High in America
The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana
One afternoon in the spring of 1974 a bearded, disheveled young
man wandered into Stroup's office. Stroup took him for a street
person and silently cursed his receptionist for letting him slip
past her. If he spent five minutes with every hippie who wanted
to talk about the glories of staying stoned all day, he'd never
have time to run NORML. Still, they had a pleasant chat, and when
the boy got up to go, he said he had a present for Stroup in his
car. He returned a moment later, not with the ounce of grass Stroup
had expected but with a handsome set of antique scales.
A few days later the boy returned again, and this time he brought
an even more welcome gift: a $500 donation to NORML. He said he'd
once attended the University of Maryland, and Stroup took him
for a small-time dealer who wanted to contribute to the cause.
The third time he came to call he was treated as an honored guest;
he and Stroup shared a joint, and in time their talk turned to
the NORML ads that appeared twice a year in Playboy.
"Those ads are great," the young man said, "but
why do you only have them in Playboy?"
"Because they give us free space," Stroup explained.
"Why not run one in the Reader's Digest?"
"In the first place, because we can't afford it," Stroup
said. "Besides, the people who read the Digest aren't going
to send us contributions. The right and the left already have
their minds made up. We need to go after the middle. What I'd
really like to do is run ads in Time and Newsweek."
"Why don't you?"
"We can't afford it."
"What would it cost?"
Stroup shrugged. "Let's find out," he said, and grabbed
his phone. He found someone in Time's advertising department
who said that a full-page ad would cost about $10,000.
"I'll give you that," the young man said, to Stroup's
astonishment. It developed that he was the heir to a major American
With the $10,000 promised, Stroup burst into action. He knew the
ad he wanted to run: the Queen Victoria ad, which had already
appeared in Playboy. It featured a humorous portrait of
Queen Victoria puffing a joint, and it asked why people should
be jailed for smoking a weed that Queen Victoria used to relieve
pain from menstrual cramps.
In truth, the ad rested on an uncertain historical foundation.
It was a fact that Queen Victoria's doctor advocated the use of
marijuana to relieve menstrual pain, but it was not known whether
his royal patient had followed his advice. However, Stroup was
willing, as he put it, to make the leap of faith necessary to
assume she had.
Stroup submitted the Queen Victoria ad to Time, only to
be informed by phone that Time's copy-acceptance committee
had rejected it. Stroup flew into a rage, shouting at the caller
that it was discrimination against marijuana smokers, that it
showed the hypocrisy of the Establishment, that they were happy
enough to print cigarette ads, and so on.
However, later in the evening, as he and Schott got high and analyzed
the matter, Stroup realized two things: First, the situation was
bizarre: He had $10,000 cash and Time magazine wouldn't
take it. Second, he had an issue. He had Time on the defensive,
and there was both fun and publicity to be reaped from the situation.
His next move was to submit the ad to Newsweek, who also
rejected it. He then began writing indignant letters to executives
of both magazines, pointing out that they ran alcohol and tobacco
ads, declaring that NORML wanted only to keep people out of jail,
and warning that legal action would follow if this discrimination
did not stop.
Ms. magazine also refused the ad, and Stroup wrote its
advertising director that he was pained that she failed to see
the parallel between discrimination against women and against
Along with writing indignant letters, Stroup was leaking the story
to friendly reporters and getting a good deal of mileage out of
it. Eventually he had a call from Hedley Donovan, an elder statesman
at Time, who said the real problem was that the ad concerned
menstruation. Give us an ad without that, Donovan said, and we'll
"What's this, a secret we're letting out?" Stroup demanded.
"Half the people in the world do it every month, and you
can't tell your readers?"
"It's a matter of taste," opined the Time executive.
Stroup thought it over. He felt he'd won a moral victory, since
Time had agreed to print a NORML ad. He'd already got more free
publicity than the ad would bring him for $10,000. Most important,
he desperately needed money to pay NORML's bills. So he called
his young benefactor, explained the situation, and asked if he
would simply donate the money. The young man agreed, and Time's
readers were spared NORML'S importunings.
Fund-raising was not always so easy.
NORML existed in a state of permanent financial crisis. This was
true despite the fact that its income increased each year that
Stroup directed it, from $87,000 in 1972 to $520,000 in 1978.
The problem was Stroup's habit of always spending about 10 percent
more than he took in, which meant he was under constant pressure
to find new sources of money.
The ideal was a smoker-financed lobby. If a hundred thousand smokers
had contributed $10 a year, NORML would have been on easy street.
Alas, NORML never had much more than ten thousand dues-paying
members, and even with direct mailings and the sale of T-shirts
and lapel pins, individual smokers never paid more than half of
NORML'S expenses. For the rest NORML had to look to rich
liberals, foundations, and sympathetic magazines.
The Drug Abuse Council donated some $55,000 over a three-year
period. Stewart Mott, the General Motors heir and philanthropist,
contributed some $120,000 over the decade. Max Palevsky donated
about $25,000. And then there was Playboy. The Playboy Foundation
had at the outset viewed its contributions as seed money to get
NORML started. But Stroup, because of the personal ties he forged
with Hugh Hefner and people close to him, was able to keep its
funding between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, so that over the
decade Playboy's seed money became more than half a million dollars.
