High in America
The True Story Behind NORML and the Politics of Marijuana
Stroup knew he was wrong, but he didn't know what to do about
He had plunged the world of drug policy into turmoil. Calls were
pouring in from NORML supporters who feared Stroup had killed
any hope that the Carter administration would support drug-law
reform. Tom Bryant resigned from NORML'S advisory board, calling
Stroup's actions with regard to Bourne "unconscionable."
Roger Roffman, NORML'S Washington State coordinator, had also
resigned. Stroup had Larry Schott take most of the calls; he wasn't
ready to talk to anyone. Schott and Brownell were urging him to
issue yet another statement of explanation and apology, but Stroup
wanted more time to evaluate the damage. Would he have to resign?
Or could he ride out the storm?
He alternated between defiance and despair. Sometimes he tried
to justify himself. He'd been battle weary, he would say. But
that wouldn't wash. Everyone is battle weary. That's what battles
are all about. Or he would say that Bourne had deserved it, because
of paraquat. But that didn't hold water either. Paraquat was Carter's
policy, not Bourne's, and Stroup wasn't going to get a better
policy by destroying Bourne. No, the truth was that Stroup had
done something stupid, and now he, as well as Bourne, was paying
for his mistake.
Stroup had spent eight years constructing his own little world,
one in which he was admired and respected, and now it was collapsing.
Tom Bryant was outraged, people like Norman Zinberg were upset,
and many on Stroup's own staff were barely speaking to him, for
they had made NORML their world, and it was falling down around
their heads, too. For the next several weeks Stroup would reach
out in many directions for support and encouragement. He called
Kelly the day the cocaine story broke and asked if he could come
by and see Lindsey that night. Kelly had seen the papers, and
she had to say to him, "Keith, you really did it this time.
Instead of waving the gun you pulled the trigger." In Kelly's
mind his lashing out at Bourne was much like his lashing out at
her, after their separation, wanting to punish her. He came by
that night and they smoked a few joints and talked. It was the
first time in a long time she could remember their having talked
without fighting, and he had seemed to listen to what she had
to say. Finally he went and kissed Lindsey good night and left.
Kelly thought she had never seen him so unsure of himself. She
felt sorry for him.
Stroup decided the best thing was to get out of Washington for
a while, to give himself time to think and for things to cool
down. Willie Nelson had invited him to join him and the band on
the road, and Stroup decided to accept the invitation.
Before catching up with Willie Nelson in Las Vegas, Stroup flew
first to Albuquerque to visit his brother, Larry, and his family.
He called Larry that morning and said he was coming west to hide
out for a few days, to get away from a problem back in Washington.
When he arrived in Albuquerque, the two brothers, and Larry's
wife, Pat, went to dinner at a Mexican restaurant and then returned
to Larry's home. It was a pleasant evening, in part because the
brothers were careful to avoid any political discussion: Larry
Stroup regarded Barry Goldwater as a dangerous liberal.
At breakfast the next morning Stroup read a Joseph Kraft column
in the local paper that was critical of his role in the Bourne
affair. Stroup had planned to see his brother later in the day,
but once he saw the Kraft column he packed his bag, said hurried
good-byes, jumped into his rented car, and headed farther west,
still trying to escape.
Driving through the desert that morning, Stroup smoked two joints
and managed to miss the turn to Santa Fe. Doubling back, he was
stopped at a police roadblock. A state trooper smelled marijuana
smoke in his car, forced him to open his suitcase, and found two
ounces of marijuana. Stroup guessed that was it, the last straw.
To be busted in New Mexico, on top of everything else, would be
the end. He'd have to quit NORML or be thrown out. He'd be a laughingstock,
a fool. But the trooper, a Chicano, let him go with a lecture.
Stroup stopped in Santa Fe to visit Louise Dubois, the former
wife of his friend Larry Dubois. Louise was a petite blonde, blessed
with patrician beauty and a serene nature. She loved animals and
had moved to Santa Fe, where she was working for a veterinarian
and living in an adobe farmhouse on a ranch outside of town. Stroup
tripped on MDA his first night with Louise, and stayed up late,
listening to dogs howl out on the desert, content at last, the
fiasco in Washington finally blown from his mind. Then the phone
rang. It was Larry Dubois, calling to warn that Stroup was in
NORML'S board of directors consisted of Stroup, Schott, Brownell,
Fioramonti, and Dubois. The only way Stroup could have been forced
out of NORML would have been by a majority vote of the board.
