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High in America

  The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana

    Patrick Anderson

  Chapter 18

    Stroup knew he was wrong, but he didn't know what to do about it.
    He had plunged the world of drug policy into turmoil. Calls were pouring in from NORML supporters who feared Stroup had killed any hope that the Carter administration would support drug-law reform. Tom Bryant resigned from NORML'S advisory board, calling Stroup's actions with regard to Bourne "unconscionable." Roger Roffman, NORML'S Washington State coordinator, had also resigned. Stroup had Larry Schott take most of the calls; he wasn't ready to talk to anyone. Schott and Brownell were urging him to issue yet another statement of explanation and apology, but Stroup wanted more time to evaluate the damage. Would he have to resign? Or could he ride out the storm?
    He alternated between defiance and despair. Sometimes he tried to justify himself. He'd been battle weary, he would say. But that wouldn't wash. Everyone is battle weary. That's what battles are all about. Or he would say that Bourne had deserved it, because of paraquat. But that didn't hold water either. Paraquat was Carter's policy, not Bourne's, and Stroup wasn't going to get a better policy by destroying Bourne. No, the truth was that Stroup had done something stupid, and now he, as well as Bourne, was paying for his mistake.
    Stroup had spent eight years constructing his own little world, one in which he was admired and respected, and now it was collapsing. Tom Bryant was outraged, people like Norman Zinberg were upset, and many on Stroup's own staff were barely speaking to him, for they had made NORML their world, and it was falling down around their heads, too. For the next several weeks Stroup would reach out in many directions for support and encouragement. He called Kelly the day the cocaine story broke and asked if he could come by and see Lindsey that night. Kelly had seen the papers, and she had to say to him, "Keith, you really did it this time. Instead of waving the gun you pulled the trigger." In Kelly's mind his lashing out at Bourne was much like his lashing out at her, after their separation, wanting to punish her. He came by that night and they smoked a few joints and talked. It was the first time in a long time she could remember their having talked without fighting, and he had seemed to listen to what she had to say. Finally he went and kissed Lindsey good night and left. Kelly thought she had never seen him so unsure of himself. She felt sorry for him.
    Stroup decided the best thing was to get out of Washington for a while, to give himself time to think and for things to cool down. Willie Nelson had invited him to join him and the band on the road, and Stroup decided to accept the invitation.
    Before catching up with Willie Nelson in Las Vegas, Stroup flew first to Albuquerque to visit his brother, Larry, and his family. He called Larry that morning and said he was coming west to hide out for a few days, to get away from a problem back in Washington. When he arrived in Albuquerque, the two brothers, and Larry's wife, Pat, went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant and then returned to Larry's home. It was a pleasant evening, in part because the brothers were careful to avoid any political discussion: Larry Stroup regarded Barry Goldwater as a dangerous liberal.
    At breakfast the next morning Stroup read a Joseph Kraft column in the local paper that was critical of his role in the Bourne affair. Stroup had planned to see his brother later in the day, but once he saw the Kraft column he packed his bag, said hurried good-byes, jumped into his rented car, and headed farther west, still trying to escape.
    Driving through the desert that morning, Stroup smoked two joints and managed to miss the turn to Santa Fe. Doubling back, he was stopped at a police roadblock. A state trooper smelled marijuana smoke in his car, forced him to open his suitcase, and found two ounces of marijuana. Stroup guessed that was it, the last straw. To be busted in New Mexico, on top of everything else, would be the end. He'd have to quit NORML or be thrown out. He'd be a laughingstock, a fool. But the trooper, a Chicano, let him go with a lecture.
    Stroup stopped in Santa Fe to visit Louise Dubois, the former wife of his friend Larry Dubois. Louise was a petite blonde, blessed with patrician beauty and a serene nature. She loved animals and had moved to Santa Fe, where she was working for a veterinarian and living in an adobe farmhouse on a ranch outside of town. Stroup tripped on MDA his first night with Louise, and stayed up late, listening to dogs howl out on the desert, content at last, the fiasco in Washington finally blown from his mind. Then the phone rang. It was Larry Dubois, calling to warn that Stroup was in deep trouble.
