The Psychedelic Library Homepage

Books Menu Page

High in America

  The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana

    Patrick Anderson

  Chapter 16

    Early in 1977 Stroup wrote Phil Walden, the burly young president of Georgia-based Capricorn Records, asking for a chance to tell him about NORML'S work. Walden, the manager of the Allman Brothers Band and an early financial supporter of Jimmy Carter, was known as an intelligent, politically astute man. Stroup hoped that Walden, having seen the Allman Brothers Band destroyed by drugs and a drug trial, would understand the need for drug-law reform and thus would support NORML. Stroup especially hoped that Walden would help him persuade some rock groups to give benefit performances for NORML.
    Since the first days of NORML, Stroup had sought help from the entertainment world, and with some success. He'd got benefits or public-service tapes from Kris Kristofferson, before he was a superstar, and from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, and comedian George Carlin. But the biggest names, the ones who could produce the most money, had eluded him. Increasingly, by 1977, he was courting stars like Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffet, and the Eagles, hanging out backstage with them, playing groupie, but always pressing them to do a NORML benefit. Many promises were made, many drugs were consumed, but the concerts never seemed to happen. The stars were always agreeable, but not the managers and lawyers who advised them. Stroup guessed it was because the musicians were all so vulnerable to arrest, and they or their managers feared that support of NORML might anger the police or prosecutors who could bust them almost at will. Still, Stroup kept trying. His dream was a big NORML benefit concert in the South, with the proceeds going to open a Southern regional office in Atlanta, and in time he came to think of Walden as the man who could make that dream come true.
    Walden responded to Stroup's letter with an invitation to come down to Capricorn's annual picnic that summer. Stroup did, rubbed elbows with a lot of musicians, and hit it off well with Walden, who agreed to join NORML'S advisory board. Stroup knew it could not hurt him, in status-conscious Washington, to have such a close friend of the president on his advisory board, and it was always possible that he could use Walden to bypass Peter Bourne and put his case directly to Carter, on paraquat and other issues.
    On April 11, 1978, Stroup wrote Walden and urged him to discuss the paraquat issue with President Carter if he had the opportunity. Stroup still believed that Carter was being misled by his advisers, and that if he knew the truth about the spraying program he would see that it was both morally wrong and politically insane. He added, in his letter to Walden, that he would himself be glad to discuss the paraquat issue with Chip Carter. That seemed unlikely, however, given the way he had embarrassed Chip fourteen months earlier over his decision not to testify in New Mexico. But one afternoon a few days later, Walden called and told Stroup he was just leaving the White House and he would drop by NORML in a few minutes and bring Chip Carter with him.
    Stroup warned Lesyle Williams, NORML's receptionist, that if some men with guns arrived, it wasn't a raid, only the Secret Service. Moments later, Walden, Carter, and two men with bulges on their hips arrived. Walden left Carter in the outer office while he went into Stroup's office; this wasn't rudeness but a way of protecting the president's son if Walden and Stroup wanted to share a joint. Meanwhile, the Secret Service men, not sure what den of iniquity they'd been brought to, locked the front and back doors and announced that no one was to enter or leave without their approval.
    Lesyle Williams, a vivacious, dark-haired woman, soon engaged the two agents in conversation and was pressing NORML brochures on them. Across the room, George Farnham was trying, with much less enthusiasm, to make conversation with Chip Carter. Farnham's work on the paraquat issue had given him a vast disdain for the Carter administration, presidential sons included, but to make the best of the situation he tried to tell Chip about paraquat. It didn't go well. Chip seemed uninformed about the issue and not eager to learn. When Farnham tried to give Carter a copy of NORML'S legal brief, he refused it, as if he were being served with some sort of summons.