Still, by the mid-1970s, as NORML'S expenses soared, more money
was desperately needed, and Stroup found it in the person of a
man he once called, with affection, "the craziest, most drugged-out
motherfucker I ever met": Tom Forcade.
One evening in the fall of 1976 an attractive, sixtyish woman
with impeccable social credentials gave a fund-raising party for
NORML at her elegant Park Avenue apartment in New York. She had
become interested in the marijuana laws because her granddaughter
had been arrested, and she had invited more than a hundred of
her friends, at $25 each, to come meet Stroup and Frank Fioramonti.
Stroup was glad enough to shake hands and make small talk for
an hour, if it meant several thousand dollars for the cause, but
he feared the party would be deadly dull, so he invited his friend
Tom Forcade to drop by.
The party was indeed dull, but Stroup was playing Mr. NORML, all
solemn and statesmanlike, hoping a few big donations might be
forthcoming, when Fioramonti whispered the bad news in his ear:
Tom Forcade had arrived and was causing trouble.
Forcade had indeed arrived, along with Jack Coombshis bodyguard,
pilot, and closest friendand several of his employees from
High Times magazine. Forcade was a small, pale man with
a wispy black beard who was wearing a dirty trench coat and who
was, it happened, in the midst of a nervous breakdown. It had
been one of those days at High Times when he grabbed a
knife and cut the telephone lines and, when the office was still
too noisy to suit him, fired his entire staff.
Forcade and Coombs, a big man in black leather who looked like
a biker, plopped themselves down in a small sitting room, put
their boots up on an antique table, pulled out a bag of prime
Colombian, and started rolling joints.
Stroup, arriving upon this scene, could only pray that no one
else would notice the intruders. Alas, the butler, a small black
man, spied them and ran to alert the hostess, who in turn took
"There are some strange men in the next room," she said.
"I'm sure they can't have been invited. My butler says they're
smoking marijuana." Stroup promised to investigate.
Hurrying back to the sitting room, he found that Forcade had lit
all the candles in an ornate candelabrum, the better to light
"Tom, you crazy fucker, cool it," Stroup pleaded.
"What the hell?" Forcade said with a growl. "It's
a dope party, isn't it?" He took a hit and passed the joint
to Stroup, who sighed and followed suit. He decided this wasn't
his problem; he was the guest of honor, not the bouncer.
The hostess ordered her butler to eject the intruders. The butler
gamely tried to usher Forcade out, whereupon Coombs lifted him
howling into the air. Stroup tried to persuade Forcade to go peaceably,
but Forcade muttered incoherently and stood his ground. Guests
began to peer in the doorway, thinking perhaps this was some sort
of skit. Finally, Forcade shuffled reluctantly toward the elevator.
When the elevator door opened, Forcade still wasn't sure he wanted
to leave, and his irate hostess gave him a shove. Forcade shoved
back, and the butler began struggling to force him into the elevator,
whereupon Forcade grabbed a large vase and flung it at the troublesome
black man. It struck a guest who had ventured too close to the
melee, and left him sitting on the marble floor of the hallway
with a bleeding scalp. At that point Stroup and Fioramonti were
able to push Forcade and Coombs into the elevator, and they all
descended to the relative safety of Park Avenue, with Forcade
still puffing on a joint and muttering darkly about capitalist
A few days later Stroup wrote the lady and apologized for the
"unfortunate incident." That did not stop her from resigning
her new membership in NORML. Stroup was sorry about the incident
Fioramonti was furious with himbut the cold fact was that
he could afford to lose a lot of Park Avenue matrons so long as
he kept the support of Tom Forcade, whose good will was bringing
NORML upward of $50,000 a year.
Tom Forcade, Yippie, drug smuggler, and founder of High Times
magazine, was described by his closest friends as a paranoiac
and manic depressive, and even Stroup, who had grown tolerant
of eccentric behavior, viewed him as clearly over the line. Yet
Stroup also regarded Forcade as a genius of sorts, perhaps the
most creative figure the drug culture had produced, a man, like
Hefner, with a sense of where things were going. Vicky Horn, who
worked for Forcade at High Times, said, "He had so
much energy it was spooky. He was like a man who has lived many
lives. He'd walk into a room and you'd feel him before you saw
him." Craig Copetas, Forcade's friend and star reporter,
says, "He was the King of the Smokers. He was the most generous,
idealistic person I ever met. He was a Renaissance man in an age
with no renaissance."
Forcade was variously a writer, editor, publisher, pilot, smuggler,
political activist, filmmaker, and bookstore owner, and he was
successful at all those things. He created an underground news
service, produced the annual Yippie smoke-in across from the White
House, and founded a spectacularly successful magazine. And yet,
as with any Renaissance man, his sum was greater than his parts:
Forcade's greatest creation was himself.
He was born Kenneth Gary Goodson, in Phoenix. His father was an
engineer and political conservative who had once been a celebrated
football hero in Arizona and who died in an automobile crash when
his son was about ten. The young Goodson went to high school in
Phoenix, and there began his smuggling career. At first, he and
his friends would bring a few pounds of marijuana hidden in their
car back from Mexico. The border searches were a threat, however,
so they started throwing sacksful over the fence that ran along
the border, then going to pick them up later. In time Forcade
became a pilot and would fly across the border at night in small
planes filled with grass. He found time to enroll in the University
of Utah and get his degree in business administration in two years.
