High in America
The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana
Stroup's dream, as NORML opened its doors early in 1971, was to
build a national political organization, representing smokers
and financed by them, that would focus political pressure on the
federal and state governments to reform the marijuana laws. His
reality was $5000 from the Playboy Foundation, an office in the
basement of his home, and one paid employee besides himself: his
$100-a-week secretary, Dinah Trachtman, who had been Schott's
secretary at the Product Safety Commission. The question was how
to make the dream come true, how to advance from his basement
into the national political mainstream.
There was no precise model for what he hoped to do. Nader came
closest, but even Nader had not championed the consumers of an
illegal drug. Still, if NORML had no exact precedents to follow,
it had several obvious needs. Money was the most obvious. Another
was the kind of big-name endorsements that could give NORML respectability.
Another was mass support from smokers who would send in their
dues, write their congressmen, and otherwise create a political
presence. There was a need for a larger Washington staff, too,
and for publicity to generate money and mass support. And there
had to be substance, a program, specific actions and victories
that would justify public support. NORML faced the same Catch-22
as any new reform group: You need money to build a program, and
you need a program to attract money.
Underlying the obvious need for money, publicity, and a program
was the basic question of how NORML defined itself. On this, Stroup
had been lucky. The first important people he had talked to, Ramsey
Clark and John Kaplan, were lawyers who had studied the issue
dispassionately and concluded that marijuana should be legal.
That was Stroup's view, too, and it was reflected in the first
letters he wrote to Playboy. But that winter, as he talked to
people at Playboy and to lawyers and scientists whose support
he wanted, they told him again and again they could not be associated
with any organization that advocated the use of marijuana. Thus,
by the time NORML began operations, Stroup had changed his emphasis:
NORML was not pro-pot, only anti-jail. If asked, Stroup would
say that he personally thought marijuana should be legal and regulated,
as alcohol was, but NORML'S official goal was simply to end criminal
penalties for its use. He was thus on solid political ground from
In the first months of NORML'S existence, Stroup did not seek
publicity, because he knew he had little to publicize. Instead
he concentrated on trying to persuade prominent people to join
what he called NORML'S "advisory board of directors."
This was not the real board of directors, which had power over
money and consisted of Stroup, Schott, Dubois, and a few other
close friends. The advisory board had certain vaguely defined
dutiesin theory it met once a year, and in reality some of
its members did advise Stroupbut its most immediate
role was to give Stroup some impressive names to print on NORML'S
stationery. Seeking recruits, Stroup wrote liberal politicians;
he wrote celebrities whose children had been busted; he wrote
scientists who had made moderate statements on marijuana; and
he wrote people recommended to him by friends in Washington's
left-wing community. In March, at the suggestion of Marcus Raskin,
the cofounder of the Institute for Policy Studies, Stroup wrote
to Max Palevsky, the California liberal who had made a fortune
in Xerox stock and who, the next year, would be one of George
McGovern's biggest financial backers. A meeting was arranged in
Palevsky's suite at the Madison Hotel the next time he was in
The talk was rather formal, until Palevsky asked, "What about
your own drug use?"
Stroup hesitated. He had no idea how Palevsky felt about drugs,
and for the most part he was minimizing his own drug use in those
days. He would sometimes tell interviewers, "I have
smoked, but I'd be crazy to now," which, if true, was
not the whole truth. But he decided to be candid with Palevsky.
"I smoke a lot of dope," he said, "and I've been
experimenting with hallucinogens."
Later he thought Palevsky had been testing him, and he must have
passed the test, for the California millionaire soon joined NORML'S
advisory board and became an important financial backer, contributing
more than twenty-five thousand dollars over the decade.
Another important lead came from Burton Joseph, who urged Stroup
to contact Aryeh Neier, the national director of the American
Civil Liberties Union. Neier not only agreed to serve on the advisory
board but provided NORML with free office space in New York and
put Stroup in touch with the ACLU's state coordinators, who sometimes
became NORML'S state coordinators.
Stroup did not always get his man, or his woman. There was no
one he more admired and wanted on his advisory boardnor anyone
whose name he more often droppedthan Ramsey Clark, but Clark
was not yet willing to link himself officially with the marijuana
lobby. One problem was that Clark was defending the Berrigan brothers,
two anti-war clergymen who were accused, incredibly enough, of
plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger. One of the government informants
was a drug dealer, a fact Clark hoped to use to discredit the
witness, and he feared that effort might backfire if he was himself
linked to a pro-marijuana lobby. After the Berrigan trial was
over, Clark did join NORML'S board and helped in many other ways
Another big name Stroup went after in that first spring was Margaret
Mead, the celebrated anthropologist, who had been critical of
the marijuana laws. He wrote to Mead in May, asking if she would
serve on his advisory board. He followed up his letter with a
call, during which she said she was leaving for a trip abroad
and would prefer not to make a decision until she returned. Stroup
brooded over this rejection overnight, then called her back, full
of zeal and indignation: This was important. People were in jail.
How could she say no? He succeeded only in offending Mead and
ending any hope of her support.
He had an urgent need for pro-marijuana scientists to combat the
reefer-madness mythology. Early in 1971 he read Marijuana Reconsidered,
a scholarly work by Dr. Lester Grinspoon of the Harvard Medical
School, who concluded that marijuana was essentially harmless.