    Just then, Walden called Carter into Stroup's office, and the three of them settled down to talk. Stroup was all charm that afternoon. He told Carter that he regretted his leak to Jack Anderson the previous year, that he'd feared the Carter administration was backing away from decriminalization, but he'd later seen he was wrong. He went on to outline NORML'S current political priorities: medical reclassification, a federal decriminalization bill, and, most of all, stopping the paraquat spraying. Chip listened politely, asked some questions, and said he'd like to know-more. Soon, Walden said he and Chip had better be going. It had been only a get-acquainted call, a favor Walden was doing for his friends at NORML. After that, it would be up to Stroup to follow through.
    Stroup saw young Carter's visit as purely business. Chip was the Carter administration's unofficial ambassador to the youth culture, and Stroup assumed that he therefore saw the pot lobby as part of his political responsibility. As Stroup saw it, he wanted things from the Carter administration and the Carter administration wanted things from him: You make me; I make you. Certainly he was excited at the prospect of using the president's son as a way to bypass Peter Bourne and the bureaucrats and to present the anti-paraquat case directly to the president.
    At the same time, on a personal level, Stroup liked Chip, and thought they had a lot in common. Both were small-town boys who were fascinated with politics and who also enjoyed parties, celebrities, life in the fast lane. Stroup saw Chip as much like himself five years earlier, a young man determined to make a name for himself in the political world, except that when Stroup was starting out, he had been spared the burden of a father who was president. When Chip left NORML'S office that first afternoon, Stroup intended to send him data on paraquat and to request another, more formal meeting. As it turned out, he soon had an unexpected chance to lobby Chip in an informal setting.
    One of Stroup's friends was John Walsh, an editor with the Washington Post's " Style" section. Walsh was a plump white-haired man of thirty or so, an albino, who had previously been an editor with Rolling Stone. He maintained his contacts in the music world, and when Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson played the Capital Centre that month, he got tickets and chartered a bus to take a party of journalists and political people to the concert. Stroup managed to miss the bus, but when he arrived, Walsh came over and gave him a backstage pass and whispered that Willie wanted to talk to him after the concert. That was good news: Stroup had been after Willie Nelson for months to do a NORML concert.
    Stroup made his way backstage and spent some time hanging out with the band. He had some cocaine and good Colombian marijuana with him, for it was rock-world protocol that you always offered drugs to the musicians, although they usually had better drugs than you did. He noticed that Jody Powell and some other White House people were backstage, and after a while he was pleased to have his new friend Chip Carter come over and join him. They watched the show together for a while, and when the concert was over, Carter asked Stroup what was happening next. Stroup said he was going over to Willie's motel to party for a while. Chip asked directions and said he'd meet him there.
    When the postconcert party assembled, in a Holiday Inn near the Capital Centre, there were a dozen or so people present: Willie and Waylon; two or three members of the band; Chip Carter and his wife, Caron; the actor Jan-Michael Vincent; Stroup's friend Fred Moore; and Stroup and a friend from Atlanta, Marlene Gaskill.
    Stroup had met Marlene back in the early days of NORML. She was married then, and she smoked. Then she heard on the radio about a meeting to organize a NORML chapter, and she reasoned that if she was going to smoke, she should at least be trying to change the laws. So she went to the meeting, and met Stroup, and after that he would stay at her house when he was in Atlanta. Marlene would drive him around to interviews, and she could remember times when radio stations weren't sure they should let him on the air, for fear he was some kind of drug dealer. But Marlene liked him, and what he stood for, and she became a NORML volunteer. She spoke at colleges and to PTAs, and she thought it was wonderful how polite people were to her, even parents who strongly disagreed with her. She guessed it was because she was herself a mother and a businesswoman and a Southerner. In time, Marlene separated from her husband and quit her job. She had some money, she was forty years old, and she decided she wanted to enjoy life. This trip to Washington was certainly an example: partying with Keith and Willie and Waylon, plus Chip and Caron Carter. Marlene had to laugh. Keith had certainly come up in the world since the days when he slept on her sofa.
