High in America
The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana
January 20, 1973, was a cold, overcast, gloomy day in Washington,
a dismal day for all those who opposed Richard Nixon. At noon
Nixon took the oath of office for the second time and then led
a heavily guarded motorcade back down Pennsylvania Avenue to the
White House. A few blocks away, Keith Stroup and his NORML colleagues
were among the tens of thousands chanting, dope-smoking, anti-war,
anti-Nixon demonstrators who marched in a "counterinaugural"
parade that culminated with defiant rhetoric at the Washington
One of Stroup's companions that morning was his friend Joe Sharp,
the red-haired drug dealer who had turned him on to marijuana
three years earlier and had since gone underground, a fugitive
from a marijuana charge in Virginia. Joe Sharp's appearance was
somehow symbolic of the uncertain future that NORML and all the
political left faced that gloomy Saturday morning. Stroup and
his friends were not fugitives, but their immediate prospects
did not seem a great deal brighter than Joe Sharp's.
The election had proved that the political center was further
to the right than most liberals had been willing to admit. The
revolution wasn't coming. The reality was Nixon, and the only
hope for reform was a straight, middle-class approach. For Stroup,
Schott, and others at NORML it was a time to stop tripping, to
cut their hair, to watch their rhetoric, to mind their manners.
Bob Dylan had said it years before: You don't need a weatherman
to know which way the wind blows.
Still, two winds were blowing as the new year began. Large forces
were at work, poised for confrontation. On the one hand, the forces
of reform were gathering momentum. The Marijuana Commission's
report was a rallying point not only for smokers but for many
lawyers, scientists, parents, politicians, and civil and religious
leaders who were impressed by its conclusions. Yet, in opposition,
there remained the seemingly immovable object of Richard Nixon,
politically supreme and unyieldingly opposed to reform.
It was war. Marijuana arrests had risen year after year as the
conflict escalated; in 1973 they would exceed 420,000. It was
a war and as in the one in Vietnam, new weapons were constantly
being introduced. The anti-skyjacking searches at the nation's
airports were resulting in twice as many arrests for marijuana
as for weapons, and narcotics agents were starting to use police
dogs to sniff out marijuana in the nation's high schools. The
newly-formed Drug Enforcement Administration was Washington's
fastest-growing agency; it had an army, a navy, an air force (as,
increasingly, did the nation's drug smugglers). As this zealous
new bureaucracy was challenged by the reformers, it fought back,
like any bureaucracy, with more arrests, more raids, higher body
One night in April of 1973, Herbert Joseph Giglotto, a boilermaker,
and his wife, Louise, were asleep in their suburban house in Collinsville,
Illinois, when armed men broke into their bedroom. Giglotto later
recalled, "I got out of bed; I took about three steps, looked
down the hall, and I saw men running up the hall dressed like
hippies with pistols, yelling and screeching. I turned to my wife.
'God, honey, we're dead."' The intruders threw Giglotto down
on his bed, held a loaded gun to his head, tore the house apart,
and warned, "You're going to die unless you tell us where
the stuff is." Then the leader of the raiders said, "We've
made a mistake," and the men departed.
The raiders were from ODALE, the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement,
a special White House-directed agency that Richard Nixon created
when he could not prod other federal agencies to enforce the drug
laws as vigorously as he desired. In their zeal ODALE'S warrantless
raiders often raided the wrong houses. In the aftermath of the
Giglotto raid the New York Times reported there had been
hundreds of similar raids across America, during which at least
three innocent citizens were killed. (A jury later acquitted the
men who terrorized the Giglottos, apparently because they felt
such errors were justified in the name of vigorous law enforcement.)
Nixon's concern about drug-law enforcement was largely political.
Having run for president in 1968 on a law-and-order platform,
Nixon believed he needed tangible proof of an anti-crime crusade
to be reelected in 1972. Unfortunately, the federal government
has very little crime-fighting responsibility. Nixon therefore
looked to drug control as an area in which the federal government
had some authority and one, also, that would be politically popular.
One of the masterminds of Nixon's war on drugs was the ineffable
G. Gordon Liddy, whose projects included Operation Intercept,
in September of 1969, wherein tens of thousands of tourists were
searched at the Mexican border in a crackdown on smuggling. Few
drugs were found, and thousands of tourists were forced to sit
in the hot sun for up to six hours, but Liddy was not discouraged.