He quickly called Grinspoon, who soon agreed to serve on NORML'S
advisory board and to testify on its behalf before legislative
panels. He also recommended that Stroup contact his Harvard colleague
Dr. Norman Zinberg, who had written extensively on drugs and who
also became an advisory board member and, in reality, an important
personal adviser to Stroup. There was a certain chain-letter quality
to Stroup's search for support: One scientist would recommend
another, until by May of that first year Stroup had a pool of
nationally respected scientists he could call upon to rebut the
more outrageous scientific claims against marijuana.
In mid-April Dinah Trachtman and Kelly Stroup represented NORML
on a television show called Women Take a Stand, and they
came back with enthusiastic reports about two other panelists:
an elderly woman doctor who believed marijuana should be legal,
and a senior official of the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous
Drugs (BNDD), who seemed to think that people should not be jailed
for smoking. Stroup was quick to follow up on the lead, and thus
recruited two of the most unusual and politically useful of NORML'S
early supporters: Dr. Dorothy Whipple, a seventy-year-old professor
of pediatrics at Georgetown University, and John Finlator, deputy
director of the BNDD. "We ripped off the number-two narc,"
Stroup liked to boast of Finlator's recruitment to the cause,
although in fact the law-enforcement official came voluntarily.
When Stroup called him that spring and said he'd like to meet
him, Finlator laughed and told him to call back after he retired
at the end of the year. Stroup did, and Finlator joined NORML'S
board and also issued a statement that putting people in jail
for marijuana use was not stopping them from smoking, was ruining
lives, and was wasting the time of law-enforcement officers. Because
of who he was, Finlator's statement made front-page news.
That Dorothy Whipple would take up the cause of legal marijuana
in her seventies was a surprise only to those who did not know
this remarkable woman. She was born in 1900 into an old New York
familya Whipple signed the Declaration of Independenceand
as a young girl she decided she wanted to be a doctor, no easy
feat for a woman in those days. When she was married in the early
1920s, to an economist named Ewan Clague, she kept her own name
("Dorothy Whipple is me," she says), although
that, too, was quite rare then. She, her husband, and their children
settled in Washington, where she practiced and taught medicine.
(She also found time, at age sixty-six, to take a two-week raft
trip down the Amazon.) During the 1970s she found that more and
more of her teenage patients were using drugs. She was shocked,
and moreover she realized she was quite ignorant about drugs.
"I decided that if I was responsible for these young people,
I should know something about drugs," she says. "I read
all the books I could and I interviewed scientists who'd studied
drugs. In the course of my investigation, my attitudes changed."
She concluded that although drug use among the young should be
discouraged, marijuana should be made legal and regulated. In
1971 she published a book, Is the Grass Really Greener?, which
spelled out the facts on drugs in her usual no-nonsense manner.
Dr. Whipple became, along with John Finlator, one of NORML'S star
witnesses at state legislative hearings across the nation. Once,
in the interest of research, she invited Keith and Kelly to her
home to introduce her and her husband to marijuana. Their visit
came during Easter week, so the Stroups brought a toy Easter egg
filled with good grass. They all smoked, got a little high, got
hungry ("got the munchies," Kelly recalls), and raided
the refrigerator. The experiment was pronounced a success, although
Dr. Whipple decided she preferred to stick with a cocktail before
dinner. Some months later, when she was testifying before the
Minnesota legislature, a state senator asked if she had ever smoked
pot. "Why, yes, sir," she replied innocently. "Haven't
For Stroup, struggling to overcome the image of the marijuana
proponent as a sinister, drug-crazed hippie, such allies as the
grandmotherly Dr. Whipple and the square-jawed, white-haired ex-narc,
Finlator, were gifts from the gods. By the end of the year, NORML'S
advisory board included not only Aryeh Neier, John Finlator, and
Drs. Grinspoon, Zinberg, and Whipple but Margery Tabankin, president
of the National Student Association; Dr. Edwin Schur, a criminologist
at Tufts University; Burton Joseph, of the Playboy Foundation;
Canon Walter Dennis, of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine,
in New York; former senator Charles Goodell, of New York; and
Dr. Benjamin Spock, the child-health expert and anti-war spokesman.
In those first few months Stroup reached out in many directions,
seeking whatever help he could get. He wrote to Jann Wenner, the
publisher of Rolling Stone, asking for a free ad, which
Wenner provided. He wrote to Peter Fonda, who had played the dope-smoking
Captain America in the movie hit Easy Rider, asking for
his help. He wrote to a judge in Kentucky who'd outraged his community
by saying smokers shouldn't be jailed. He advised the head of
the Society of Ultimate Logic, in Corpus Christi, Texas, that
he didn't think the Nixon Supreme Court would accept religious
freedom as a justification for marijuana use. All this was fine,
sometimes fun, sometimes useful, but it wasn't going to change
the marijuana laws. Then, in April, Stroup began to focus his
and NORML'S attention on a political target that was of immense
importance to America's smokers: the National Commission on Marijuana
and Drug Abuse, which was about to hold public hearings on the
marijuana issue and would then recommend what national policy
on the drug should be.
