have any dope?" Stroup shrugged, pulled out a joint, and shared it with the more adventurous Carterites.
In July, Fleetwood Mac played a concert in Washington. They were trying to get approval for a tour of Russia, and they attended a party at a Washington hotel that was mainly for members of the White House staff. Stroup was one of the few outsiders to attend. He saw Chip Carter there and was about to introduce himself and to say he was sorry about the incident in February, but one of his other White House friends advised him against it. Before he left he chatted with Pat Caddell, the president's pollster, and Barry Jagoda, Carter's television adviser; the next day he wrote them both letters and enclosed NORML brochures. That was the point with Stroup: The others were playing, but he was working.
As it happened, the biggest favor Stroup got from the White House that year didn't come from one of his friends at the Gandy Dancer but from a little-known presidential speechwriter named Griffin Smith, who had been assigned to draft a presidential message to Congress on drug abuse.
Smith was a plumpish, soft-spoken man in his early thirties who in 1972-73, as a legislative aide in Texas, had been a key figure in the passage of that state's reform bill. Stroup had known and admired Smith back then and had been delighted when he'd emerged as a member of Carter's speechwriting staff. They talked a few times in early 1977, and in the summer Smith called and asked Stroup to send him ideas for the president's drug statement. Stroup quickly did so, and Smith later called again and invited Stroup to come by his apartment to make suggestions as he wrote a final draft of the statement.
By that point Griffin Smith was a very demoralized, discouraged man. He had come to Washington quite by accident, because of his friendship with Jim Fallows, Carter's senior speechwriter, and he had not expected to be such a small frog in such a large pond. It sounded impressive to say you were one of the president's speechwriters, but the truth was he'd met Carter only once, and he'd soon learned that speechwriters were supposed to keep quiet and write what they were told to write. This drug message was typical of the frustrations of his job. He kept writing good, strong drafts of the message and sending them to Peter Bourne, and Bourne kept watering them down and sending them back.
He invited Stroup over for moral support, and also just for the hell of it. What Smith wanted to do was to write the strongest possible message, yet consistent with the president's policy as he understood it. But that left room for a good deal of rhetorical flourish, and as the evening progressed, Smith and Stroup inserted into the proposed message such statements as "Marijuana has become an established fact throughout our society and the sky has not fallen," and "States should repeal criminal penalties, thus bringing to a close an unhappy and misguided chapter in our history."
A few days later this draft reached the desk of Stu Eisenstat, Carter's top domestic adviser, a cautious man, who was shocked at what he read. In a memo to Carter, Eisenstat said, "I am very concerned about the marijuana section of this message." He warned that the section on marijuana was "written in an almost laudatory tone," and that some of the statements almost seemed "to be a positive recommendation of the drug."
Eisenstat's analysis was perceptive, and Carter, heeding the advice, personally edited out the most blatantly pro-pot rhetoric. Still, even as edited, Carter's message called for decriminalization and was excellent from NORML's point of view.
For Stroup it was yet another lobbyist's dream come true: to help the president's speechwriter write the presidential message to Congress in the area of his concern. And of course it also made a nice, self-serving story to drop to his friends at the Gandy Dancer. Stroup seemed to be riding high as the summer ended. The paraquat issue was at least temporarily on the back burner, as both sides awaited the results of the tests Bourne had ordered. Meanwhile, Stroup partied with the Carter crowd and helped write Carter's drug message. He had intimacy with the people in power, and yet he remained his own man.
In fact, Stroup was riding for a fall, and when it came, the only real surprise was that it happened in Canada instead of in Washington.