Another of his pet projects was ODALE, a two-fisted, gun-toting
outfit, undeterred by formalities such as search warrants.
Eventually, after a congressional investigation into its abuses,
ODALE as such was disbanded, but it set the tone for the Nixon
administration's attitude toward drugs and drug users: all-out,
unconditional war. The Supreme Court, venturing onto the field
of battle, sided with Nixon's law-and-order forces. In a six-to-three
decision it upheld the power of police to search people who had
been stopped for minor traffic violations. One of the cases involved
a man who was stopped for driving without a license and was found
to possess several marijuana cigarettes. Justices Douglas, Marshall,
and Brennan dissented, calling the decision a betrayal of the
As in all wars, it became increasingly hard for the civilian populace
to remain unaligned. As more and more people were arrested, an
increasing number of individuals and groups felt obliged to take
a stand. Indeed, such glimmers of hope as the reformers saw in
the early months of 1973 had mainly to do with the growing number
of voices calling for reform. The National Education Association,
the National Council for Churches, and the Central Conference
for American Rabbis, for example, all called for decriminalization.
The two most important endorsements, however, came from Consumers'
Union and the American Bar Association.
Consumers' Union's 632-page report, "Licit and Illicit Drugs,"
called for the immediate decriminalization, and eventual legalization,
of marijuana. As Stroup saw it, the CU report had bitten the political
bullet that the Marijuana Commission had avoided. The commission
clung to the idea that marijuana use might fade away, and therefore
saw decriminalization as the end of reform, but CU declared that
marijuana was here to stay and there should therefore be "an
orderly system of legal distribution and licit use."
The ABA's call for decriminalization at its 1973 meeting in Washington
was the result of several factors, one of which was an intensive
lobbying effort by NORML. Frank Fioramonti, NORML'S legislative
counsel and a member of the ABA's committee on alcoholism and
drug reform, managed to get a decriminalization resolution on
the agenda for the annual meeting. He brought in a dozen young
lawyers to lobby actively among the several hundred delegates
to the convention. This effort, plus support for decriminalization
by the ABA's president-elect, Chesterfield Smith, and its past
president, Whitney North Seymour, was enough to pass the resolution
by a vote of 122 to 70. The vote came despite the argument of
one lawyer, who said he spoke for the U.S. Army's judge advocate's
office, that marijuana had been responsible for untold violence
by drug-crazed GIs in Vietnam.
The ABA endorsement was of particular importance because of its
well-known conservatism and its prestige among lawyers and state
legislators. Another endorsement from the right came when William
F. Buckley, Jr., put himself and his National Review on
record in favor of decriminalization. Buckley's conversion came
about because of the efforts of a young Texan named Richard Cowan,
who showed up at NORML's door one day in 1972 and told Stroup
he was a Yale graduate, a conservative, an aspiring writer, and
a smoker who wanted to do something for reform.
Cowan was short-haired and neatly dressed, not the typical NORML
volunteer, and Stroup was suspicious: It was always possible he
was a narc. But, as with other volunteers, he gave him a menial
job, to see if he really wanted to work. Cowan's job was to read
and respond to the prison letters that came in daily. Soon after
he started, Cowan stumbled into Stroup's office in tears, overcome
by the prisoners' stories. Well, Stroup thought, if he's a narc,
he's a soft-hearted one.
Cowan in time reported that he was personally close to Bill Buckley
and was working on a pro-marijuana piece for the National Review.
Stroup remained skeptical, but one day that winter Cowan rushed
into his office with the journal, which had a cover picture of
a dozen young people being booked on marijuana charges and a headline
announcing that the time for marijuana-law reform had come. Buckley
had not only printed Cowan's article but had added his own editorial
declaring that he agreed entirely with Cowan that there was no
justification for jailing marijuana smokers. Buckley went on to
confess that he had himself tried marijuana, but only, he explained,
on his sailboat, outside the three-mile territorial limit, where
U.S. laws did not apply. He added, "To tell the truth, marijuana
didn't do a thing for me."
The Buckley-Cowan statement soon moved conservative columnist
James J. Kilpatrick to join the call for decriminalization and
to declare, "I don't give a hoot about marijuana, but I care
about freedom!" To both Buckley and Kilpatrick the marijuana
issue turned on the question of personal freedom, the right of
the individual to be left alone by big government, and they had
the intellectual honesty to take a position they knew would offend
many of their conservative followers.