The Marijuana Commission, as it came to be called, was created
by the Drug Reform Act of 1970, largely because of the efforts
of Rep. Ed Koch, a Democrat who lived in Greenwich Village and
later became mayor of New York. The 1970 drug act was a distinctly
mixed bag. On the one hand, the Nixon administration wanted a
tough drug law to highlight its law-and-order campaign. On the
other hand, in Congress, as elsewhere, there existed by 1970 a
growing awareness of the need for drug-law reform. Both sides
won a partial victory. The Nixon administration won the reclassification
of marijuana as a dangerous drug, which all but eliminated its
medical use, a decision that NORML would fight throughout the
decade. The reformers won the reduction of the federal penalty
for possession of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. Actually,
few people are prosecuted under the federal law, but it is traditionally
a model for state laws, and the 1970 act set off a wave of reform
at the state level. Within two years, first-offense marijuana
possession had been reduced to a misdemeanor in almost every state.
This simply meant that in most states you could be sentenced to
up to a year in jail for possession, but not more than a year.
The federal law did not go far enough to satisfy Ed Koch, who
believed that if a serious commission looked at the facts, it
would recommend the end of all criminal penalties for marijuana
use. He therefore added to the 1970 act a provision for the creation
of the Marijuana Commission, which was to hold hearings in 1971
and issue a report on national marijuana policy in 1972. The goal
of NORML and all reform groups was to persuade this top-level
commission that people should not be jailed for smoking marijuana.
For NORML, especially, as it struggled for credibility, the hearings
would be an opportunity to prove its effectiveness, to gain publicity,
and to meet virtually everyone in America who was professionally
concerned with the issue, pro or con. NORML'S dealings with this
government commission would, in effect, be the first real test
of its political potency.
At the outset, the Marijuana Commission gave every appearance
of being hostile to reform. President Nixon appointed nine of
the commission's thirteen members, including its chairman, Raymond
P. Shafer, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania. The ones
Nixon did not appoint were members of Congress two liberal senators,
Harold Hughes and Jacob Javits; and two conservative congressmen,
Paul Rogers and Tim Lee Carter. The commissioners were mostly
white, middle-aged, and, with three or four exceptions, conservative.
The reformers feared that, whatever Ed Koch had intended, this
Nixon-appointed commission existed only to rubber-stamp the government's
well-known anti-marijuana, anti-drug orthodoxy. Still, the commission
existed, it would be a battleground for publicity, and if NORML
was indeed to be a credible, respectable spokesman for reform,
it would have to show that it could deal with the commission.
Stroup therefore wrote Chairman Shafer in mid-April and as a result
was invited to meet with the commission's executive director,
a young lawyer named Michael Sonnenreich. Stroup knew enough about
Sonnenreich's background to view him with misgivings. Sonnenreich
had previously been assistant chief counsel of BNDD, and he was
known as a Nixon loyalist, one of a group of conservative young
lawyers who had ridden to power on Nixon's coattails. Still, knowing
all this, Stroup was stunned at the curt rejection he received
when he told Sonnenreich he hoped to testify at the first commission
hearing, in Washington on May 17. In essence Sonnenreich told
him, We'll decide who testifies, we have enough pro-marijuana
witnesses, and we don't need you.
Stroup's shock soon turned to despair. If NORML could not even
testify before the Marijuana Commission, it might as well disband;
all its pretensions to respectability, to working within the system,
would be a joke. The Nixon administration would have destroyed
NORML by ignoring it. Groping for a next stop, Stroup asked Ramsey
Clark if he would testify before the commission on behalf of NORML,
and when Clark said yes, Stroup thought he had solved the problem.
Certainly the commission could not refuse to hear a former attorney
So Stroup went back to see Sonnenreich, only to be told bluntly
that the commission didn't need Ramsey Clark, either. Desperate,
Stroup fought back with a technique he had learned at the Product
Safety Commission: a leak to the press.
He called columnist Jack Anderson's office and told a young reporter
named Brett Hume about Sonnenreich's rejection of both himself
and Clark. The column that followed, implying that the commission
was anti-marijuana, was an embarrassment to the commissioners,
who, whatever their views, wanted to appear to be open-minded.
Chairman Shafer quickly called Clark to say he would be welcome
to testify before the commission. A while later Sonnenreich called
Stroup and invited him to testify at the commission's second set
of hearings, in San Francisco in June.
Stroup's leak to Jack Anderson, suggesting that the commission
was a stacked deck, had embarrassed the commission, but it was
far more embarrassed on May 1 when President Nixon declared, at
a news conference, "Even if the commission does recommend
that it [marijuana] be legalized, I will not follow that recommendation."
Stroup's response to Nixon's anti-marijuana outburst was to demand
equal time from the television networks under the "fairness
doctrine." He didn't get it, because the networks claimed
they had given the other side of the marijuana issue in their
news shows, so he had to settle for sending a written response
to Nixon's statement to several hundred newspapers.
As the first day of the hearings drew near, Stroup's concern focused
on two anti-marijuana psychiatrists who were to be the leadoff
witnesses. The two witnesses had previously published an article
that linked marijuana use with mental illness, based on a study
of thirty-eight young people with histories of mental disorders.
Stroup had nationally known psychiatrists who would dispute the
study, but that was not the point.
All the way back to Harry Anslinger's heyday, marijuana hearings
had always led off with scientific horror stories that grabbed
the headlines while dull scientific rebuttal went unnoticed. The
fact that the commission had scheduled the two anti-marijuana
psychiatrists as its first witnesses convinced Stroup that the
commission wanted only to set off another round of reefer-madness
headlines. He had Dr. Zinberg and other scientists who had agreed
to come to Washington and rebut the study, but the key was timing.
A rebuttal the next day wouldn't matter. He somehow had to steal
the commission's thunder.