Threatened by the draft in the mid-1960s, he joined the Air Force,
then decided he wanted out and acted crazy enough to make the
Air Force agree. He grew his hair long, lived for a while in a
commune in Arizona, and became politically active after the police
raided it and arrested some people for possession of LSD. He started
a radical literary magazine called Orpheus, operating it
from a 1946 Chevy school bus he drove around the state to avoid
police harassment. By then he called himself Thomas King Forcade;
he changed his name to spare his family embarrassment at his radical
antics, and the name he chose, Forcade, was a deliberate play
In 1969 he drove his bus to New York's Lower East Side and helped
start the Underground Press Syndicate, a left-wing wire service
providing news to college and underground papers that didn't trust
the Establishment media. Forcade had worked with Students for
a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s, and some say he had ties
to its terrorist faction, the Weathermen. By 1970 he emerged as
Most Americans who opposed the war in Vietnam did it in a law-abiding
manner. A few became anti-war guerrillas, and many of those ended
up in prison or dead. The Yippies chose a third means of protest:
ridicule. They dressed in Uncle Sam suits, threw pies instead
of bombs, and in 1968 ran a pig for president, on the theory that
he was a better man than Nixon or Humphrey. The Yippies were,
among other things, brilliant media manipulators who understood
that if you threw a brick at a politician you would be put in
jail, but if you threw a pie at him you would be put on the evening
Forcade first won national attention in 1970, when he testified
on behalf of the Underground Press Syndicate before a congressional
commission on pornography. Dressed in black, as a priest, he accused
the commission of "a blatant McCarthyesque witchhunt."
When a commissioner objected, Forcade shouted, "The only
obscenity is censorship," and threw a pie in his face, thus
inaugurating the Yippie custom of pieing political antagonists.
Stroup first met Forcade in Miami Beach in 1972, where the Yippies
were demonstrating against both Nixon and McGovern. Besides leading
an anti-Nixon piss-in and assorted riots, Forcade was engaged
in an intra-Yippie power struggle. He denounced the Yippie's founding
fathers, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, as too old, and they in
turn denounced Forcade as a government agent. In Yippiedom no
proof was needed, only an interesting allegation, and the charge
haunted Forcade for years, even after he was indicted for conspiracy
to firebomb the Republican convention.
In the summer of 1974, after the conspiracy charge was dropped,
Forcade pulled together $12,000, from friends and from a drug
deal, and put out the first issue of High Times. Twenty-five
thousand copies were sold in a week. Like Hefner before him, Forcade
had seen a magazine audience that no one else knew existed: hard-core
drug users, in Forcade's case. His magazine soon became slick
and well edited. New York Times reporters sometimes wrote
for it under pseudonyms. Its model was Playboy, but its
obsession was not sex and its centerfolds featured ripe marijuana
plants instead of ripe young women. Soon several hundred thousand
copies were being sold each month and advertising was pouring
in, mostly from the drug-paraphernalia industry. The magazine's
success came about despite the fact that for most of its first
year, Forcade was running it from his hideout in a flophouse,
where he was avoiding a subpoena in a drug case. But having a
fugitive publisher could not stop High Times: It was a
magazine whose time had come.
Forcade called Stroup when he was starting High Times and
asked if it might be possible to get an interview with John Finlator.
Stroup arranged an interview and later, when he was in New York,
went by the High Times offices to meet its editors. They
arranged for him to visit Forcade in the flophouse. He found Forcade
in a tiny room with no phone or electricity, but, typically, the
publisher had several ounces of the finest Colombian, which he
was eager to share.
"I never met a drug I didn't like," Forcade liked to
say, and in truth he was a prodigious drug user. He once described
the early days at his magazine thusly: "Walking through the
offices of High Times was like going through the midway
in a sleazy carnival. There were people with pills in one room,
grass in another, coke in another room, nitrous in the next room,
glue in another room, and so on down the hall."
One of Forcade's favorite drugs was nitrous oxide. This is the
"laughing gas" that dentists give their patients, but
dentists limit its strength and Forcade did not. He usually had
a tank of it at hand, and at his parties people would fill High
Times balloons with the gas and walk about inhaling it. It
is a drug that takes people deep into themselvesan astral high,
Stroup calls itand it contributed to Forcade's habit of sitting
alone with his thoughts at parties, ignoring everyone and everything
around him. He also loved marijuana, which he saw as a kind of
vitamin. "Most people walk around with a marijuana deficiency,"
he would say. He didn't much like cocaine, but kept it around
for his friends, and he took Quaaludes when he was depressed,
which was often, because Forcade saw DEA and CIA plots everywhere.
He was never able to reconcile his paranoia with the fact that
he was getting rich publishing a pro-drug magazine.
Even after he became a publisher, he remained a smuggler, so his
basic editorial philosophy was pro-smuggling. Just as Stroup believed
that smokers had a right to smoke in peace, Forcade believed smugglers
had a right to smuggle in peace. He was proud of being a smuggler,
and he was fond of saying "There are only two kinds of dealers,
those who need forklifts and those who don't." Forcade needed
His friend Craig Copetas viewed Forcade as an honest, righteous
smuggler in a business turning increasingly dishonest and violent.
Copetas has said of Forcade, "Not a seed entered this country
without Tom knowing about it," and he tells a story that
suggests how close the publisher kept to the smuggling scene.