Buckley's conversion to decriminalization contributed indirectly
to an extremely important alliance that Stroup formed in 1973.
Soon after Buckley spoke out, he decided to devote one of his
Firing Line television programs to the marijuana issue.
Having taken a controversial stand, Buckley wanted to justify
it to his fellow conservatives, and for his star witness he chose
Dr. Thomas Bryant, the handsome and articulate president of a
new, eminently respectable private institution called the Drug
The Drug Abuse Council was created in 1971 by the Ford Foundation,
which is both extremely rich and cautiously liberal. (It was,
in effect, the liberal establishment's government in exile during
the Nixon years.) This action reflected the Ford Foundation's
concern about the nation's ever-widening drug-abuse problemheroin
in the slums, tranquilizers in the suburbs, marijuana and hallucinogens
on the campusesand its fear that the Nixon administration would
react to the problem only with negative, law-and-order programs.
The Drug Abuse Council was to be a specialized think tank, an
independent voice evaluating drug programs and recommending public
policy. Because of political pressures, law-enforcement officials
had always dominated government drug policy, and moderates had
been afraid to speak out. The Drug Abuse Council was intended
to correct this imbalance.
As head of the council the Ford Foundation picked Tom Bryant,
who was in his early forties and had degrees in both law and medicine
and experience in the federal anti-poverty program. It also saddled
him with an ultraconservative board of directors, one that one
scientist said "didn't know marijuana from heroin, but knew
that it didn't want to be embarrassed." At first Bryant moved
carefully, sponsoring fellowships and academic studies, but he
was under pressure from his young, liberal staff to do more on
the marijuana issue, and that was his own instinct as well.
Then came the invitation for Tom Bryant to discuss marijuana on
William Buckley's television show. Bryant was glad to accept,
for it was the kind of exposure that was good for him and for
the council. But on the afternoon of December 20, the day before
he was to tape the Buckley show, Bryant became alarmed. He wasn't
sure he knew enough about all the legal, medical, and political
complexities of the marijuana issue to discuss it for a half hour
on television. His staff had brought him scores of books, memos,
and policy papers on marijuanafar too many to do him any good.
He needed a briefing from an expert, and one of his project officers,
a young woman named Jane Silver, had an idea: Why didn't they
ask Keith Stroup to come in and brief Bryant?
At that point Stroup knew Bryant only casually. They were very
different types: the freewheeling pot lobbyist and the cautious
foundation executive. But Stroup had already become friendly with
several members of Bryant's staff, including Jane Silver; Bob
Carr, a forty-year-old former college professor who was the council's
top writer; and Mathea Falco, a lawyer and Senate aide who would
later have a top drug policy job in the Carter administration.
Silver called Stroup, who raced the six blocks from NORML'S shabby
row house on M Street to the Drug Abuse Council's elegant suite
of offices in the high-rent district of L Street and gave Bryant
an intensive three-hour briefing. The next day Bryant taped the
Buckley program, and when it was shown, in early January, everyone
agreed he had done very well. Thus was born the NORML-Drug Abuse
The incident underscored a basic fact about the drug-policy field
in those days: If you wanted to deal with the marijuana issue,
you had to deal with Stroup, because he simply knew more about
it than anyone else. In Washington, as elsewhere, knowledge is
power. Traditionally in Washington there is some obscure congressional
aide or bureaucrat who has become the world's leading expert on
any given issue, so his boss can appear wise on that issue when
the need arises. But since no such government expert existed on
the marijuana issue, that role fell to Stroup by default.
In mid-1973 Bryant joined NORML'S advisory board and thus lent
his and the Ford Foundation's prestige and credibility to the
dope lobby. He also made Stroup a $200-a-month consultant to the
councilnot an insignificant amount of money to Stroup in those
days. Most important, the council began giving grants of up to
$30,000 a year to NORML'S "nonpolitical" spinoff, the
Center for the Study of Non-Medical Drug use. Money given to the
center was used for such "nonpolitical" purposes as
lawsuits, publishing costs, and the like, which of course freed
other NORML money for its political activities. Indirectly, the
council was subsidizing NORML'S political and legislative program,
helping NORML do things that the council thought needed doing
but that it legally could not do.