On the morning of the first hearing, Stroup and Schott were stationed
outside the hearing room in the massive Rayburn Office Building,
passing out their press releases and alerting reporters to the
NORML press conference at noon, right down the hall. Stroup even
put up his own sign announcing the news conference, next to the
sign that said the commission was meeting in the hearing room.
Stroup attended the hearing, and as the noon break neared, he
was pleased to hear a reporter he knew, William Hines, of the
Chicago Sun-Times, ask Chairman Shafer a question: What
about charges by Keith Stroup, the head of NORML, that the commission
was rigged? Shafer responded indignantly that perhaps Mr. Stroup
should speak for himself.
On cue, Stroup stood up and invited everyone to NORML'S news conference,
which began a few minutes later in a nearby hearing room that
had been provided by a friendly member of Congress, James Scheuer,
a Democrat from the Bronx. NORML'S news conference featured vigorous
rebuttals of the anti-marijuana study by several nationally known
scientists, and the upshot was that they blunted the anti-marijuana
testimony and stole the first day's headlines. The Washington
Star's headline, for example, read "Marijuana Study
Challenged." NORML'S victory was complete when its scientists
got equal time with the anti-marijuana scientists on the CBS Evening
News that night.
Stroup assumed the commission would be outraged by his performance,
but he didn't care. He assumed the commission was already outraged
by his leak to Jack Anderson. No matter. He saw NORML locked in
an adversary role with the commission, and if they could not be
friends, he thought he could at least force them to respect him.
For Stroup, one of the important by-products of the three commission
hearings was the opportunity it provided to meet potential allies
in the reform movement. It was at the hearings, for example, that
he first met Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained expert on mind-altering
drugs who would soon introduce Stroup and his friends to the hallucinogenic
drug MDA, and also Dr. David Smith, of the Haight-Ashbury Medical
Clinic, who joined NORML'S advisory board.
At the hearings in San Francisco in June, Stroup had his first
contact with Amorphia, the California legalization group. Stroup
already regarded Amorphia as a potential rival, and was quick
to tell people that it was a hippie, pro-pot group, whereas NORML
was straight and only anti-jail. Mike Aldrich, the LeMar activist
who had joined Amorphia, was testifying, and Stroup watched with
cool professional curiosity. Aldrich appeared in a rumpled Brooks
Brothers suit, sporting an Indian headband and wearing his pale-brown
hair in a long ponytail. He was accompanied by a short-haired
man who was wearing a suit, tie, and porkpie hat and whom he introduced
as his "spiritual and financial adviser, Allen Ginsberg."
It was true: Ginsberg's own guru had told him he was too concerned
with his image, so he had shaved the long hair and full beard
he had worn for years.
Aldrich read a statement to the commission, tracing the history
of marijuana and calling for study of alternative forms of legal
regulation, and then at its conclusion he leaped to his feet,
raised one fist defiantly, and shouted, "We want free, legal
backyard marijuana." Immediately, thirty or forty of his
hippie followers jumped to their feet and began cheering. Stroup,
watching, was grudgingly impressed. The fellow might be a freak,
he thought, but he knew how to turn out his troops. Stroup and
Aldrich chatted warily, and agreed to meet in September at the
National Student Association convention in Denver to discuss ways
they could work together.
At the third set of hearings, in Chicago, Stroup for the first
time met the New York reformers, Guy Archer and Frank Fioramonti.
They were a kind of Mutt and Jeff team: Archer was tall and easygoing,
Fioramonti short and intense. They had become friends at Columbia
Law School, and by 1970, when Fioramonti was a lawyer for the
City of New York and Archer was in private practice, they spent
a lot of evenings together, smoking marijuana and denouncing the
marijuana laws. That fall they read a law-journal article about
proposals to legalize marijuana, and they talked with Franz Leichter,
a state assemblyman from Manhattan's Upper West Side, about introducing
such a bill. Early in 1971, working with Leichter and several
other young pro-marijuana lawyers, they drafted a bill to permit
legal sale of marijuana in liquor stores, under the supervision
of a state regulatory agency.
The bill got nowhere, but Archer and Fioramonti were by then committed
to the reform cause. They organized the Lawyers Committee to Legalize
Marijuana, and they found hundreds of New York lawyers willing
to sign petitions and otherwise work for reform. In the summer
of that year they got themselves invited to testify before the
Marijuana Commission, at its final hearings in Chicago, and it
was there that they met Stroup. The encounter boosted everyone's
morale. All three of them sometimes thought they were crazy to
be working for marijuana-law reform, and for Stroup to meet two
talented lawyers working on the issue in New York, and for the
New Yorkers to learn of Stroup's national ambitions, was cause
for celebration. Archer and Fioramonti had not been thinking in
national terms, but-Stroup had been thinking in terms of New
York, and Archer and Fioramonti would soon become NORML'S men
At the first Marijuana Commission hearing, various of the commissioners
had seemed hostile to pro-reform witnesses. When John Kaplan said
that one reason to end criminal penalties for smoking was that
millions of people were ignoring the law, a commissioner asked
if Kaplan also favored legalizing auto theft. There were many
barbs like that, but by the second and third hearings, the mood
of the commission seemed to change. Some of the commissioners
began to ask friendly questions, and one or two would chat with
Stroup during breaks. This new mood, plus encouraging reports
from his sources on the commission staff (who were, he had learned,
often sympathetic to his cause), made Stroup optimistic. That
fall, in the first issue of NORML'S newsletter, he wrote, "I'm
guessing the commission will recommend the repeal of all criminal
penalties for simple possession of marijuana. They've heard it
from so many people so often it's going to be hard to avoid."