Copetas was at the High Times offices and was in touch
by ham radio with some smugglers who were loading three freighters
on a beach in Colombia. Coast Guard planes zoomed down from the
sky and began firing. The smugglers fired back. Over the ham-radio
hookup, Copetas, safe in New York, could hear the crackle of gunfire
and his friend's desperate cry: "They're still firing....
We're carrying our wounded into the jungle.... We need help...."
Copetas rushed into Forcade's office to tell him what was happening.
"There were tears in his eyes," Copetas recalls. "He
said, 'Craig, hire a planeI don't care what it costsand
get our people off that beach."'
It was a scene from a John Wayne movie, Fighting Leathernecks,
perhaps. "Come on, Marines, we've got to get those men
out of there"except that John Wayne was a pale, intense
little man with long hair and dark glasses, dressed all in black,
who believed that the CIA and DEA were trying to destroy him.
Stroup liked Forcadehe admired his creativity and enjoyed his
crazinessand Forcade respected Stroup's political efforts on
behalf of the drug culture. They became friends, and Forcade agreed
to publish a free NORML ad each month. Soon those ads were bringing
in donations of about $1000 a week. Twelve High Times ads
a year brought in about as much money as the two ads Playboy
was running each year, and Stroup always told Forcade he was
doing more for NORML than Hefner was. That was not necessarily
trueit depended on how you figured itbut he knew how it
pleased Forcade, who liked to see himself as the new Hefner.
Stroup was criticized by conservative members of NORML'S board
for his alliance with High Times, but he didn't see how
he could turn down $50,000 a year just because it came from a
magazine for dopers. Stroup's friendship with Forcade meant that
Forcade's Yippie friends sometimes showed up at NORML'S office.
Stroup would try to talk politics with them, but a political discussion
with Yippies always began with conspiracy theories and ended with
everyone stoned. Stroup was glad to have the good will of the
Yips. Previously they had denounced him, called him a government
agent, and picketed television stations where he was being interviewed,
on the theory that they were the true spokesmen for America's
marijuana smokers. As Stroup saw it, it was better to have them
inside his office getting stoned than outside denouncing him.
Forcade never asked for anything in return for his support. Sometimes
he would grumble that NORML should champion the marijuana smuggler
as well as the smoker, but Stroup insisted that he couldn't function
politically if his opponents could accuse him of being a front
for smugglers, which they did anyway, as NORML'S ties to High
Times became known.
The question of accepting money from smugglers came up in 1975
when a San Francisco lawyer told Stroup he had clients, major
marijuana growers, who wanted to donate several hundred thousand
dollars a year to NORML. Stroup was suspicious. On the one hand,
he feared it might be some kind of government effort to entrap
him. On the other hand, he feared that if he took the money and
it really was from dealers, the dealers might turn up at his office
one day armed with baseball bats and announce they were NORML'S
new policy committee. So, reluctantly, he turned down the money.
He did not always turn down mysterious donations. In the summer
of 1976 he was given $10,000 in cash. A note attached to the money
said it came from "The Confederation," an alliance of
marijuana growers and distributors. Forcade's friends said later
that Forcade, knowing NORML needed money, made the donation in
hopes of shaming other drug dealers into supporting NORML.
Stroup, with the $10,000 in hand, might have simply put it into
the bank, but he decided instead to turn the windfall into a media
event. He called reporters in, spread the money out across his
desk for photographers, and declared that the money might be some
sort of government setup and he had therefore summoned the media
to show he had nothing to hide. It didn't make much sense, but
it was a slow news day and Stroup wound up with $10,000 and national
publicity as well.
Forcade was the mastermind behind the annual Fourth of July Yippie
smoke-in in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. Stroup
had for years refused invitations to speak at the smoke-in. It
was the sort of crazy hippie stunt he thought not in keeping with
NORML'S middle-class image. Forcade loved the smoke-in, however,
and in time he changed Stroup's thinking on it. If there were
several thousand people in America who worshipped marijuana, who
smoked it constantly, and who were willing to travel to Washington
at their own expense to demonstrate for its legalization, Stroup
reasoned, then perhaps he should not ignore them. Stroup thus
agreed to speak at the 1977 smoke-in, and also to handle the negotiations
leading up to it. The Yippies had never bothered to get a permit,
but Stroup decided that if he was to speak, the demonstration
should at least be legal. He therefore met with representatives
of the Park Police, the Secret Service, and the District of Columbia
"Is there going to be marijuana-smoking at this thing?"
a Park Police official demanded indignantly.
"Jesus Christ, man, it's a smoke-in," Stroup said. 'What
do you think they're going to do?"
The smoke-in went off uneventfully. Stroup and others spoke, bands
played, joints circulated, and the only way a Yippie could get
himself arrested was to scale the White House fence, which some
did. Stroup felt he'd helped legitimize the smoke-in, and he was
glad to do that favor for Forcade. He took some heat inside NORML
for being involved, but he thought it was well worth it in exchange
for Forcade's continued support.
To Stroup, it was all part of the coalition-building process.
He worked with Tom Bryant on the right and with Tom Forcade on
the left. As far as the Yips were concerned, he agreed with Lyndon
Johnson that it's better to have people "inside the tent
pissing out than outside the tent pissing in." What Stroup
did not fully appreciate was that the Yippies, let inside the
tent, might keep right on pissing in. He would learn this later,
and it would be a costly lesson.
