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Drugs and Washington, D.C.
Ladies Home Journal, December, 1978, Vol. 95
by Maxine Cheshire
Do "pot," cocaine, and more dangerous drugs influence our highest decision-makers and those close to them? Here, some frightening revelations by Washington's top investigative reporter.
Washington is a high pressure town. Its politicians and party-goers work hard and play harder. In 1974, Congressman Wilbur Mills made the headlines when it was discovered that he was an alcoholic, an affliction more than a few of his colleagues shared. But excessive drinking and girls on the house have always been common, and winked at, unless somebody made a terrible mistake and got caught. Certain government figures' idea of a good time, it seemed, closely paralleled the profligate pastimes more often associated with Hollywood or New York, despite pious proclamations from politicians with an eye on the campaign trail.
In 1978, the social winds continue to blow eastward. Hollywood, bored with alcohol and publicized affairs, has embraced a new high - drugs - and Washington is following suit. Many Washington parties serve cocaine and marijuana as naturally as martinis, and insiders suggest that if the total extent of the drug abuse in the capital was exposed, the resulting scandal would touch every area of government - from the hallowed halls of Congress to many a chandeliered embassy, and even to the White House. Drugs, particularly the "fashionable" ones, have become so acceptable in Washington that even some White House guest feel free to indulge in them on the premises.
At the White House's first jazz festival on the South Lawn this summer, a haze of marijuana smoke hung heavy under the low-bending branches of a magnolia tree when President Carter darted behind the bandstand to congratulate the musicians. One of the President's bodyguards looked uncomfortable, and feebly fanned the air around his boss. But if Carter recognized the aroma that enveloped him, he pretended to notice nothing.
Only the musicians themselves seem to appreciate the irony of the moment and smiled at one another. Most of them were elderly men, some of the greatest names in jazz history, who have lived long enough to see marijuana -- if not legalized -- at least legitimized.
But outside the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the city itself, any of them could still be arrested for possession of even the smallest amount of marijuana, an offense that has been illegal since the days they had played in places like the Cotton Club in Harlem in the late 1930's.
Indeed, by the time schools opened this fall, teenagers in affluent Montgomery County, Maryland, less than ten miles from the White House, would be arrested in droves in campus crackdowns for the same offense.
On the night of the White House jazz festival on June 19, however, those who would like to see marijuana decriminalized, if not completely legalized, had reason to feel encouraged. Attorney General Griffin Bell, America's chief law enforcement officer, sat only a hundred feet or so from the roped-off backstage "dressing room" area, where a number of the musicians were strolling the grounds, getting high while waiting to go onstage.
President Carter, who had asked Congress on August 2, 1977, to amend federal laws and eliminate all criminal penalties for possessing up to one ounce of marijuana (his request has so far not been acted upon), appeared to be going one step further in giving the drug his tacit approval.
Pot smoking on the White House grounds may have come as no surprise to anyone aware that rock start, heavily into drug use, had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Carter's early campaign. On at least two occasions, Carter was photographed with Capricorn Record supporters such as Gregg Allman (whose marriage to singer Cher broke up over his drug addiction), in crowds that were openly smoking pot and getting high on other, more dangerous, illegal substances.
Only a month after the jazz festival, Special Assistant to the President for Health Issues, Dr. Peter G. Bourne, resigned after a series of revelations about his alleged "recreational" use of drugs (which he denied) and his having written a prescription for Quaalude tablets, using a phony name, for an aide who had requested the drug.
President Carter, on July 24, warned staff members that anyone using drugs illegally in the future would be fired. In a terse memo, he made clear that he expected everyone working at the White House to "obey the law". "Whether you agree with the law or not is totally irrelevant . . . You will obey it or you will seek employment elsewhere."
Bourne, in a statement that he has since retracted, had said that he and other members of the White House staff had smoked marijuana, and that he was aware of the use of cocaine by some of the President's aids. Suddenly the world outside of Washington, D.C. became aware of a fact of life in the nation's capital that the media had been reluctant to publicize. Many of the reporters and editors took the position, and still do, that a government official's or employee's use of drugs in his private life is none of the public's business unless the indulgence affects the way he conducts himself during the office hours.
The sad truth is that drugs, on the Washington social scene are "in". They are trendy, kicky, chic. And users are not just smoking marijuana, a substance government officials estimate at least a tenth of the adult population enjoys occasionally and (continued on page 176)
which has become, by the New York Times description, "as American as blue jeans," Washington has discovered harder drugs as well.
Keith Stroup, an attorney and leader of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), estimates that at least 20 percent of the members of Congress are occasional smokers of marijuana.
A larger percentage, he says, have tried the drug. "I doubt if there are many congressmen or committee staffs that do not have marijuana smokers on them, including administrative aides of key members.