The alliance benefited both parties. It gave NORML money, credibility,
and increased access to the ultra-respectable scientists and policy
makers who clustered around the council. For Bryant, alliance
with NORML was a move to the left. As Stroup saw it, NORML had,
in effect, become the political arm of the Drug Abuse Council.
It was a delicate arrangement, given the tax laws and the Ford
Foundation's sensitivity to criticism that it was subsidizing
liberal political causes, but it was one that for several years
was crucial to NORML'S success.
NORML had a flurry of publicity in January of 1973, first a news
story in the Washington papers, then a major article in The
New York Times Magazine. The first came about when Stroup,
Schott, and Dinah Trachtman invaded the New Senate Office Building
one Monday afternoon carrying large cardboard boxes that contained
several hundred small plastic bags of a chopped-up, greenish-brown
substance that looked very much like marijuana.
Guards stopped Stroup and company at the door and insisted on
inspecting the boxes. When the guards spied the mysterious weed,
they said the visitors could not enter without first getting approval
from higher authority.
Stroup put on a great show of indignation, insisting that he and
his friends had a constitutional right to enter, that they were
peacefully petitioning their elected representatives. The guards
were unimpressed, and some pushing, shoving, and shouting ensued.
The Stroup whispered to Dinah to find a phone and call the newspapers,
and he and Schott took off down the corridor with the guards in
hot pursuit. They eventually took refuge in Sen. Charles Percy's
office, where Stuart Statler, their friend from the Product Safety
Commission, was working.
When this Keystone Kops scene had run its course, reason prevailed,
and the NORML forces were permitted to deliver a bag to each member
of Congress. An attached letter explained what it was all about:
The letter went on to give some facts from the Marijuana Commission's
report and to urge support of the Hughes-Javits-Koch decriminalization
bill. That bill never got anywhere, but Stroup's bag stunt did
get NORML some free publicity. His knock at tobacco also inspired
a North Carolina congressman to demand a chemical analysis of
the substance in the bags, to make sure it really wasn't marijuana
THE ENCLOSED BAGGIE DOES NOT CONTAIN MARIJUANA! Actually, it contains
tobacco, a legal but potentially more harmful drug. If the contents
were marijuana, you would be subject to criminal arrest!...
The Times Magazine article, which appeared on January 21,
dealt in part with a trip Stroup had made to Texas the previous
Texas was then one of two states in the Union (Rhode Island was
the other) where simple possession of marijuana was a felony,
punishable by up to life imprisonment. Nor were the Texas laws
an idle threat. There were some seven hundred young men in Texas
prisons for simple possession of marijuana, serving average sentences
of about ten years. Thirty had sentences of thirty years or more,
and thirteen had been sentenced to life. Half of the seven hundred
marijuana prisoners were first offenders, and a third were younger
In other states reformers were trying to reduce marijuana penalties
from a misdemeanor to a civil finedecriminalizationbut in
Texas the effort was still to reduce the penalty for possession
from a felony to a misdemeanor. A bill to do that had failed in
1972, and a new bill was to be introduced early in 1973. It was
to support that bill that Stroup made his trip to Austin, the
Stroup's visit to Texas was fairly typical of his work in many
states at that point. He had four target groups: the legislature,
the media, NORML supporters, and prisoners in the state prison.
The first night, he met with Steve Simon, NORML'S Texas coordinator,
and eight or ten other supporters. They sat around someone's apartment
smoking and talking about what was happening in Texas and elsewhere.
Simon had written NORML a year earlier, angry about the use of
lie detectors by the state government to determine if job applicants
smoked marijuana; he had gone on to be one of NORML'S most active
The next day, Stroup met with two young men who were central to
the reform effort in Texas: Griffin Smith, a lawyer and legislative
aide, and Ron Waters, a modish, twenty-two-year-old legislator
from Houston who had been elected on a pro-marijuana platform.
(Asked if he smoked, Waters replied smoothly, "That's irrelevant.")
To these two reformers Stroup was valuable as a source of information
on strategies in other states, and as a source of expert witnesses.
Anyone who was trying to reform the marijuana laws in Texas needed
all the help he could get, and a major source of Stroup's power
was his ability to produce witnesses like Dr. Whipple and Dr.
Stroup gave numerous newspaper and television interviews while
he was in Texas. He got a good press, partly because he was articulate
and statistic-laden, partly because he said things that were still
shocking in Texas (that he smoked marijuana and liked it), and
partly, it appeared, because most of the young reporters who interviewed
him had reason to support his cause.