    NORML'S board of directors consisted of Stroup, Schott, Brownell, Fioramonti, and Dubois. The only way Stroup could have been forced out of NORML would have been by a majority vote of the board. Dubois had for several years been an inactive member of the board, but now his phone was ringing. Stroup's critics were asking Dubois if he thought it might be time for a change in NORML's leadership. Stroup could count on Dubois's vote, come what may, but Dubois nonetheless urged him to return to Washington and issue a statement of apology to quiet the critics. Stroup refused. He was on his way to see Willie Nelson, and that was that.
    He spent three days in Las Vegas, partying with Nelson and his band and entourage. Nelson's traveling party amounted to a big extended family, and that of course was what Stroup was seeking in his journey west. NORML had been his family for several years, but he was in disfavor there, and so he had turned for approval and moral support to Nelson, who was a kind of father figure and guru to many people.
    When Stroup returned to Washington, Larry Schott said he thought it necessary for the board of directors to censure Stroup for his role in the Bourne affair. That was done in a statement that stressed NORML'S belief in every person's right to privacy with regard to his or her drug use, regardless of politics. After that, Stroup issued a statement of apology. By then, he seemed to have ridden out the storm.
    Thus assured, Stroup was off to Miami in mid-August for the long-awaited Jimmy Buffet benefit for NORML. Stroup had been working on this one for more than a year. He had partied with Buffet, traveled with him, gone to his wedding, got to know his parents. One concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington had been canceled when Buffet's new manager decided he was overexposed in the Washington area. But Stroup persisted and enlisted the help of Hunter Thompson and friends of Buffet's in the Carter administration, and finally he had pinned down Buffet and, more important, his manager. Buffet was going to play three concerts in Miami, during which a live album would be recorded, and the proceeds, after expenses, would go to NORML. Considering the size of the hall and the price of the tickets, Stroup estimated that NORML would receive a minimum of $25,000.
    Just as important as the money, of course, was the demonstration that despite the Bourne affair, he was still Mr. NORML, was still alive and well in the world of rock-and-roll celebrity. He invited many of his friends to Miami for a week of partying: Tom Forcade and Craig Copetas came from New York, Fred Moore and Billy Paley from Washington, Marlene Gaskill from Atlanta. (Forcade wanted Stroup to fly to Colombia with him after the concerts. "Are you crazy?" Stroup said. "After I've been busted in Canada, do you think I'm going to Colombia with you?" "Don't worry," Forcade told him. "In Colombia the cops are on our side.") Everyone stayed at the Coconut Grove Hotel, a rock-and-roll hangout, and for five days and nights Miami had its party of the year. Dealers came and gave away cocaine. Women came and gave away themselves. There were so many women, going from room to room, wanting only anonymous sex with anyone who smacked of stardom, that in time the men were turning them away. It was a level of rock-and-roll craziness that shocked even Stroup; he didn't see how people could live at that pace and survive.
    Somehow the three concerts were held, all sellouts, and after the last one Stroup rented a house and hired a band and gave a party for Buffet and the band and everyone. But there was a problem. All week the promoter of the concert had treated Stroup rudely. He'd given Stroup and his friends lousy tickets for the concerts. And now, when Stroup gave his farewell party, Buffet didn't bother to come. It seemed possible that the word was out that Stroup was no longer the man with big White House connections, that perhaps he was something of a political pariah.
    The next afternoon, Stroup, Paley, and Moore were racing through the Miami airport to catch their plane back to Washington when two security men stopped them. Stroup guessed their dark glasses and modish clothes had triggered a spot check. He began protesting, talking very fast, because he was carrying both marijuana and cocaine, and images of the windowless search room in Canada were flashing through his mind when one security guard told the other, "I think these are the wrong ones," and let them go.
    Back in Washington, there was another unexpected complication in Stroup's life. For the first time since his marriage he was becoming seriously involved with a woman.
    She was Lynn Darling, the Washington Post reporter who'd interviewed him back in July on the day the Quaaludes story broke. Darling was a tall, slender woman with brown hair, high cheekbones, and huge brown eyes that made her look even younger than her twenty-six years. She and Stroup were, in fact, a great deal alike: smart, nervous, fast-talking, fast-thinking people, people who savored the limelight. Darling's father was an Army colonel, and her mother was the daughter of Polish immigrants; she had been pushed since childhood to excel. She entered Harvard at sixteen, discovered the joys of drugs, journalism, and radical politics, and by the time she graduated she was an editor of the Crimson and an ex-Maoist.