Dubois had for several years been an inactive member of the board,
but now his phone was ringing. Stroup's critics were asking Dubois
if he thought it might be time for a change in NORML's leadership.
Stroup could count on Dubois's vote, come what may, but Dubois
nonetheless urged him to return to Washington and issue a statement
of apology to quiet the critics. Stroup refused. He was on his
way to see Willie Nelson, and that was that.
He spent three days in Las Vegas, partying with Nelson and his
band and entourage. Nelson's traveling party amounted to a big
extended family, and that of course was what Stroup was seeking
in his journey west. NORML had been his family for several years,
but he was in disfavor there, and so he had turned for approval
and moral support to Nelson, who was a kind of father figure and
guru to many people.
When Stroup returned to Washington, Larry Schott said he thought
it necessary for the board of directors to censure Stroup for
his role in the Bourne affair. That was done in a statement that
stressed NORML'S belief in every person's right to privacy with
regard to his or her drug use, regardless of politics. After that,
Stroup issued a statement of apology. By then, he seemed to have
ridden out the storm.
Thus assured, Stroup was off to Miami in mid-August for the long-awaited
Jimmy Buffet benefit for NORML. Stroup had been working on this
one for more than a year. He had partied with Buffet, traveled
with him, gone to his wedding, got to know his parents. One concert
at the Kennedy Center in Washington had been canceled when Buffet's
new manager decided he was overexposed in the Washington area.
But Stroup persisted and enlisted the help of Hunter Thompson
and friends of Buffet's in the Carter administration, and finally
he had pinned down Buffet and, more important, his manager. Buffet
was going to play three concerts in Miami, during which a live
album would be recorded, and the proceeds, after expenses, would
go to NORML. Considering the size of the hall and the price of
the tickets, Stroup estimated that NORML would receive a minimum
Just as important as the money, of course, was the demonstration
that despite the Bourne affair, he was still Mr. NORML, was still
alive and well in the world of rock-and-roll celebrity. He invited
many of his friends to Miami for a week of partying: Tom Forcade
and Craig Copetas came from New York, Fred Moore and Billy Paley
from Washington, Marlene Gaskill from Atlanta. (Forcade wanted
Stroup to fly to Colombia with him after the concerts. "Are
you crazy?" Stroup said. "After I've been busted in
Canada, do you think I'm going to Colombia with you?" "Don't
worry," Forcade told him. "In Colombia the cops are
on our side.") Everyone stayed at the Coconut Grove Hotel,
a rock-and-roll hangout, and for five days and nights Miami had
its party of the year. Dealers came and gave away cocaine.
Women came and gave away themselves. There were so many women,
going from room to room, wanting only anonymous sex with anyone
who smacked of stardom, that in time the men were turning them
away. It was a level of rock-and-roll craziness that shocked even
Stroup; he didn't see how people could live at that pace and survive.
Somehow the three concerts were held, all sellouts, and after
the last one Stroup rented a house and hired a band and gave a
party for Buffet and the band and everyone. But there was a problem.
All week the promoter of the concert had treated Stroup rudely.
He'd given Stroup and his friends lousy tickets for the concerts.
And now, when Stroup gave his farewell party, Buffet didn't bother
to come. It seemed possible that the word was out that Stroup
was no longer the man with big White House connections, that perhaps
he was something of a political pariah.
The next afternoon, Stroup, Paley, and Moore were racing through
the Miami airport to catch their plane back to Washington when
two security men stopped them. Stroup guessed their dark glasses
and modish clothes had triggered a spot check. He began protesting,
talking very fast, because he was carrying both marijuana and
cocaine, and images of the windowless search room in Canada were
flashing through his mind when one security guard told the other,
"I think these are the wrong ones," and let them go.
Back in Washington, there was another unexpected complication
in Stroup's life. For the first time since his marriage he was
becoming seriously involved with a woman.
She was Lynn Darling, the Washington Post reporter who'd
interviewed him back in July on the day the Quaaludes story broke.