Finally, on Saturday morning, Stroup, Waters, and a UPI reporter
named Jurate Kazickas, who was a tall, stunning blonde, arrived
at the Ferguson unit of the Texas prison system, a large, modern
facility located near Huntsville, in central Texas. They were
greeted by a polite young assistant warden who had arranged for
them to meet with several young men serving sentences there on
marijuana charges. Stroup's purpose in being there was to gain
publicity, to encourage the prisoners, and to gather material
that might be used for articles or radio tapes.
Eventually they settled down in the assistant warden's office
for a talk with ten prisoners serving time for marijuana. Stroup,
grandstanding, tried to bully the young assistant warden a bit:
Did he think it was right that these men were locked up for smoking
a harmless weed? But the young prison official only replied, very
politely, that it was a shame, but he reckoned the law had to
be enforced. The prisoners were anxious to know about the chances
for a new law in Texas andthe crucial point for themif reduced
penalties might be made to apply retroactively to those already
in jail. Stroup and Waters told them what they could, and then
asked each prisoner to tell his story.
One was a husky, twenty-year-old Mexican American named Pete Trevino,
who said he had grown up in an orphanage and was about to enter
college on a football scholarship when he was convicted of selling
several ounces of marijuana. By his account, the judge, noting
that he was an orphan, said, "Son, we'll give you a home,"
and sentenced him to forty years.
Another was Frank York, a very straight young man from a small
town, married and the father of two daughters, plump and balding
at twenty-one, who had been a cemetery-lot salesman before being
sentenced to five years for his second conviction for possession
of a few ounces.
Another was Coy Whitten, a handsome man of twenty-nine, married
and a college graduate, who was serving twelve years for possession.
It went on like that. The prisoners told depressingly similar
stories: widespread marijuana use among their friends; an "it
can't happen to me" attitude; arrest by undercover agents;
headline-seeking prosecutors; and finally conviction, wives and
children left behind, and the incredible reality of long, long
Almost to a man they declared, despite the presence of the assistant
warden, that they believed they'd one nothing wrong, that it was
the law that was wrong, and that they'd smoke again when they
Another prisoner they talked to that day was Frank Demolli, who
was twenty years old and had been eighteen and a freshman at the
University of Texas when he was arrested. Demolli was not one
of the All-American boys whom Stroup from time to time uncovered
and publicizedthe student-body president who got two years
for one joint. No, Demolli had been a campus hippie who'd been
dealing marijuana and other drugs and had been caught red-handed
with twenty-one pounds of weed. His red hair was trimmed short
in prison, but it had been long, shoulder length, when he went
to trial; that had been one of the several mistakes that had led
to his downfall. He was five feet seven and weighed about 120
pounds. He wore glasses and was rather homely, with a sad, owlish
face that had become only sadder and more owlish in prison, where
he lived in constant fear of being beaten, raped, or murdered
by larger, more violent inmates.
Demolli's father was a noncommissioned officer in the air force,
and Frank had lived all over the world and had read more books
than most college freshmen. That was another part of his problem:
Until he entered prison, most of his ideas about the world came
from books. He was the kind of kid who would read The Prophet
or The Way of a Pilgrim and confuse the way the world
ought to be with the way it is. He had gone to high school in
Germany for three years and then graduated from a high school
in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he was on the school wrestling
team. It was in South Dakota that he was first exposed to drugs.
Having great faith in books, he read a book called The Marijuana
Papers, concluded that marijuana would not hurt him, and began
smoking marijuana and using LSD.