    Stroup and Darling had met and had a brief affair in 1974 when she was a free-lance writer. She remained interested in him, and when they met again in 1978, she was older and more sure of herself, and he was in urgent need of comfort and support. He called her when he returned from Las Vegas to tell her he'd admired the long front-page article she'd written on drug use in Washington. Using the Bourne affair as a starting point, Darling had pointed out that drug use was part of the life-style of many young people in the political world. She mentioned in passing that she was herself not unfamiliar with drugs, and she commented on the generation gap at her newspaper, where, she said, older journalists compared cocaine to heroin while younger ones compared it to coffee.
    Stroup was soon spending most of his free time with Darling. He was still unsure of his future, still feeling hostility from many quarters, and he talked for hours about his uncertainties. Darling found him confused, torn by Calvinist guilt, uncertain of his identity, fearful that he was at bottom self-destructive. One night he would regret what he had done in the Bourne affair, the next night he would justify his actions and declare that the bastards would never force him out. He knew he couldn't stay at NORML, and yet he feared being stripped of his Mr. NORML persona and becoming just another lawyer.
    Despite Stroup's problems, or because of them, the romance blossomed. Eventually, after much hesitation and soul-searching, Stroup moved into Darling's apartment. He did so a step at a time, like a man getting into a cold bath, keeping his clothes in his own apartment for several weeks, keeping his apartment for several months after he'd quit using it, finding it very difficult to admit, even to himself, that he'd finally surrendered his hard-won independence.
    As autumn began, Stroup knew he had to leave NORML, the question was when. He could hang on, but he could never be as effective as he was before the Bourne episode. For one thing, he had lost his White House connections; Peter Bourne's successors in the Office of Drug Abuse Policy understandably wanted nothing to do with him. An even worse problem was criticism within NORML. Important allies were wondering if he'd outlived his usefulness. In mid-September, he told the staff he would leave NORML sometime the next spring.
    Early in October, Stroup got an unexpected call from his friend Mike Stepanian, the San Francisco drug lawyer. Several of NORML'S leading scientific advisers had been to San Francisco for a drug conference, Stepanian said, and they'd had a long talk about NORML, and they felt they could no longer work with the organization if Stroup stayed on as its director.
    Stroup exploded. "I've already said I'm leaving," he shouted at Stepanian.
    That wasn't good enough, Stepanian said. The scientists wanted a firm date for his departure.
    Stroup declared that he'd leave when he was ready and the scientists could go fuck themselves. He interpreted the scientists' threats as another example of White House pressure. By some reports, the scientists had been told they must choose between working with NORML and the government contracts and consultant positions that were so important to them.
    He remained resolute for a week, declaring that nobody could force him out; then, abruptly, he realized that practicing law looked a great deal more attractive than struggling to rebuild NORML's coalition. He called Gerry Goldstein and asked if he'd be interested in forming a law partnership. Goldstein said he would, and Stroup announced he would leave NORML by the end of the year.

    In November, Stroup flew to Los Angeles for a NORML fund-raiser at the Playboy mansion. Two hundred fifty guests were invited, at $100 apiece, and Hugh Hefner picked up all the expenses. There was no easier or more pleasant way to raise $25,000. And NORML needed the money, all the more so because the Jimmy Buffet benefit had ended in disaster. After waiting a couple of months, Stroup called Buffet's accountant and was told that expenses for the Miami concerts had been higher than expected. In fact, instead of the $25,000 or more Stroup was expecting, NORML wouldn't get anything. It was only when Stroup threatened to tell reporters that Buffet's manager had ripped off NORML that the manager agreed to send $10,000.
    Soon after Stroup arrived at his hotel in Los Angeles for the Playboy fund-raiser, he received stunning news from New York: Tom Forcade had shot and killed himself.
    Forcade had been deeply depressed by the death a few weeks earlier of his friend Jack Coombs in a plane crash in Colombia. The crash had apparently been accidental, but Forcade believed the DEA was responsible. After Coombs's death Forcade had been using a lot of Quaaludes, a drug that only added to his depression. His wife, Gabrielle Schang, an attractive Briarcliff dropout turned Yippie, later said, "Tom was really gifted and a little unbalanced. I think he was clinically a manic depressive. On his highs he had boundless energy, but he'd fall into lapses of despondency and be like a zucchini. I think it was hard for him to be a radical leftist and a successful capitalist, too." As soon as the Playboy party was over, Stroup flew to New York for a wake Schang was holding for Forcade on the top floor of the World Trade Center—because, she explained, it was the highest place in New York.