He wouldn't know until the next spring if his optimism was justified,
but in the meantime he could take pride in a textbook example
of how a media-wise David can hold its own with an establishment
Goliath. NORML may or may not have done anything to change the
commission's thinking, but Stroup had clearly used the commission
to reap maximum publicity and political contacts for himself.
NORML's news conference at the first Marijuana Commission hearing,
when Stroup used his pro-marijuana scientists to rebut the anti-marijuana
studies, had been the pot lobby's first publicity splash. Stroup's
instinct had been to go slowly with the media, to wait until he
had more to talk about. If reporters came to him, he would talk
to them, but he wasn't going to them empty-handed. It was a good
policy, in part because the reporters who sought him out tended
to be the younger ones who were favorably disposed to his cause.
One day that summer a young wire-service reporter appeared, chatted
awhile, confessed that he was a smoker, and said he wanted to
do a feature on NORML. When he asked what the pot lobby had accomplished,
Stroup was overcome by candor and replied, "Not a hell of
a lot." The feature that resulted, although friendly, was
headed "Washington's Feeblest Lobby" and treated NORML
as something of a joke. Moreover, Stroup had foolishly agreed
to be photographed with the plastic marijuana plant he kept in
his basement office. The story and picture received front-page
play in hundreds of newspapers, and Stroup was mortified. Instead
of the earnest young public-interest lawyer of his self-image,
the feature made him seem an ineffectual hippie with a marijuana
plant in his office.
Then, after a week or so, he began to notice that his mail had
gone up sharply. In time he realized that the wire-service story,
however embarrassing to him, had introduced NORML to millions
of people. Like all politicians, he was learning that the only
bad publicity is no publicity.
In those early days he would fly halfway across the country for
a local television show or a campus lecture. He wanted the exposure,
and in a sense he was trying out his act on the road, preparing
for an eventual opening in Washington. He was trying to build
local chapters, too, and by the end of the year, NORML had organizers
on nearly a hundred campuses, including fourteen in New York State
alone. In Nashville NORML'S volunteer coordinator persuaded Kris
Kristofferson to give a NORML benefit concert and to cut NORML's
first public-service radio tape, which consisted of Kristofferson
singing a few bars of "Me and Bobbie McGee" and saying
that marijuana smokers shouldn't be tossed in jail. Kristofferson,
the Rhodes scholar turned country songwriter, was a fitting spokesman
for NORML, for many of his great early songs, like "Sunday
Morning Coming Down," not only had specific references to
marijuana but in their free-flowing Iyricism reflected something
very like a stoned consciousness.
One substantive issue that NORML tried to address that summer
concerned a BNDD program to use a powerful herbicide called "2,4-D"
to kill marijuana plants that grew wild in many Midwestern states.
NORML'S inquiries forced the Department of Agriculture to admit
it knew nothing about the harm that might befall people who smoked
the poisoned plants, but it was soon clear that the Bureau of
Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs was not concerned with that issue.
The spraying continued despite NORML'S protest, and the incident
foreshadowed the confrontation six years later when NORML sued
the government to stop the spraying of Mexican marijuana fields
The first issue of The Leaflet, NORML'S newsletter, went
out to its members that fall. It was a well-written, handsomely
designed, six-page publication that reflected the straight, non-hippie
tone that Stroup wanted for NORML. It also reflected the fact
that, in terms of its own progress, NORML did not have a great
deal to report at that point. The lead article was an account
of a Vietnam veteran in Ohio, with no previous arrest record,
who had been sentenced to twenty to forty years in prison for
being present when a friend sold marijuana to an undercover agent.
There was also an account of the case of John Sinclair, the radical
poet who was sentenced to ten years in prison in Michigan for
allegedly giving two joints to an undercover agent. The Leaflet
account noted, "Since his sentencing, freedom and humanity
have been denied John Sinclair. He is in administrative segregation
in Jackson prison. For 22 of 24 hours each day, he is in solitary
confinement. He is allowed to exercise and eat only with the prisoners
in the special administrative segregation. He is allowed to shave
and shower once a week. His mail is censored and copied."
The article noted that NORML had filed an amicus curiae brief
with the Michigan supreme court on Sinclair's behalf, its first
The Leaflet also had long reports on the Marijuana Commission's
hearings and the herbicide-spraying program, a feature on Rep.
James Scheuer, of New York, who favored drug-law reform, and reports
on two American Bar Association committees that had called for
legalization. For comic relief, The Leaflet told of the
gift memberships that NORML had sent to President Nixon and Attorney
General John Mitchell. Both men had responded. Mitchell asked
that his name be deleted from membership. A Nixon aide wrote,
"At the President's direction, we are forwarding the materials
about your work to officials of the Department of Justice. With
the President's best wishes."