Darling was a tall, slender woman with brown hair, high cheekbones,
and huge brown eyes that made her look even younger than her twenty-six
years. She and Stroup were, in fact, a great deal alike: smart,
nervous, fast-talking, fast-thinking people, people who savored
the limelight. Darling's father was an Army colonel, and her mother
was the daughter of Polish immigrants; she had been pushed since
childhood to excel. She entered Harvard at sixteen, discovered
the joys of drugs, journalism, and radical politics, and by the
time she graduated she was an editor of the Crimson and
Stroup and Darling had met and had a brief affair in 1974 when
she was a free-lance writer. She remained interested in him, and
when they met again in 1978, she was older and more sure of herself,
and he was in urgent need of comfort and support. He called her
when he returned from Las Vegas to tell her he'd admired the long
front-page article she'd written on drug use in Washington. Using
the Bourne affair as a starting point, Darling had pointed out
that drug use was part of the life-style of many young people
in the political world. She mentioned in passing that she was
herself not unfamiliar with drugs, and she commented on the generation
gap at her newspaper, where, she said, older journalists compared
cocaine to heroin while younger ones compared it to coffee.
Stroup was soon spending most of his free time with Darling. He
was still unsure of his future, still feeling hostility from many
quarters, and he talked for hours about his uncertainties. Darling
found him confused, torn by Calvinist guilt, uncertain of his
identity, fearful that he was at bottom self-destructive. One
night he would regret what he had done in the Bourne affair, the
next night he would justify his actions and declare that the bastards
would never force him out. He knew he couldn't stay at NORML,
and yet he feared being stripped of his Mr. NORML persona and
becoming just another lawyer.
Despite Stroup's problems, or because of them, the romance blossomed.
Eventually, after much hesitation and soul-searching, Stroup moved
into Darling's apartment. He did so a step at a time, like a man
getting into a cold bath, keeping his clothes in his own apartment
for several weeks, keeping his apartment for several months after
he'd quit using it, finding it very difficult to admit, even to
himself, that he'd finally surrendered his hard-won independence.
As autumn began, Stroup knew he had to leave NORML, the question
was when. He could hang on, but he could never be as effective
as he was before the Bourne episode. For one thing, he had lost
his White House connections; Peter Bourne's successors in the
Office of Drug Abuse Policy understandably wanted nothing to do
with him. An even worse problem was criticism within NORML. Important
allies were wondering if he'd outlived his usefulness. In mid-September,
he told the staff he would leave NORML sometime the next spring.
Early in October, Stroup got an unexpected call from his friend
Mike Stepanian, the San Francisco drug lawyer. Several of NORML'S
leading scientific advisers had been to San Francisco for a drug
conference, Stepanian said, and they'd had a long talk about NORML,
and they felt they could no longer work with the organization
if Stroup stayed on as its director.
Stroup exploded. "I've already said I'm leaving," he
shouted at Stepanian.
That wasn't good enough, Stepanian said. The scientists wanted
a firm date for his departure.
Stroup declared that he'd leave when he was ready and the scientists
could go fuck themselves. He interpreted the scientists' threats
as another example of White House pressure. By some reports, the
scientists had been told they must choose between working with
NORML and the government contracts and consultant positions that
were so important to them.
He remained resolute for a week, declaring that nobody could force
him out; then, abruptly, he realized that practicing law looked
a great deal more attractive than struggling to rebuild NORML's
coalition. He called Gerry Goldstein and asked if he'd be interested
in forming a law partnership. Goldstein said he would, and Stroup
announced he would leave NORML by the end of the year.
In November, Stroup flew to Los Angeles for a NORML fund-raiser
at the Playboy mansion. Two hundred fifty guests were invited,
at $100 apiece, and Hugh Hefner picked up all the expenses. There
was no easier or more pleasant way to raise $25,000. And NORML
needed the money, all the more so because the Jimmy Buffet benefit
had ended in disaster. After waiting a couple of months, Stroup
called Buffet's accountant and was told that expenses for the
Miami concerts had been higher than expected. In fact, instead
of the $25,000 or more Stroup was expecting, NORML wouldn't get
anything. It was only when Stroup threatened to tell reporters
that Buffet's manager had ripped off NORML that the manager agreed
to send $10,000.
Soon after Stroup arrived at his hotel in Los Angeles for the
Playboy fund-raiser, he received stunning news from New York:
Tom Forcade had shot and killed himself.
Forcade had been deeply depressed by the death a few weeks earlier
of his friend Jack Coombs in a plane crash in Colombia. The crash
had apparently been accidental, but Forcade believed the DEA was
responsible. After Coombs's death Forcade had been using a lot
of Quaaludes, a drug that only added to his depression. His wife,
Gabrielle Schang, an attractive Briarcliff dropout turned Yippie,
later said, "Tom was really gifted and a little unbalanced.