He decided to enroll in the University of Texas because he had
been born in Texas, when his father was stationed there, and because
he had a romantic notion of Texas as an exciting, wide-open place
where he could make new friends and seek new truths. When he arrived
in Austin, in September of 1970, he found that everyone he met
was into marijuana and LSD. His first day there, someone sold
him ten tabs of LSD for $20; he resold them at a profit, and his
career as a dealer was begun. Soon he met another freshman called
Laredo Slim, who was from the border town of Laredo and knew a
dope-smoking border guard there, a Vietnam veteran, who would
bring marijuana across from Mexico for half the profits. Soon
Demolli and his friend Danny were buying twenty pounds from Laredo
Slim every other weekend. They were middle men, buying a pound
from Slim for $85, then selling it for $100: easy money, and free
Of course, it wasn't just the money. Demolli believed in marijuana,
believed it was a path to truth and awareness. Perhaps more important,
being a dealer gave him an identity. The University of Texas was
a very large, very rich university, with its social life dominated
by sororities and fraternities; Demolli, a funny-looking little
guy from South Dakota, was never going to make that scene, but
by dealing and by letting his red hair grow long, he soon became
a character in the freak scene, the hippie scene, and that was
all he needed. Some years later he tried to capture what it had
"We had fought against the war together, grown our hair long,
balled our brains out, immobilized ourselves with Panamanian red,
Mexican dirt weed, Colombian gold, Oaxacan, Michoacan, touched
God with orange barrel, blotter, and clear light. We were all
part of the Austin scene in January, 1971. We were outlaws with
cars screaming down the drag, drivers yelling out to passersby,
'What is truth?' Some of us were sure we were on to something
with LSD and marijuana. Even as we saw the scene deteriorate into
guns, speed, smack, and rip-offs, we still believed love and peace
could come out of dope. University life was wide open in those
days. No one gave a screw about school. Just dope, women, the
Armadillo, music, and going out to the country."
Frank Demolli's fantasy world began to crumble on the afternoon
of January 7, 1971, when he and his partner Danny drove to the
Greyhound station to pick up a shipment of dope from Laredo Slim.
Other times, they had gone to Mexico themselves, made the big
deal, felt the excitement of outfoxing the border guards, been
big shots flashing their money and telling their ladies to take
all the dope they wanted. But this time they were in a hurry,
so they'd asked Slim to ship their twenty-one pounds up by bus.
Demolli marched up to the package desk, flashed his fake ID, signed
for the package, and carried it back out to Danny's green Camaro.
They were congratulating each other on another successful mission
when a black Chevy squealed to a halt beside them and the two
men jumped out and pointed guns at their heads and yelled, "Up
against the wall, you motherfuckers."
The next thing Frank Demolli knew his bail had been set at $20,000
and he was in the drunk tank of the county jail. The local media
proclaimed the capture of two major drug dealers.
Soon he had a lawyer, one who was sent to him by his codefendant,
Danny. The lawyer assured him that he could take care of his case,
that the search was probably illegal, that at worst they could
get him off with probation, but there was the question of money:
five thousand dollars, in fact, if the case went to trial. The
lawyer seemed to think Demolli, being a drug dealer, had plenty
of money. He didn't, but he scraped up $500, and the lawyer got
him out on bail. Soon he was driving a cab to try to earn money
for his legal fees. When that didn't bring enough money, he returned
to dealing. As the spring progressed and he awaited trial, Demolli
was dealing more than ever before, this time with all the profits
going to his lawyer. Once he hitchhiked to Tucson to buy some
marijuana and cocaine. A friend wired him $300 to make the deal.
When he went to Western Union to pick up his money, a seedy-looking
guy came up and started talking to him and asked if he was looking
for weed. Demolli was suspicious, but the fellow quoted a good
price, so he finally went with him and his skinny girl friend
to see a dealer. But the seedy-looking guy, who called himself
Jess, said he would have to take the $300 and Frank would have
to wait in the car. Frank protested, but Jess said the skinny
girl, Donna, would wait with him, and from the way Donna was rubbing
up against him, it looked as though it might be an exciting wait.
So they waited five or ten minutes, and the girl was talking about
meeting him later, and finally she said she'd go see what was
keeping Jess. And she disappeared.
It was another ten or twenty minutes before Demolli could face
the fact that he'd been ripped off. His new friends were gone,
and his $300 was gone with them. He was so furious that he went
to the police to report a swindle. The police laughed at him.
Demolli's lawyer had got his bond reduced to $5000, but for some
reason it was raised back to $20,000 and he was forced to return
to the county jail. He turned himself in, carrying copies of the
Bhagavad-Gita, The Joyous Cosmology, and his German textbook.
Most of his fellow inmates were also there on drug charges, and
it was on that tour of the county jail that he first saw a rape,
two tough speed freaks ganging up on a high-school kid who'd been
busted when a traffic cop found an ounce of weed in his glove
compartment. Demolli was in for a week before his lawyer got his
bond reduced again, and he vowed then that he'd never go back.