"Marijuana smoking among congressmen was rare until a few years ago, but now it's fairly commonplace. The number of pot smokers are growing and some of those who were considered young radicals yesterday are making policy and shaping public opinion today. The marijuana smoker is no longer considered a deviant; some congressmen smoke openly at parties; even Ford and Carter have had sons publicly admit to smoking pot and this would have been unheard of in previous administrations."
Show business personalities, the single most important source of campaign fund-raising for Washington politicians under today's election laws, are largely responsible for the rising popularity of drugs, especially cocaine, at Washington parties. One Carter administration insider involved in re-election fund-raising is said to have "a nose for coke," and the bankroll to afford it, when big names come to town expecting to be entertained.
Guests come prepared
Hosts and hostesses who don't or won't serve cocaine themselves find that their celebrity guests often come prepared.
President Gerald Ford once found himself dancing at the White House with a beautiful young actress who had recently arrived in movies via the fashion magazines and Jet-Set route. After frequently slipping off to the powder room throughout the evening (cocaine was not sniffed in public then), the actress became so unsteady, an alarmed Ford had to grasp her lace gown to keep her from slipping limply out of his arms. An observant military aide cut in and danced her, like a rag doll, out of sight.
Washington has been so quick to follow the trendy drug fad, that one observer of the Washington social scene was moved to say, "Heaven help us if all the 'beautiful people' started murdering their mothers. Matricide will suddenly become fashionable in some circles."
Cocaine is the costly caviar of the drug trade for which anyone but the most affluent of users can spend in one evening an amount equal to the cost of a week's groceries/ It enjoys as much status in the nation's capital as it does in New York or Hollywood, or any other sophisticated scene. According to authorities, ambassadors and lower level embassy officials with diplomatic immunity regularly bring cocaine, in kilo quantities worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, into Dulles International Airport from abroad. Last year, two inexperienced District of Columbia policemen were about the arrest the nephew of an Arab diplomat as a major cocaine trafficker when they learned that they themselves could be prosecuted under U.S. treaties for detaining the young man from his "appointed rounds."
Because embassy officials enjoy diplomatic immunity and are not subject to arrest, they pass through customs without harassment and operate freely while in the United States. In fact, the involvement of foreign embassies in international narcotics trading is a scandal of such monumental proportions that the entire story is unlikely to be (continued on page 177)
told as long as the United States wants to keep its allies.
The federal Drug Enforcement Agency investigated one world leader's sister suspected of drug trafficking and known as the "Dragon Lady" in international heroin circles. DEA sources say there were officials who wanted her barred from entering the U.S., but a Republican senator, friendly to her brother, interceded on her behalf at the White House. An Asian embassy official, also suspected of being a major figure in the global heroin hierarchy, cuts a wide swath socially in Washington, seldom missing a congressional birthday party or wedding and frequently traveling with congressional delegations to the Far East.
The potential for discreet leverage and outright blackmail when a U.S. government official accepts drugs as part of the hospitality of a foreign diplomat or agent is obvious.
The subject of drugs came up more than once during the "Koreagate" investigation of Tongsun Park's influence peddling, but no mention of the connections was ever made either by the Justice Department or the House Ethics Committee. Park, however, carried an address book that contained the telephone number of an obscure real estate dealer believed by Washington police to be one of the major sources of drugs on Capitol Hill.
When Alexi Goodarzi, the Iranian-born maitre d'hotel at the Rotunda restaurant on Capitol Hill, was murdered in the summer of 1977, authorities found evidence that he had supplied women and drugs to congressmen. It was also suspected that the high-living, well-connected bachelor (whose father was reportedly a police chief in Tehran) may have been working for the Shah's SAVAK secret police operating in the United States.
Gossip about drugs
There is a lot of gossip about drugs in Washington. Some of it can be confirmed. Some can't. A socialite, who had an affair with a presidential aspirant, amused her friends with the information that he used amyl nitrite as an aphrodisiac. While that probably won't appear in a biography if he makes it to the White House, it's almost certain to be included in a movie script being written by a former free-lance Washington journalist who had access to the sex and drug scene of politicians and the press in Georgetown- Washington's plush address.
Drugs broke the (continued)
marriage of one of Washington's beautiful "F. Scott Fitzgerald" couples whose lifestyle enlivened society pages until it began to sound bizarrely like something out of Soap. The wife discovered that her husband, scion of an impeccably aristocratic family (who owns almost as much antique Americana as the Metropolitan Museum), provided a backdrop where most of Washington's major drug pushers could gather in the wee hours after bars closed in Georgetown. She and her lawyer have signed affidavits from from employees charging that her husband "went around with a pocket full of angel dust."
Washington drug users began to relax when Jimmy Carter was elected. The tense Nixon years had boasted, among other things, Operation Intercept, a program designed to eradicate the use of marijuana. As part of the program, the Drug Enforcement Agency invited administration wives to demonstrations at which marijuana was burned so they could recognize the smell and safeguard their own children, and perhaps police Washington parties.