By the mid-1970s Stroup could relax a bit. NORML'S early struggles
were over; the pot lobby was increasingly solvent and respected,
and its founder ("the John L. Lewis of the marijuana movement,"
New Times called him) enjoyed ever-growing celebrity. The
reform movement's successes had transformed Stroup from a political
curiosity to a political star. He was on the Tom Snyder show,
the Phil Donahue show, the Geraldo Rivera show (Rivera joined
NORML'S advisory board), and he was the subject of countless newspaper
and magazine articles, even a Playboy interview. Stroup
liked running NORML, heading a national organization, playing
political chess with all of America as his chessboard. He had
taken up the smokers' cause because he was looking for an issue,
a good horse to ride; it could have been jail reform or saving
the whales. But as the years passed, he had come to take the issue
very seriously, very personally. He defined himself as a smoker,
a member of an oppressed minority. Since childhood he had sought
social acceptance, and it outraged him that boozers passed laws
against smokers, treated them as second-class citizens. He identified,
in this regard, with the gay activists; for Stroup, it wasn't
enough for the larger society to say "Okay, we'll stop putting
you characters in jail." He wanted to force society to say
"Yes, your life-style is just as good as ours." And
of course that was what America would never say.
He had, over the decade, become more and more candid about his
own smoking. He had come out of the closet, so to speak. In the
early days he minimized the emphasis on his smoking, but by mid-decade
Stroup would confront a hostile legislature by saying, "Gentlemen,
I've been a daily marijuana smoker for years," as if defying
his opponents to match wits with him, if they really believed
the weed rotted men's brains.
The mid-1970s was a good time for Stroup and NORML. The paranoia
of the early 1970s was gone, and the anti-marijuana reaction of
the late 1970s was still to come, unforeseen. There were still
many arrests, still many outrages, still many battles to fight,
but the new national mood that had begun with Nixon's banishment
seemed to have taken root across the land. Reform was popular;
reformers were respectable. There were endless signs of this.
Down in Louisiana, the NORML chapter had rented billboards outside
New Orleans to put across its message: SHOULD PEOPLE WHO USE MARIJUANA
GO TO JAIL? CALL YOUR STATE LEGISLATOR! In Washington, Bob DuPont
was saying that cultivation of marijuana for personal use should
be decriminalized and that alcohol and tobacco were without question
bigger health hazards than marijuana. The opposition seemed mostly
to be cranks, bitter-enders like Ed Davis, who was warning that
cultivation would lead to "two-year-old addicts" who
would become hooked by eating leaves off the marijuana plants
their parents were growing.
In Washington, Sens. Phil Hart and Jacob Javits had joined NORML'S
advisory board, along with Sheriff Richard Hongisto, of San Francisco,
and one representative said that if smokers were disqualified
from membership in Congress, "they wouldn't be able to raise
a quorum." John Denver and Mary Tyler Moore, perhaps the
most wholesome man and woman in America, had declared that they
smoked; Moore said she considered marijuana no more dangerous
than her pre-dinner martini. The bar association of Baton Rouge,
Louisiana, and Little Rock, Arkansas, went on record for decriminalization,
as did the Democratic party of New Mexico, and a government report
acknowledged that alcohol was the most serious drug problem in
the U.S. Army. Throughout the spring of 1976, Stroup kept busy
flying to the fund-raising parties that NORML chapters were giving
around the country: a showing of Reefer Madness in Phoenix,
a dinner dance in Philadelphia, concerts in Atlanta and Milwaukee
events that were almost as decorous as Jaycees banquets. Smoking
and smokers were out of the closet and into the mainstream, or
so it seemed.
Stroup rushed about America, buoyed by the new national mood,
higher on the sweet wine of political success than he would ever
be on drugs, fighting the good fight and having plenty of good
times in the process. Craig Copetas, his frequent companion in
those days, recalled, "There was a great intensity to our
lives then. It was a time of serious work and serious play. Keith's
commitment was fantastic. To get some kid out of jail he'd go
for three days without sleep, calling reporters, hounding judges,
yelling at cops, whatever it took. But the work was so depressing
that you had to go out and blow your mind sometimes."
Copetas recalls a time when he and Stroup were flying first-class
and built themselves a tent of blankets to smoke under, explaining
to the stewardess that they wanted privacy as she passed food
into their smoky cave. (Stroup eventually began smoking openly
when he flew, and no one seemed to know or care, except for an
occasional stewardess who would say, "I can't believe
you're doing that!" and then smile and ignore him.) There
was another time, at a NORML conference, when Copetas and Hunter
Thompson were on a hotel balcony shooting Secret Service flares
at cats down in the alley, and another time when Forcade poured
long lines of cocaine around the tile floor of his hotel bathroom
and some people were crawling around on all fours, snorting madly,
like dogs following a scent. Forcade's parties were the most insane
of all. He would rent a nightclub and invite hundreds of peoplethe
High Times crowd, the dealers, the Yippies, the punk-rock
crowd, the Andy Warhol crowd, the transvestites, every freak in
New Yorkand the ballroom would be filled with tanks of nitrous
oxide and stoned people wandering around breathing in and out
It was at Forcade's party in New York in July of 1976, during
the Democratic convention that nominated Jimmy Carter, that Stroup
first met Margo St. James, the head of COYOTE (Cast Off Your Old
Tired Ethics), the prostitutes' lobby, and several of her young
activists, and a NORML-COYOTE alliance was proclaimed and vigorously
High times, indeed, but there was an irony to all this that escaped
the revelers. They had rejected their Middle American roots. They
scorned the whiskey culture they had left behind, and yet as they
fired flares from hotel windows and cavorted with prostitutes,
they resembled nothing so much as drunken Legionnaires at a convention,
the only difference being that their drug of choice was the Killer
Weed, whereas the Legionnaires were true to the Demon Rum.