    Stroup spent the evening of Saturday, December 2, getting very, very high. That afternoon, the second day of the 1978 NORML conference, he'd delivered his farewell speech to the delegates. He'd been a bit nervous as he began his speech, for there was a rumor that the Yippies were going to pie him, a prospect Stroup found distinctly unsettling. But no pie throwers appeared, and Stroup began by paying tribute to two allies of NORML who had died in recent weeks: Tom Forcade and George Moscone, the mayor of San Francisco, who'd been shot by an assassin. He went on to regret the rise of an anti-reform New Right, to denounce the DEA as an American Gestapo and call for its abolition, to advocate the legalization but not the commercialization of marijuana, to challenge President Carter to provide action instead of rhetoric on drug-law reform, and to declare that the fate of people imprisoned on drug charges concerned him far more than the fate of Peter Bourne. As if to dramatize that point, the audience included Stroup's special guests for the weekend, Roy and Betty Mitchell, the blind couple from West Plains, Missouri, whose son, Jerry, had then been in prison about eight months and would remain there for another six months before he was paroled. Stroup tried to keep in touch with people like the Mitchells; they were a kind of extended family for him. He had heard recently from Frank Demolli; after getting out of prison in Texas, Demolli had got his college degree in Colorado and gone to work for the state prison system there, with the intention of making his career in prison reform.
    As he warmed up to his speech, Stroup had some kind words for the nation's drug smugglers. "They're not criminals," he declared. "They're our friends and we have to support them." It was both something he believed and a reminder that his new law firm would be specializing in drug cases, smugglers included. As Stroup saw it, that was the new cutting edge of the marijuana issue. The battle for the smokers was almost won—few of them went to jail anymore—but lots of dealers went to jail, and in Stroup's view they were simply businessmen, performing a necessary function, whom society unjustly defined as criminals.
    As he ended his speech, Stroup made only modest claims for the reform lobby he had created: They had demonstrated that smokers were a legitimate constituency, he said, a political force, and the government would have to listen to them when it made its drug policies.
    The delegates gave Stroup a standing ovation as he stepped down, and it was deserved. To have conceived NORML in 1970, to have brought it into being, and to have made it the formidable national organization it became were quite remarkable achievements. In the process Stroup had helped a lot of people no one else had the talent or inclination to help. A lot of people were not in jail who would have been if NORML had not existed. Whatever his shortcomings, Stroup had made NORML about as effective and as respectable as any marijuana lobby could expect to be, and he had associated it with people who represented excellence in many fields: with Ramsey Clark and Phil Hart, with Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, with Hunter Thompson and Garry Trudeau, with Norman Zinberg and Dorothy Whipple, with Hugh Hefner of Playboy and Tom Bryant of the Drug Abuse Council. He had made at least his share of mistakes, but it was impossible to say that anyone else could have done as well, or even come close. Stroup's critics might not consider him a proper model for the young, but he had fought effectively for what he believed, and history teaches that the people who step forward to lead unpopular causes are not often perfect gentlemen.
    The speech was Stroup's official farewell; then the unofficial farewell began, as Stroup began to unwind and make the rounds of the suites at the Hyatt Regency. It was a warm, sentimental evening. Stroup's friends had forgiven him the Bourne affair and were remembering the good times. There were many handshakes, embraces, jokes, memories to be exchanged, and there were also many offers for Stroup to take a hit of this, a snort of that. For a while the party stopped in his and Lynn Darling's suite, where Gerry Goldstein kept ordering bottles of Dom Perignon from room service. The party moved on to Hunter Thompson's suite, where Stroup noticed that Thompson had torn off the door between his two rooms and had also crashed a serving tray into the wall. "Jesus Christ, Hunter, I'm liable for all this," Stroup protested, for NORML picked up the tab each year when Thompson came to its conferences. While they were in Thompson's suite, Stroup sampled some methamphetamine—speed—that had been mixed with cocaine. Stroup was getting higher and higher, but he was still in reasonably good shape at eleven o'clock when the party moved a few blocks away to a huge old Elks Club building, where the official NORML conference party was being held.