No one at NORML was sure if that was a joke or a threat, or maybe
both. The paranoia level was always high at NORML, since there
was usually an ounce or two of marijuana around. Once, in the
early days, a crew-cut, middle-aged man appeared and said he wanted
to volunteer. Stroup shrugged and put him to work, but at the
end of the day, when the man asked if Stroup knew where he could
score a pound of marijuana, he threw him out. Sometimes Stroup
wished the BNDD would charge in and arrest them all. It would
give them a million dollars' worth of publicity; Nader, after
all, had got his real start when General Motors foolishly put
a private detective on his trail. But the government had apparently
learned from GM's mistakes, and NORML'S staff and guests smoked
It soon became obvious that NORML was a one-man show. Larry Schott,
Larry Dubois, and Kelly Stroup helped out as they could, but Keith
was NORML, and NORML was for him an all-consuming passion. That
fact was painfully clear, above all, to Kelly, who felt herself
losing her husband to his political crusade, and the fact that
she agreed with the issue did not make it any easier. She had
come to regret that NORML'S office was in their basement, for
a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the house
was constantly filled with people who were smoking, sometimes
dealers, and she lived in fear of a police raid She didn't know
what would happen to her baby daughter if she and Keith were both
arrested. Sometimes as she put Lindsey to bed at night, she wondered
if she would be able to convince the police that she hadn't known
anything about all that grass they'd found in the house.
And there were other problems. Lindsey wasn't even two, but she
answered the phone not with "Hello" but with "Marijuana
reform!" And there was the question of money. Keith was paid
at a rate of $18,000 a year, but when Kelly worked for NORML,
she was paid $2 an hour. When she protested, Keith snapped, "We
can't have a mom-and-pop operation." There were also her
fears that he was having affairs with other women. She had dreams
about his affairs sometimes, very specific dreams, but when she
pleaded with him to be honest with her, he only denied there were
other women at all.
One night when Keith was away, two young men with a gun forced
their way into the house and demanded money and drugs, and Kelly
was sure she and her daughter would be killed. When the robbers
finally left, Kelly realized that she couldn't even call the police,
because they'd find marijuana when they came to investigate. By
the fall of that first year, Kelly was urging Keith to move NORML'S
office out of their home, to give them some kind of a private
life. But of course that was impossible, because NORML didn't
have money for another office.
Everything always came back to money. By September 15 NORML had
taken in almost $24,000: $14,125 from Playboy, $7550 in memberships,
and about $2100 in donations. It was enough for survival but not
for a real national program, with paid organizers and legal challenges
and mass mailings and everything Stroup dreamed of. For a while
that fall he and Schott thought their money problem was solved.
Playboy had given NORML a free full-page ad. Headed "Pot
Shots," it showed mug shots of a young man arrested for marijuana,
and it told a little about NORML and urged readers to send their
$7 ($5 for students) to join. As the ad's mid-August publication
drew near, Stroup and Schott would sit in the basement office
each night getting high and dreaming of all the money that would
soon be pouring in. A similar Playboy ad for the Vietnam
Veterans Against the War had drawn about $100,000 and in their
fantasy the NORML ad might draw twice that amount, maybe more.
After all, the war was an old issue, but theirs was new, and there
were millions of smokers out there waiting to send their money
to someone who would lead them out of the wilderness.
The flood of money never began; there was hardly a trickle. Six
thousand dollars came in, but nothing like they'd dreamed of.
When Stroup returned to reality, he thought he knew what the trouble
had been. People had heard of the VVAW, but they knew nothing
about NORML. At best, it was just a name; at worst, the more paranoid
smokers would think the ad a trick by the government to get their
names for John Mitchell's files.
It was, for Stroup, the last straw. The first year of NORML had
not been all fun and games. There was the constant concern about
money and the threat of arrest. There had been plenty of rejections,
plenty of reporters and politicians who'd laughed in his face,
plenty of nights when there was nothing to do but go home and
get stoned with Schott and Dubois and curse a nation that didn't
care about the smokers who were rotting in jail. That was the
worst part, the prison mail that had started to pour in, hundreds
of letters from guys who were serving six months or six years
for a couple of joints or a couple of ounces. NORML answered every
letter, and sometimes it asked a volunteer lawyer to look into
an unusual case, but it was maddening to keep sending those letters
that really said nothing but "I'm sorry you're in jail; enclosed
is our brochure." The truth was that NORML had nothing to
offer them yet, no real legal program, no legislative plans, nothing
but brochures and an impressive advisory board and a lot of good
"This is a fucking sham," Stroup raged to Schott one
night after the Playboy ad had flopped. "We're nothing
but a pen-pal operation. I won't go on like this."
The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. He'd given
NORML all he had, and Playboy was playing games with him, giving
him $5000 here, $5000 there, but never the kind of money he needed.
He wouldn't take it any longer. He would go to them and say "Put
up or shut up; get in or get out."
Stroup did indeed make a formal request to the Playboy Foundation
that fall for more money. He put it in writing, neatly typed,
well reasoned, each penny justified, and it was presented to the
staff and the board of the Playboy Foundation and considered,
in the somber way that foundations make decisions. But all that
probably mattered a great deal less than the fact that for several
months Hugh Hefner had been hearing good things about NORML. For
that, Stroup could thank two women, Michelle Urry and Bobbie Arnstein.
He met Michelle first, and soon was half in love with her, as
were a great many men. She was in her late twenties then, a very
beautiful, very intelligent, very gentle woman who had already
risen to be Playboy's cartoon editor, an important post
at the magazine, since Hefner himself started as a cartoonist
and took intense interest in what cartoons appeared in his magazine.
Michelle had grown up in Canada, the daughter of a prosperous
businessman, and had gone to UCLA. After college she visited a
friend in Chicago and decided to stay there, mainly because she
loved the architecture, the classic buildings, and she took a
job as a clerk-typist at Playboy. That was in 1965. She
kept pestering the editors for an editorial job, but they said
they had no openings. It was Hefner himself who noticed her filing
papers in his office one day, liked her, and said she could be
an apprentice cartoon editor, his assistant, his protégé.