He'd run first, become a fugitive. Still, his lawyer kept telling
him not to worry.
He dropped out of school, kept dealing, kept driving a cab, kept
giving all his money to his lawyer, and finally in May his case
came to trial. By then he had given a lot of thought to his trial.
He had decided, for one thing, that he would not cut his shoulder-length
red hair. By leaving his hair long, he would show the jury that
he was being honest with them. Then, when he explained to the
jury that all marijuana did was make you giggle, that the government's
scare stories were false, the jury would believe him. He had decided,
too, that after he had explained to the jury how harmless marijuana
was, and after they had given him probation, he would thank them
and promise them that he was going to quit smoking marijuana.
He had decided it wasn't worth the hassle. His education was more
important, he wanted to get his degree in social work. He'd had
enough of Texas, however; as soon as the trial was over he was
going to fly to Germany and see his parents and enter college
there. Maybe he would come back to Texas later, but for now there
was just too much hassle, too much madness.
The morning of his trial, Demolli realized he didn't even own
a suit, so he borrowed one from a friend. The only trouble was
that his friend was three inches taller and sixty pounds heavier,
so Demolli, in his baggy suit and with his long red hair, looked
rather like Bozo the Clown. He and his friends broke up with laughter.
Oh, well, he thought, it'll give the jury something to laugh about.
When he got to his lawyer's office, he had his first surprise
of the day. His lawyer said he'd decided not to let him testify.
Demolli guessed that was all right. He'd never liked the idea
of pleading innocent: Since he was obviously guilty, that seemed
dishonest. He was sorry he wouldn't get a chance to explain to
the jury about marijuana, how it was just a giggle, but he guessed
it didn't matter. Probation was probation, no matter how you got
Demolli's next surprise came when prospective jurors were being
questioned. The assistant prosecutor asked if any of them would
object to sending a person to prison for life for possession of
even a seed of marijuana, if that was the law. A few said they
would object, and they were excused.
The next surprise came when the flamboyant local district attorney
appeared to argue the case himself. In his opening statement he
talked about the defendants as purveyors of corruption, men who
tried to pervert children, men who made money off a vile substance
that was spreading like a cancer through society, leading to heroin,
to untold human tragedy. Demolli began to feel some concern. It
did not sound like the statement of a prosecutor who would agree
to probation. Still, the jury couldn't possibly believe all
that junk about perverting children and about marijuana's
leading to heroin. Marijuana was just a giggle.
There were only a few witnesses. The arresting officers said someone
at Greyhound had smelled the marijuana and called them. They brought
out the twenty-one one-pound bags and piled them on the prosecution
table, a veritable mountain of marijuana.
Demolli's lawyer called no witnesses. Demolli took this as proof
that they had the probation all locked up. Instead he made a brief
summation. He said his client was sorry for what he had done,
and he asked the jury to act with compassion.
Then the prosecutor got up. His cowboy boots clicked on the floor
as he paced restlessly back and forth before the jury. He shouted
that Demolli said he was sorry, but he had refused to say where
he had got the twenty-one pounds of marijuana. That was true;
when he was arrested, Demolli had said it was against his code
of honor to cause trouble for anyone else.
The prosecutor said Demolli might look young and innocent, but
he was in truth a pusher, the kind who hangs around the junior
high schools luring Austin's young people into trying marijuana,
into lives of corruption.
What should we do with someone who was arrested with twenty-one
pounds of that filth? the prosecutor asked. We should put him
in prison for forty-two years, he declared, two years for each
Forty-two years, Frank Demolli thought. That's a lot of probation.
This is our chance to show the rest of the country that we Texans
can stop the dope traffic, the prosecutor said, to show the dope
pushers that we mean business.
The judge gave his instructions, and the jury retired to the jury
room. Everyone else left the courtroom, too, and Demolli was alone
there with the twenty-one pounds of marijuana. He started to laugh.
It was as if the game were over and he could take his toys and
go home. Giggling, he walked over and put his ear to the jury-room
door. He heard a man say he wanted to give this kid thirty-five
But wasn't he a college student? a woman asked.
No, that was just a lie, a man said.
Demolli wondered if he should go into the jury room and set them
straight about himself and his case. Just then an elderly bailiff
came in and told him to get away from the door. Demolli went over
to the bailiff and told him his ideas about marijuana, and asked
if the bailiff couldn't see that there was nothing wrong with
"I think you're crazier than hell," the bailiff said
with a snort, and walked away.