To the embarrassment of DEA officials, one such demonstration nearly proved fatal to the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell turned out to be allergic to marijuana and reacted to the smoke the way some people react to bee stings. She went into shock, with her throat constricting so quickly that a doctor in the building was summoned to stand by for an emergency tracheotomy if needed. Fortunately, Mrs. Mitchell responded to medication and recovered from the experience.
In the past, Washington politicians have been suspected of using far more dangerous and compromising substances than marijuana or cocaine. Agents who worked under Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the DEA forerunner, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, for 30 years, claim that the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy was addicted to morphine and regularly obtained his narcotics through a druggist near the White House, authorized by Anslinger to fill the prescription.
Anslinger, according to one of the retired agents, wrote about McCarthy's problem (without naming him) in The Murderers, a memoir the late commissioner wrote with Will Ousler, which was published in 1961. And Ousler today agrees with the agents. "Yes, I'm sure that is correct", he says. "Anslinger made a mention of McCarthy agt the time and turned away."
Two pages of the book were devoted to an addict who Anslinger said was "one of the most influential members of the Congress of the United States. He headed one of the most powerful committees. His decisions and statements helped to shape and direct the destiny of the United States and the Free World."
Anslinger said that he "learned on incontrovertible evidence that this legislative leader was a confirmed morphine addict who would do nothing to help himself get rid of his addiction. It was a delicate moment in world affairs. There was imminent danger the facts would become known and use to the fullest in the propaganda machines of our enemies."
In the book, Anslinger describes his confrontation with the congressman, who arrogantly refused medical help and insisted he would allow nothing to "interfere with him or whatever habits he wished to indulge." McCarthy defied Anslinger to cut off his source of supply, threatening to go directly to the pushers. "And if it winds up in a public scandal and that should hurt this country, I wouldn't care . . . the choice is yours."
Because the senator's addiction presented a grave threat to this country" and because the scandal could have hurt the country, Anslinger agreed to make available all the morphine necessary to maintain the congressman's habit.
"The lawmaker went on for some time, guaranteed his morphine because it was underwritten by the Bureau," Anslinger wrote. "On the day he died I thanked God for relieving me of my burden."
McCarthy died at the age of 47. Doctors listed his death as being due to a noninfectious, seldom fatal, hepatitis, "cause unknown."
The McCarthy incident was probably rare in that era - alcohol was far more fashionable then. Drugs were left to the radicals - like the Washington newspaper columnist who openly shared a joint (marijuana cigarette) with a young news magazine reporter in the White House movie theater as a political "statement." They were disappointed to see their gesture go ignored.
During the Carter campaign, politicians and press drew closer together. Younger Carter aides and younger members of the press corps worked and partied together. A magazine reporter, who hung around the Carter trailer at the Democratic Convention in New York, says that "the best marijuana available" was consumed freely there, along with "gallons of beer."
Later, in the aftermath of the Bourne affair, many Carter aides would claim in interviews with The Washington Post, in which they asked that their names not be used, that it was reporters who introduced them to marijuana and who were a source of supply for those who did not dare deal openly with the street dealer.
Carter aides felt betrayed by the media over Bourne and expresses concern that the rest of the country would misunderstand and believe that a bunch of "drug-using freaks" were running the government. On the other hand, reporters who have been involved in drugs were understandably uncomfortable and reluctant to play detectives prying into drug use or abuse in the White House and elsewhere in Washington.
Are drug users running the government? Has the media blown the story out of proportion, or are reporters, enjoying close relations with government employees, burying the story for the convenience of all involved?
Washington's new fascination with drugs may be just this year's fad, but it may imply a moral bankruptcy among some of the nation's leaders that the government can ill afford. Certainly, no one condones drug use among Hollywood stars, but the idea of the country's leaders indulging in mind-altering drugs raises disturbing questions of whether they are capable of governing in an honest, competent manner. While drugs may seem a tempting remedy for men and women beset by the problems and pressures of running a government, one hopes that drug abuse will not become a staple of Washington life. But if it's only a fad, what's next?
Marijuana and the law
According to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, possession of marijuana is a federal offense, subject to imprisonment of one year plus $1,000 fine, except for 11 states which have decriminalized it. In the following states you cannot be arrested for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use: Alaska (unlimited amount legal for private use, but possession of over one ounce in public is subject to a fine- the law here is gray, possession of a large amount might not be construed for "personal use"), California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio (up to 100 grams - approximately 3.5 ounces) and Oregon. These above 11 states can impose a civil fine of up to $100 for the first offense, more for the second and detain you the third time.
You cannot be arrested on a claim that you smoke pot or have smoked pot. There must be evidence.
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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