    Billy Paley and Fred Moore had been in charge of planning the 1978 conference party, as they had the previous year's party at the town house on S Street. This year, however, because of NORML'S financial plight, a money-making party was given. Invitations were sent to all NORML members in the Washington area to attend at $10 apiece. And they had come, many hundreds of them, seemingly every long-haired freak within a hundred miles of Washington, to pack the Elks Club hall, smoke dope, drink beer, eat chili, and listen to records and a rock band. For a while someone kept playing a depressing rock song called "Christmas at the K-Mart." Quite a number of Washington reporters were present, perhaps hoping for a repeat of the previous year's cocaine scandal, but they were disappointed, for it would have been easier to locate a two-headed cow than a Carter administration official at the 1978 NORML conference.
    Moore and Paley had set aside one room for NORML's elite. The door to that inner sanctum was being guarded by several large black men who were rumored to be black-belt karate experts. These doormen were admitting only people who displayed little paper stars that Larry Schott and others were giving to special friends of NORML. Inside the private room thirty or so people were smoking dope, snorting cocaine, sipping champagne, and generally having a fine time.
    Outside, however, an angry group of activist lawyers were confronting the doormen. They were dues-paying members of NORML, they declared, and there could be no private party, no elitism, no discrimination: They demanded admission. The reputed karate champions were unmoved. No star, no entry. The NORML populists were outraged, but push did not come to shove. Such was the situation when Stroup arrived. "Let 'em in," he commanded, and NORML's elite were soon engulfed by a tidal wave of public-interest lawyers and ponytailed dopers.
    Stroup didn't care. He felt great. With Lynn Darling at his side he moved about the Elks Club, shaking hands, laughing, greeting old friends, savoring his last hurrah. The trouble was that like many an old grad back for his class reunion, he was consuming more stimulants than was wise. He might have been able to handle the champagne, the marijuana, the speed, and the cocaine, but the problem was the Quaaludes that people kept pressing on him.
    He downed them, half a Quaalude here, another half there, because he thought that Quaaludes combined with cocaine produced a nice high, and also because too much cocaine made you tense, wired, jittery, and the Quaaludes would bring you down, take the edge off the coke. All of which was fine, except that too many Quaaludes can kill you, and Stroup was past counting.
    From the Elks Club the party returned to the Hyatt Regency, to the suite of a big, rich Texan who'd recently become an enthusiastic NORML supporter. Sometimes, for fun, the Texan would toss handfuls of Quaaludes into the air, as if they were candy or flowers. Stroup was saying something to Lynn Darling, was quite rational, and the next moment he sank to the floor, unconscious.
    Darling was scared. Most of the people were higher than she was, and no one seemed too worried about Keith. People gathered around and began comparing notes, and as best they could calculate he had taken four or five Quaaludes, enough, some feared, to kill him. They tried to take him back to his own room, but no one could find the key, so they took him instead to Mark Heutlinger's room. Then there was conflicting medical advice. Someone said the best thing was to let him sleep, but someone else said no, the important thing was not to let him sleep, because he might go into a coma. The Texan thought a cold bath might revive him, so they put him in the tub, and it revived him enough that he mumbled that champagne and Quaaludes taken together were synergistic, and all the people gathered around the tub cheered that sign of improvement.
    But he kept falling back to sleep, and they kept slapping him and talking to him and trying to awaken him. A young NORML aide had promised Darling he would find a doctor, but no doctor ever appeared. The Texan announced he had an ambulance standing by downstairs in case Stroup got worse. At one point the Texan demanded that room service send up some coffee and food, thinking that might revive Stroup, but the switchboard operator insisted room service was closed. The Texan went downstairs and broke into the kitchen and brought back cheese and crackers, but Stroup wouldn't eat them. It went on like that for hours—bizarre, chaotic, funny, or tragic, depending on the outcome. Darling, with a journalist's double vision, could see the headlines: "Mr. NORML Delivers Farewell Address; O.D.'s." From time to time Stroup would open his eyes and mutter some lewd sexual suggestion to her and then pass out again. Finally, around dawn, he opened his eyes and seemed to have some awareness of where he was. He squinted at Darling, then at the other people clustered around the bed.
    "What the fuck are all these people doing in my room?" he demanded. "Can't you see I'm trying to sleep?"
    With that, they knew he was all right.

Chapter 19

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