Still, there was always work, serious work. Stroup's life sometimes
seemed poised between the chemical madness of the drug culture
and the legal madness of the world outside. One morning in July
of 1976 he took a call from a young man who said his name was
Jerry Mitchell and that he was in jail in Missouri.
"I called Playboy and they told me to call you,"
Mitchell said. "I want you to be my lawyer. You've got to
help me. The judge sentenced me to twelve years for selling
a guy five dollars' worth of marijuana. My parents are blind and
they need me."
"Don't you have a lawyer?" Stroup asked.
"He told me to plead guilty. I want NORML to represent me."
"I'll be there tomorrow," Stroup promised, and thus
began NORML'S most publicized case.
Jerry Mitchell had just graduated from high school, where he'd
been a member of the student council, in the little southwestern
Missouri town of West Plains, not far from the Arkansas border.
He was a somewhat unusual young man for West Plains. He read a
lot, was interested in philosophy, wore his hair shoulder-length,
had been opposed to the war in Vietnam, liked rock music, and
planned to go to college and study political science and then
become a lawyer. He was also a marijuana smoker. That fact had
come to the community's attention a few months earlier when he'd
been arrested for possession. He'd gone before Circuit Judge Winston
Buford and been given a suspended sentence. Unfortunately, he'd
continued to smoke, and one night in August of 1975 an old friend
had come by with another man, a man Mitchell didn't know. They
drove around and smoked three joints, and at the end of the evening
the stranger asked Mitchell if he could buy the rest of his marijuana.
Mitchell gave him a third of an ounce for $5. Later, the man came
back and asked if Mitchell could sell him a pound. Mitchell didn't
have a pound, but he took the man to meet someone else who did.
The stranger turned out to be a highway-patrol undercover agent,
and Mitchell was arrested on two charges: one for selling the
third of an ounce, one for selling the pound. Mitchell hired a
lawyer from St. Louis, who entered into plea-bargaining with the
prosecutor. As a result, Mitchell pleaded guilty to the lesser
charge, and the larger one was dropped. Two months later Mitchell
went before Judge Buford for sentencing. His St. Louis lawyer
did not attend; he sent another lawyer who was unfamiliar with
the case. Mitchell was not too worried. All the courthouse regulars
told him he'd get probation or maybe a few weekends in jail. When
the judge asked Mitchell if he had anything to say for himself,
Mitchell said he did not. The judge then declared, "A pusher
of an unlawful substance has the means to poison the whole community,"
and sentenced Mitchell to twelve years in prison.
The nineteen-year-old Mitchell, stunned, broke into tears. His
blind parents wept, too, as they heard the sentence. Betty Mitchell
had been blind since birth, and Roy Mitchell had been blind for
Mitchell begged for mercy, saying his parents needed him. Judge
Buford said he should have thought of his parents before he became
a drug dealer. His lawyer didn't ask for bond, so Mitchell was
taken off to jail. A few days later, realizing that the media
might be his court of last resort, Mitchell called Playboy,
Rolling Stone, and High Times, asking for help. Someone
at Playboy told him to call NORML.
Stroup flew to St. Louis, where he was joined by Mike Stepanian,
from San Francisco, whom he'd called for help because he considered
him one of the best drug lawyers in America. They were joined
by Bill Helmer, who edited the Playboy feature called "Forum,"
which often publicized particularly outrageous drug sentences.
The lawyers' first step was to talk to Mitchell's original lawyer
and to read the record of the case. They wanted to find out what
had gone wrong, why a judge had given such a sentence. Obviously,
Mitchell's involvement in the sale of a pound of marijuana was
a factor. In theory, that case was not before the court. In reality,
both the judge and the community were very aware of it. Mitchell's
was the first case of a drug pusher in the county's history. A
reading of the record made another problem clear: Mitchell had
stood mute, saying nothing in his own defense, not even prior
Stroup and Stepanian went to see Mitchell in the county jail and
asked him why he hadn't said he was sorry and asked for mercy.
Because his lawyer had told him to remain silent, he said. He'd
been scared and confused, and so he'd said nothing, and in the
process had made the judge think he was hostile, unrepentant.
He was a soft-spoken, intelligent boy who would have made a good
witness in his own behalf.
The lawyers next went to see the prosecutor, who was sympathetic
and said he would not resist a reduction in the sentence.
Finally, Stroup and Stepanian went to see the judge in his chambers.
It was a delicate confrontation. Judge Buford was not the ignorant
hillbilly they had expectedhe was articulate and intelligentbut
he was indignant. "Who are you people and where did you come
from and who's paying you?" he demanded. They explained that
they were from an organization that believed marijuana smokers
should not go to jail, that they were representing Mitchell, and
that they would receive no pay for their efforts. An hour-and-a-half
meeting followed, one in which several things were happening.