    The party was in a typical Holiday Inn room, with two beds and only two chairs in it. Chip was sitting in one of the chairs, and Paul, Willie's drummer and close friend, was slouched in the other. Paul always dressed in black and stared coldly at people and rarely spoke. Everyone else stood or sat on the beds. They had some soft drinks, but they couldn't find any ice. Marlene thought it was about as relaxed, down-home a party as she'd ever been to. There was a lot of talk and laughter, and a few dirty jokes, but nothing too dirty. Marlene was wearing her Coca-Cola T-shirt, which was a patriotic act if you were from Atlanta, but it gave rise to a lot of cocaine jokes. Chip and Caron had on jeans, and Willie had on his jeans and red bandanna. Keith was huddled with Chip and Willie, talking politics the way he always did, talking to Chip about rock concerts he'd helped organize for the president's campaign, asking if Chip could help persuade any groups to play a NORML benefit. When Keith urged Willie to do a NORML benefit in Austin, Willie's adopted home, unless that would cause him any problems there, Willie growled, "There ain't nothing I can do that would be unpopular in Austin."
    Keith was rolling joints and passing them around, and that had bothered Marlene, until she realized that Chip's Secret Service men were out in the hall to protect them, not to hassle anybody. At first someone had locked the door, but an agent had banged on it and told them, "Look, we don't care what you do in there, but just don't lock the door." That was when Chip had said, "Keith, for God's sake put that dope away." Marlene talked mostly to Caron Carter, a slender, vivacious young woman with dark hair and bright brown eyes, who she thought was one of the most attractive people she'd ever met. Caron seemed so happy to be here. The White House could be so stuffy, she said, so formal, and it was so rare for her and Chip to get a chance to wear jeans and sit cross-legged on a bed and talk to people without any political pressures. Caron talked about the 1976 campaign and how exhausting it had been, and Willie broke in and said he knew what she meant, that he and the boys had been touring in their bus since December with only fourteen days off.
    Caron told how she sometimes saw the president at breakfast and he would say how his advisers were always urging him to do the expedient thing, the political thing, but he wanted to know what was the right thing. Keith chimed in, half joking, and said he hoped that the next time Chip was having breakfast with his dad, he'd urge him to do the right thing about paraquat. Chip said he understood that it was a Mexican program, not a U.S. program, and there was no evidence that it was hurting anybody, and Keith said that might be what Peter Bourne told him, but it wasn't true. Willie spoke up and said he'd heard of this marijuana-spraying down in Mexico and didn't like it worth a damn. There was some more talk about paraquat, all very friendly and relaxed, and finally Chip and Caron said they'd better be going.
    Stroup was jubilant. Talk about doing it with mirrors! Willie had come away thinking Stroup always hung out with the president's son, and Chip had come away thinking Stroup always hung out with Willie Nelson. He hadn't pinned Willie down on a NORML concert, not yet. Willie had reached that level of celebrity at which you had to move slowly, to cultivate his entourage, to study his moods. It was like dealing with Hefner. And Chip's stopping by had been a great bonus: It was good for Chip to see how seriously Willie took the paraquat issue. Those bastards at State might think paraquat was a joke, but in Willie Nelson's world, poisoned marijuana was deadly serious. Stroup thought the evening had gone perfectly. He hadn't pushed Chip, hadn't embarrassed him, had kept it friendly. Stroup was increasingly impressed with Chip Carter, with how effortlessly political he was. The more he thought about it, the more Stroup regretted that Chip hadn't testified in New Mexico the year before. The kid was so damn smooth he might have got the bill through.