One day he told her there was a vacant apartment on the
ground floor of the mansion, and she could rent it for $125 a
month if she wished. It was a wonderful bargain, but she hesitated.
What strings were attached? None, Hefner assured her. She asked
if she could have men in. (The Bunnies, who lived on the top floor,
were not allowed to.) Of course, Hefner said. But why me? she
said, persistent. Because we think you'll make a contribution,
he said. You like people and you'll be fun to have around. And
so she moved in, and it was fun, but after a year or so
she moved out again, because she wanted her privacy, and because
she was a very sane woman who soon realized that life in Hefner's
mansion was essentially insane, unless you were Hefner.
Michelle was one of the first people Stroup met in the Playboy
world, and she was fascinated by him from the first. To begin
with, he was the fastest-talking man she'd ever met, and she herself
was someone who thought and spoke very quickly. For another, he
had that strange way of saying tough, angry things in a soft,
gentle manner, it was almost like a speech impediment. She was
struck, too, by the contrast between the way he looked and what
he said. He always wore three-button suits when he came to Playboy,
and his granny glasses, and he had that wonderful silky blond
hair that kept falling down in his eyes, and he looked like a
Yalie, a young stockbroker, or an IBM executive, but he kept talking
about dope! And he was so impassioned when he spoke, so
sure you agreed with him. He talked about the kids rotting in
jail and the corrupt, cynical, whiskey-drinking politicians, and
he assumed you shared his outrage, or that he could convince you
purely through his logic.
It happened that Michelle did agree with him. She had several
friends who'd been arrested for marijuana, and she was impressed
to meet this very smart, dynamic young lawyer who thought the
laws could be changed. They kept seeing each other, whenever he
was in Chicago, and she continued to be impressed with him, although
she thought she really didn't understand him. He was so detached
from everything; she didn't think he really gave himself emotionally
to anyone except his child, and she couldn't imagine what his
marriage could be like. He didn't have time to enjoy people; he
was always on the run. There was something else about him that
bothered Michelle, who had grown up with piano and ballet lessons,
who had studied architecture and design in college, who loved
music and the theater, who in time would marry a sculptor: Keith
was a hick, a hayseed. It took her a while to understand that,
because he was so sophisticated about everything relating to politics
and marijuana. But he was so unsophisticated about everything
else. He didn't know which fork to use. He invariably said "Just
between you and I." He'd never been to Europe, and he seemed
to have no interest in books or music or art; his limits, the
vast gaps in his education, constantly surprised her. And yet
she found them endearing, too.
Most important, she thought his work was important, that he could
make a difference, and so she wanted him to know Hef better. That
was when she began to tell her friend Bobbie Arnstein about him,
because Bobbie was Hef's executive assistant, the person who if
she chose could see that Keith had a chance to sell Hefner on
himself and NORML.
All Stroup knew was that one day Michelle picked up her office
phone and called Bobbie and said she wanted to send her friend
Keith over to the mansion to meet her. What he didn't know was
that there were other calls in which she'd discussed him with
Bobbie in great detail. She had to, because Bobbie was fragile,
paranoid about people using her to get to Hefner. So Michelle
had made a very careful decision before she passed Keith on to
Bobbie, just as Bobbie would make her own decision before she
passed him on to Hef. Then, the decision made, she called Bobbie
and told her, Bobbie, you'll love him; he's so sweet; he's adorable;
so innocent in a way, but he's very smart and his work is important
and he needs to know Hef.
Thus, one afternoon that fall, Stroup made his way to Bobbie's
office on the third floor of the mansion, near Hefner's own office.
She was busy when he arrived, and she sent him down to her three-room
suite on the second floor of the mansion, where she had lived
for several years. He put on a recordThe Band's first album,
Bobbie's favorite that summerand ordered a glass of wine. Bobbie,
right off, introduced him to the wonders of the mansion; all you
did was pick up the phone and dial 20, and you could get anything
you wanted to eat or drink, twenty-four hours a day. (Not even
the president, in the White House, commands that sort of service.)
He looked around the apartment, which was very modern, a little
spooky, and blatantly erotic. There were no windows, and the walls,
ceilings, and floors of the main room were all black. Bobbie collected
kinetic art; there was a three-dimensional figure of a man in
a business suit tearing open his shirt to reveal a Superman crestevery
corporate executive's fantasy, Stroup guessed. There was another
puzzling, troubling piece that showed half a male body and half
a female bodythe upper half, in each casejoined at the point
where their sex organs would have been.
Bobbie joined him after a while, and they smoked a joint and talked.
Stroup saw from the first that Bobbie was much different from
her friend Michelle. Michelle was serene; Bobbie was frenetic,
defiantly burning her candle at both ends. Bobbie lived in the
mansion; Michelle had a life apart from the Playboy world.
For a long time Stroup had thought of Michelle as someone far
above him, untouchable, unreachable, a fantasy figure, but he
never felt that way about Bobbie. They were too much alike. He
knew that if he and Bobbie had been strangers, at a party with
a hundred people, they would have found each other.