While Stroup and Stepanian were trying to make friends with the
judge, to persuade him they were sincere, well-intentioned people,
they were also trying to intimidate him, to make him think they
represented powerful forces that were coming to the aid of Jerry
Mitchell. In fact, as they became friendly, the judge confessed
that the presence of the Playboy reporter in West Plains
had started rumors that Hugh Hefner was going to fly in Playboy's
lawyers in the Big Bunny.
The judge also told them, as the talk grew candid, that they should
not try to paint Mitchell as an innocent ladthat he knew Mitchell
was a pusher. "Judge, I know he's a smoker," Stroup
said. "I'm a smoker, too. But someone who sells an ounce
to a friend for no profit is not what most people consider a pusher."
The judge also said that the possible sentence for drug dealing
was five years to life, and many members of the community felt
he'd been too soft, not too hard, on this young drug dealer. But
he hinted that he might consider a reduction in the sentence,
and then the three of them left his chambers and went to court.
The NORML lawyers said they wished to enter a motion for a reduction
of sentence. The judge said he would entertain such a motion.
Mitchell was brought in and given a chance to speak. He said he'd
been confused before, that he was sorry for what he'd done and
the pain he'd caused his parents, and that he appealed to the
court for mercy.
Judge Buford declared that he now saw a "ray of hope"
for the boy, and he would therefore reduce his sentence from twelve
years to seven.
Overjoyed, the NORML lawyers asked that Mitchell be released on
bond, pending appeal, and the judge agreed. The bond was set at
what it had been before the conviction. (Mitchell's parents had
mortgaged their small house as surety that their son would not
flee from justice.)
Stroup and Stepanian went to the jail and personally escorted
Mitchell out. It was exhilarating for them both, to have come
into a small rural community, to have established contact with
the prosecutor and the judge, and to have freed the boy from jail
and got five years taken off his sentence. Still, they knew there
was a long fight ahead. Stroup's next move was to contact a first-rate
lawyer in Kansas City, Howard Eisberg, who was a member of NORML's
national legal committee, and to arrange for him to handle Mitchell's
appeal. Eisberg took the case pro bonoNORML and the
Playboy Foundation paid his travel expensesand while the appeals
dragged on, Mitchell enrolled in Southeastern Missouri State College.
It would be two years before his case burst into public view once
Despite all the successes, all the celebrity, all the parties
and the glitter, there was another, darker side of Stroup's life.
He was broke, uncertain of his futurehis home a tiny room above
his officeliving under constant pressure, both emotional and
financial. Money was an endless concern. His salary went down
instead of up, as he and others at NORML took pay cuts during
financial crises. In 1976, when the government tried to collect
some $15,000 Stroup owed it for college loans, he filed bankruptcy,
and the government was forced to settle for his watch and his
bicyclehis only assetswhich it then sold back to him for
Money was a source of constant friction between him and Kelly.
After their separation she had got a Montessori teaching degree.
Then she decided she didn't want to teachthat, once more, she
was only doing what society said women should doand she returned
to college to study film-making. After he filed for bankruptcy,
Stroup sought a reduction in his child-support payments, but a
woman judge not only ruled in Kelly's favor but gave him a dressing
down in the process. Furious, Stroup walked the twenty blocks
back to his office, trying to work off his anger. But, soon after
he arrived, Kelly came to pick up Lindsey. It seemed to Stroup
that she was gloating, rubbing it in, and he went berserk, grabbed
her by the throat, pushed her up against a wall, and was brought
to his senses only by his daughter's horrified screams.
Another time, he went to National Airport to fly to a lecture
date, but the airline ticket agent informed him that his credit
card had been canceled, so he had no choice but to return to his
office. He encountered a friend there, and they chatted casually
enough, but when he got a call through to his lecture agent, whom
he blamed for his humiliation, he began screaming at him, cursing
wildly, red-faced, out of control. It was the other side of Stroup's
cool, confident posethe pent-up frustration of a man who was
living at the edge.
Besides the financial and political worries, there was the constant
pressure of being at the cutting edge of an issue that aroused
violent passions. He was often in hostile situations, confronting
anti-reform legislators, parents who thought he wanted to destroy
their children, anti-marijuana scientists who felt he had slandered
their professional achievements. For every smoker who thought
Stroup was a hero, there was a mother somewhere who thought he
was the devil incarnate. Dealing with his enemies was exhausting,
and so, too, in a different way, was dealing with his supporters.
He traveled about the country, appearing at fund-raisers, speaking
at colleges, meeting with local chapters, and he was always expected
to be the star, to provide energy that he didn't always have.
Stroup sought relief from the pressure in several ways. His closest
friend was his daughter, Lindsey, who spent some weekends with
him. She was all the family he had, and he was never happier than
when they could get away together, perhaps to take his van and
camp out at a country-music festival for a weekend. When he was
depressed, he would tell her she must be ashamed of him, that
her friends must think he was some kind of criminal, and she would
hug him and tell him it was all right. In fact, he knew she had
been upset when she was younger, had feared the police would take
him away, but as she grew older, she came to accept his work,
and he was never more proud than when at age ten or so, she told
him she wanted him to come to her school and tell the other kids
about his work. "About being a lawyer?" he asked. "No,"
she said, "about NORML."