Demolli's lawyer and an assistant prosecutor came back in with
cups of coffee. The assistant prosecutor was very friendly, and
Demolli could tell from his tone that everything would be all
right. They weren't mad at him. It was just a game. They wanted
to scare him.
Then the jury came back in. Their foreman was the man who'd been
yelling about thirty-five years. He gave the verdict to the judge.
The judge read it and summoned Demolli and his lawyer to the bench.
Demolli could feel his baggy pants flopping against his legs.
The jury foreman gave Demolli an odd smile. Then the judge read
"The jury hereby sentences you to no more than twenty-five
years in the Texas Department of Corrections."
Demolli's head went light. He couldn't think or speak. His lawyer
shook his hand and wished him luck. Someone put handcuffs on him
and led him out of the courtroom. It was a fat jailer he'd met
when he was arrested. Back then, when he left the jail, he'd told
the fat jailer he'd never be back.
"They all come back," the jailer said, as he locked
Demolli in the drunk tank.
Twenty-five years, he thought. Why, I'll be forty-three when I
They're trying to scare me, he decided.
Then he began to cry and scream and pound on the steel door.
Eventually he fell asleep.
What Frank Demolli and thousands of other young men like him had
no way of understanding was that they had become pawns in the
very-high-stakes game of presidential politics. Richard Nixon
had, in effect, slammed the cell door on them when he rejected
the Marijuana Commission's report and then proceeded to win forty-nine
of the fifty states in the 1972 election. If that election seemed
to prove anything to would-be presidents, it was that the American
people wanted toughness, against rebellious communists in Asia
and against rebellious dope smokers at home. Two of the men who
hoped to succeed Richard Nixon as president in 1976, Ronald Reagan
and Spiro Agnew, were already demonstrably tough on drugs. A third,
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, of New York, set out in January of 1973
to demonstrate that he was no less so.
Early in 1973 Rockefeller introduced anti-drug legislation that
was by far the most punitive in the nation. His program was directed
mainly at "hard" drugs. Possession or sale of heroin,
cocaine, or LSD could lead to life in prison. However, the Rockefeller
bill defined hallucinogenic drugs in such a way as to include
hashish and some of the stronger varieties of marijuana, so that
in theory you could go to prison for life for smoking high-quality
marijuana. For garden-variety marijuana the Rockefeller bill let
stand New York's existing penalties, which allowed one-year prison
terms for more than an ounce.
Among the many voices raised against Rockefeller's proposed law
were those of NORML'S two men in New York, Guy Archer and Frank
Fioramonti. The previous year, once he had got his $100,000 a
year guarantee from Playboy, Stroup had proposed that their Lawyers
Committee become New York NORML. Archer agreed to leave his law
firm and become NORML'S $1000-a-month state director, and Fioramonti
continued to work with NORML on a volunteer basis and later became
the New York coordinator when Archer moved to Hawaii to reenter
private law practice.
NORML deliberately limited its opposition to the provisions of
the New York bill relating to marijuana. This was a political
decision. Stroup thought it was hard enough to challenge the marijuana
laws without taking on the laws on hard drugs as well. He thought,
for example, that heroin addiction should be treated as a medical
problem, but if he started sounding "pro-heroin," he
would alienate politicians who were barely willing to support
marijuana reform. It was a joke at NORML that the next step would
be NORCL, the National Organization for the Reform of Cocaine
Laws, but Stroup thought the next generation of reformers would
have to fight that battle.
In time, the provision of the Rockefeller law that made possession
of certain forms of hashish and marijuana punishable by life in
prison was dropped. Otherwise, Rockefeller got the tough laws
he wanted. Eventually the courts would rule much of his law unconstitutional,
and state officials would find other parts unworkable, notably
the "mandatory minimum sentences" that ruled out plea-bargaining.
Still, the political reality in the spring of 1973 was that the
nation's most powerful governor, riding roughshod over liberal
objections, had passed the nation's toughest new drug law. There
was every reason to think that the Rockefeller law would be the
model for new laws in other states, laws that would reflect not
the restraint of the Marijuana Commission but the rhetoric of
Richard Nixon and the politicians who hoped to succeed him as
Then, late that spring, there were unexpected stirrings in the
state of Oregon.