As they talked the first day, Stroup noticed the book Be Here
Now, by Baba Ram Dass, at her bedside; the author was formerly
Richard Alpert, in the days when he and Timothy Leary were pioneers
of the movement toward LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. Stroup
was starting to use hallucinogens, mostly MDA, and he had read
the book, and his and Bobbie's talk soon turned to drugs. At the
time, Stroup was simply trying to be as impressive as he could
to this very important, very attractive woman as she alternately
flirted with him and interrogated him. Later, when he understood
her better, he realized she was sizing him up in a number of ways.
For one thing, she was deciding whether or not Hefner would like
him. If he was just an ambitious lawyer on the make, Hefner might
support his program but not want to socialize with him. There
was also the question of whether Stroup was someone Bobbie might
enjoy. She soon decided he was.
"You need to get to know Hef better," Bobbie said, when
it was time for her to get back to work.
"I want to, but I don't know how," he said.
"The best way is to make the flight from Chicago to L.A.
with him sometime."
"Anytime at all," he said.
She called a few days later and asked if he could fly to Los Angeles
with Hefner the next week.
"Sure," he said.
"Do you have any business in L.A.?"
"Well, don't tell Hef that," she said.
Stroup flew to Chicago on the appointed day of the following week
and went to the mansion for what Bobbie had said would be a two-o'clock
departure. It turned out that Hefner was not ready to go until
six that eveningstill early in his dayand so Stroup spent
several hours just hanging out. He played pinball for a while
and, not wanting to be in the way, waited in Bobbie's suite for
most of the time listening to The Band play "Up on Cripple
Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,"
listening to Robbie Robertson discover America.
Bobbie came in once and said that she'd decided not to make the
trip. When Hefner went to Los Angeles, she explained, it was finally
possible for her to catch up on her work in Chicago.
"Bobbie, you're not going to put me on that plane alone,
are you?" Stroup protested.
It was true that he was terrified of getting on the plane with
Hefner without Bobbie, but there was another reason for his protests.
There was a current of flirtation between them, and if he was
going to Los Angeles, he didn't want her staying behind in Chicago.
She dragged it out, protesting, teasing, enjoying the game, and
finally she agreed to go. At six in the evening she took him out
to the driveway beside the mansion where two Mercedes limousines
were waiting to take Hefner's party to the airport.
Two other friends of Hefner's, actor Warren Beatty and writer-cartoonist
Shel Silverstein, joined the flight to California in Hefner's
$5.5 million converted DC-9, known as the Big Bunny. As
they flew, looked after by four "jet Bunnies," Hefner
encouraged Stroup to tell about NORML'S work and particularly
about its challenges to the laws in Texas, the one state where
many young men were still getting long prison sentences for simple
possession. The talk soon shifted, however, from drugs to sex,
not an uncommon subject in the Playboy world, and then
it shifted again, to the subject of women and their many new demands.
This was 1971, a year when the women's-liberation movement was
gathering momentum, a time when many men were finding their women
embracing dangerous new ideas. Hefner, who at that time kept one
girl friend in his Chicago mansion, another girl friend in his
Los Angeles mansion, and of course enjoyed the favors of countless
other young women, confessed that he could not rid himself of
male possessiveness, that he could not surrender the double standard,
that he sought sexual freedom for himself but he could not grant
it to his women. He said he knew it was intellectually dishonest,
but it remained part of his emotional makeup. Beatty and Silverstein
confessed to the same incapacity. All this, at least, Stroup could
identify with, because the serious problems he was starting to
have with his wife arose at least in part from his passionate
belief that different rules should guide her sexual behavior and
Bobbie had told Stroup they would have to play it loose when they
arrived in Los Angeles, as to whether he went to the mansion with
her and Hefner; it was, after all, Hefner's home, and if he and
Stroup had not hit it off during the flight, he might not have
wanted Stroup visiting there. But Bobbie thought the chemistry
had been good and waved Stroup into one of the waiting limousines,
and he was on his way to his second Playboy mansion of the day.
When they arrived, Hefner and Bobbie went to their respective
rooms, and Bobbie sent Stroup out to the game room, where he could
amuse himself with pool, pinball, or any of the dozens of penny-arcade
games that lined the walls. After a while Bobbie and Hefner reappeared,
along with Barbi Benton, Hefner's Los Angeles girl friend, and
Hefner gave Stroup a tour of his thirty-room mansion and the five-and-a-half-acre
grounds. Hefner had stocked his grounds with such an assortment
of wildlife that he was required to register it as a zoo: There
were doves, monkeys, flamingos, peacocks, parrots, rabbits, and
even a pet llama.
Stroup, dazzled by Hefner's glittering pleasure dome, was still
uncertain of his place in it. He didn't even know where he was
to spend the night. Bobbie settled that by taking him to her room.
She took some downers, to offset the uppers she'd been on all
day, and they talked for a while and then made love. It was for
Stroup all wonderfully exciting, and yet unsettling, too. There
was an element of role reversal that troubled him, for Bobbie
had been very much in control of the situation. Still, the next
morning, when she told him that she and Hefner would be very busy
that day and arranged for a limousine to take him back to the
airport, he decided that his trip had been a considerable success.
All this was part of the background when Stroup went back to the
Playboy Foundation in the fall of 1971 and said NORML had to have
more money. The final decision was Hefner's, and that summer and
all, when from time to time some mention of NORML penetrated Hefner's
very insulated world, it was usually Bobbie or Michelle saying
what a good job Keith was doing, and they were among the handful
of people Hefner paid attention to.
On November 24 the Playboy Foundation agreed to give NORML cash
and free printing that amounted to $100,000 a year.