There were women, of course, but for most of the decade his relationships
with women were more distinguished for quantity than for quality.
One evening Stroup was making love with a woman in the Jacuzzi
at the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles. It was in a kind of cove
or grotto, designed to be one of the most erotic spots in the
world. You swam in under a waterfall; there were jets of warm
water, colored lights, gentle music, and a ledge equipped with
soft cushions, thick towels, an assortment of body oils. It was
also supposed to be private, but Stroup noticed someone appear
briefly at the entrance. Stroup thought it was Hefner, and, sure
enough, when he saw Hefner back inside the mansion a little later,
playing backgammon with his cronies, the publisher called out,
"Well, Keith, I'm glad to know you're heterosexual."
It was a joke of sorts. Hefner knew of Stroup's affairs with several
women in the Playboy world. Still, by the standards of the mansion,
Stroup was rather puritanical. While other men were trying to
hit on the Bunnies, Stroup was trying to hit on potential contributors
Throughout his years at NORML, Stroup avoided entanglements with
women. Although this was due in part to his obsession with his
work, it had mostly to do with his fear of being hurt. When he
separated from his wife, he cried for days and avoided women for
months, resenting them, fearing them. And a bitter divorce added
to his determination not to let himself be vulnerable again. Sex
was fine, but nothing more. Typically, he would work at his office
until nine or ten o'clock, then call some woman, perhaps one he'd
just met, and ask if she wanted to come smoke a joint. If she
came, the chances were they'd wind up upstairs in his little bedroom;
then, when the sex was over, he'd go back down to his office and
return to work, leaving the woman to get the hint and go home.
Or, if Stroup had gone to the woman's place, he would leave after
the lovemaking. He didn't like to wake up with women; the morning-after
scenes were too seductive. Better to have your fun, then hurry
back to the safety of work. Once, in the mid-1970s, he was seeing
a tall, sophisticated blonde who shared his fascination with sex,
drugs, and politics. He started spending a lot of time at her
Georgetown apartment, and one night she asked if he'd like to
move in. She might as well have put a gun to his head. He soon
stopped seeing her.
Finally, there were drugs.
Stroup smoked more or less constantly. There were certain important
things he would not do high: go to court, give an important interview.
But he believed he could do routine office work just as well high
as not. He felt that marijuana focused his attention, energized
him, and provided a certain valuable introspection. When he was
under pressure, he sometimes smoked his first joint upon arising,
and some mornings, when he was irritable and ill-humored, his
secretaries wished he would hurry and smoke his first one.
He disliked comparing his drug use with other people's alcohol
use, but after appearing before a hostile legislative panel, he
would unwind with a joint or two the way another lobbyist might
unwind with a couple of stiff drinks.
He had tried almost every drug, but marijuana remained his favorite.
He viewed it as a drug you could integrate with a productive life,
in a way that you could not alcohol or cocaine or hallucinogens.
He used a good deal of cocaine in the latter part of the decade,
and he thought that in moderation it was a fine drug, with a fascinating
high. But moderation was not his strongest point, and he knew
that too much cocaine left you jumpy and depressed. He remained
a marijuana smoker, as other men are committed to beer or wine
or dry martinis.
Stroup always insisted that he used drugs for fun, not because
he was addicted to them or to meet any deep personal needs. "I
can do without drugs," he would say. "I just don't want
to." Still, it was difficult to know Stroup and not think
he had at least a psychological addiction to drugs. They clearly
had become essential to his self-image, and they were also a kind
of sedation, a way he dealt with the pressures of his life, both
from without and within. For all his talent and success, Stroup
seemed to have, very near his core, a large measure of insecurity.
He needed the constant activity, the phone calls, the publicity,
the one-night stands, the Mr. NORML persona, to give him constant
reassurance of his own worth. It is not an uncommon symptom in
Washington, of course; insecurity, a desire to prove himself,
to show those bastards back home, has driven many a man to political
success, even to the White House.
There was also in him an uncertainty as to whether he wanted to
be outsider or insider, rebel or respectable citizen. His Jekyll-and-Hyde
quality contributed to his success at NORML, made it possible
for him to move between the drug culture and the corridors of
power, but it was a difficult balancing act to maintain. All politicians
want to be all things to all men, but at some point you have to
come down on one side or another.
Stroup came down, was forced to define himself, when the Carter
administration came to power. It had been easy enough to deal
with the Nixon administration: You opposed it, which took courage,
anger, audacity, but not great subtlety. But with the coming of
Carter the game became more complicated, because it was a game,
played by experts, with the prospect of winning some points and
losing others. He had cheered Carter's march to the White House,
and not only because Carter supported decriminalization. It was
more than policy; it was cultural. Carter and his people were
from small towns, were Baptists, were hillbillies. Fine, so was
he. The younger ones liked to smoke dope and listen to Willie
Nelson. Fine, so did he.
Stroup, like a lot of people, let his guard down, let himself
expect too much of the smiling Georgian. Soon he would think he
had been wrong, tricked, that Carter, too, had rejected him. Predictably,
he took the rebuff very personally, lashed back angrily, hurt
himself and others, and in the process defined himself, permanently,
as an outsider.