    On June 1 Stroup's friends Fred Moore and Billy Paley had the grand opening of their new restaurant-nightclub, the Biltmore Ballroom. It was on Columbia Road, a racially mixed neighborhood in Northwest Washington, in what had once been a ballroom on the second floor of an old building. Stroup arrived at the club around nine and found it packed with media and political people. He sipped a glass of champagne and from time to time stepped into the men's room to snort cocaine with someone. He chatted for a while with John Walsh, and with Ed Bradley, the talented CBS correspondent, and then to his surprise he found himself face to face with a slender black man named Sterling Tucker, the chairman of the D.C. city council, who was running for mayor.
    Stroup grumbled a hello; Sterling Tucker was not one of his favorite politicians.
    "Well, Keith, I hope you'll support my candidacy," Tucker said.
    "I don't think so," Stroup shot back. "You sold us out on the decrim bill."
    "No, no," Tucker protested. "I supported that bill. You stick with me."
    The defeat of the D.C. bill a year earlier had hurt, because it meant that Stroup continued to be officially a criminal in his hometown. Still, he was enjoying the exchange because a Washington Post reporter was watching, and it was fun to see Tucker squirm as he wondered what she might write.
    Tucker made his escape, Stroup laughed and sipped his champagne, and then someone spoke to him. He turned and saw Chip Carter, whom he hadn't seen since the night of the Willie-Waylon concert, although they'd talked by phone. Stroup's lobbying effort had thus far been unsuccessful. Chip had talked to Peter Bourne, who'd given him the official line about the spraying's being entirely a Mexican program. But Stroup's exchanges with Carter had been friendly, and they'd talked about the NORML-White House softball game that was coming up and about taking Chip's sister, Amy, and Stroup's daughter, Lindsey, who attended public school together, to the premiere of International Velvet at the Kennedy Center. Stroup continued to be impressed by Chip and to like him. He thought of theirs as a political friendship, a relationship often seen in Washington, in which personal regard existed but was never entirely innocent of political motivation, on either side.
    Chip was uncomfortable because he didn't know many of the people there in the Biltmore Ballroom. Stroup, who knew most of them, moved quickly to turn the situation to his advantage.
    "Let me introduce you around," he said, and led the president's son along the bar that divided the ballroom. He made introductions and gave Carter whispered explanations of who was what. It was the sort of assistance that presidents and their families expect when they make public appearances, and of course Stroup gloried in the role of Carter-administration insider and power broker. He was impressed, once again, by how smooth, how professional, Chip was. Still, it was work, and soon Chip had shaken all the hands he cared to. "Let's get out of here," he said. Stroup asked where he wanted to go. Carter said he didn't care. "Let's go to my place, then," Stroup said.
    Stroup had moved from the room over his office to a $126-a-month efficiency apartment in an ancient apartment house called the Marcheta, which was on New Hampshire Avenue, a few blocks from NORML. The apartment was perhaps twenty by twenty and featured a sagging sofa, lots of dirty clothes and paperback books tossed about, a stereo, and plenty of Willie Nelson and Delbert McClinton albums.
    Stroup and his guests drove to the Marcheta in separate cars. Chip arrived with his friend Kevin Smith and two Secret Service agents. The agents agreed to wait in the lobby while Stroup, Carter, and Smith took the elevator to Stroup's apartment on the seventh floor. There they proceeded to put on some records and, for the most part, talk about paraquat. There was some talk of other subjects—of politics, of music, of women—but Stroup kept turning the conversation back to paraquat, because for him this was one more priceless opportunity to enlist the president's son in his cause. Chip seemed interested, concerned, but he also seemed to have bought the Peter Bourne-State Department line, and Stroup was determined to make sure he understood NORML'S view, both as to the physical harm that poisoned paraquat was doing to Americans and the political harm it was doing to the Carter administration.
    The key, Stroup insisted, was to get the facts to the president. Chip agreed, but stressed that he would have to talk to Bourne again, would have to make sure he had the facts straight, so he could not be accused of meddling. Stroup said he understood that, and he was delighted at how seriously Chip took the issue and at his promise that he would talk to his father about it. When Chip finally left the Marcheta, sometime past midnight, to return to his more elegant lodgings in the White House, Stroup counted it a good night's work.
    By the time Stroup and Chip Carter were becoming friendly, in the late spring of 1978, Stroup had already, among other things, leaked an embarrassing story about Chip to Jack Anderson, threatened to expose Peter Bourne's drug use in retaliation for the Angarola letter, and filed a major lawsuit against the government over paraquat. Moreover, Stroup was a controversial figure whose use of various illegal drugs was well known. Given all that, it might be asked what the president's son, as well as many lesser administration figures, were doing associating with Stroup.
    The answer is part political, part personal. Politically, Stroup was there, a force to be reckoned with. If you were Peter Bourne, or anyone in government who was concerned with the drug issue, you would have to deal with Stroup. He had a large constituency, he was well plugged into the media, and he could help you or hurt you. But it was more than political.
    Official Washington is a very dull place, and it was fun to drop by NORML'S office, to listen to some music, to hear the latest gossip, to get high. If people didn't always understand that while they were playing, Stroup was working—that turning people on was part of a pot lobbyist's job—then that was their problem.
    Ten days after Chip Carter came by Stroup's apartment, the long-awaited softball game between NORML'S staff and the White House staff was played. The game came about after Tim Kraft arranged for several members of NORML to tour the White House. As NORML'S people wandered wide-eyed through the West Wing, someone asked if they played softball. Sure we play softball, the dopers declared, and a challenge was made and accepted.
    NORML'S people prepared for the game with practice sessions, new T-shirts (featuring a softball with a garland of marijuana leaves), and some new cheers written by Eric Sirulnik, a law professor who was working on the paraquat suit. As it turned out, the game was played on a cold, windy day; the dope lobbyists showed little aptitude for softball; the White House team won easily; and the day's best moment for the NORML team was one of Professor Sirulnik's cheers:

Spray our dope;
White House team
Ain't got
No hope!

    The summer was starting off well for the marijuana lobby. Even when Chip Carter called to report that his father would not be moved on the paraquat issue, that he believed the spraying to be necessary and just, Stroup was not greatly upset. For one thing, no lobbyist could ask for more than to have his case put directly to the president, by his own son, even if the decision went against him. No, for Stroup, the important thing was that he and NORML finally had acceptance, respectability, lines of communication to the highest levels of government. If you had that kind of status, you would win more battles than you lost. What Stroup could not foresee, as July arrived, was that within weeks all that hard-won status and respectability would be gone, destroyed by a senseless drug scandal, and the White House door would be slammed in his face for good.

Chapter 17

The Psychedelic Library | Books Menu Page