I think he was clinically a manic depressive. On his highs he
had boundless energy, but he'd fall into lapses of despondency
and be like a zucchini. I think it was hard for him to be a radical
leftist and a successful capitalist, too." As soon as the
Playboy party was over, Stroup flew to New York for a wake Schang
was holding for Forcade on the top floor of the World Trade Centerbecause,
she explained, it was the highest place in New York.
Stroup spent the evening of Saturday, December 2, getting very,
very high. That afternoon, the second day of the 1978 NORML conference,
he'd delivered his farewell speech to the delegates. He'd been
a bit nervous as he began his speech, for there was a rumor that
the Yippies were going to pie him, a prospect Stroup found distinctly
unsettling. But no pie throwers appeared, and Stroup began by
paying tribute to two allies of NORML who had died in recent weeks:
Tom Forcade and George Moscone, the mayor of San Francisco, who'd
been shot by an assassin. He went on to regret the rise of an
anti-reform New Right, to denounce the DEA as an American Gestapo
and call for its abolition, to advocate the legalization but not
the commercialization of marijuana, to challenge President Carter
to provide action instead of rhetoric on drug-law reform, and
to declare that the fate of people imprisoned on drug charges
concerned him far more than the fate of Peter Bourne. As if to
dramatize that point, the audience included Stroup's special guests
for the weekend, Roy and Betty Mitchell, the blind couple from
West Plains, Missouri, whose son, Jerry, had then been in prison
about eight months and would remain there for another six months
before he was paroled. Stroup tried to keep in touch with people
like the Mitchells; they were a kind of extended family for him.
He had heard recently from Frank Demolli; after getting out of
prison in Texas, Demolli had got his college degree in Colorado
and gone to work for the state prison system there, with the intention
of making his career in prison reform.
As he warmed up to his speech, Stroup had some kind words for
the nation's drug smugglers. "They're not criminals,"
he declared. "They're our friends and we have to support
them." It was both something he believed and a reminder that
his new law firm would be specializing in drug cases, smugglers
included. As Stroup saw it, that was the new cutting edge of the
marijuana issue. The battle for the smokers was almost wonfew
of them went to jail anymorebut lots of dealers went to jail,
and in Stroup's view they were simply businessmen, performing
a necessary function, whom society unjustly defined as criminals.
As he ended his speech, Stroup made only modest claims for the
reform lobby he had created: They had demonstrated that smokers
were a legitimate constituency, he said, a political force, and
the government would have to listen to them when it made its drug
The delegates gave Stroup a standing ovation as he stepped down,
and it was deserved. To have conceived NORML in 1970, to have
brought it into being, and to have made it the formidable national
organization it became were quite remarkable achievements. In
the process Stroup had helped a lot of people no one else had
the talent or inclination to help. A lot of people were not in
jail who would have been if NORML had not existed. Whatever his
shortcomings, Stroup had made NORML about as effective and as
respectable as any marijuana lobby could expect to be, and he
had associated it with people who represented excellence in many
fields: with Ramsey Clark and Phil Hart, with Kris Kristofferson
and Willie Nelson, with Hunter Thompson and Garry Trudeau, with
Norman Zinberg and Dorothy Whipple, with Hugh Hefner of Playboy
and Tom Bryant of the Drug Abuse Council. He had made at least
his share of mistakes, but it was impossible to say that anyone
else could have done as well, or even come close. Stroup's critics
might not consider him a proper model for the young, but he had
fought effectively for what he believed, and history teaches that
the people who step forward to lead unpopular causes are not often
The speech was Stroup's official farewell; then the unofficial
farewell began, as Stroup began to unwind and make the rounds
of the suites at the Hyatt Regency. It was a warm, sentimental
evening. Stroup's friends had forgiven him the Bourne affair and
were remembering the good times. There were many handshakes, embraces,
jokes, memories to be exchanged, and there were also many offers
for Stroup to take a hit of this, a snort of that. For a while
the party stopped in his and Lynn Darling's suite, where Gerry
Goldstein kept ordering bottles of Dom Perignon from room service.
The party moved on to Hunter Thompson's suite, where Stroup noticed
that Thompson had torn off the door between his two rooms and
had also crashed a serving tray into the wall. "Jesus Christ,
Hunter, I'm liable for all this," Stroup protested, for NORML
picked up the tab each year when Thompson came to its conferences.
While they were in Thompson's suite, Stroup sampled some methamphetaminespeedthat
had been mixed with cocaine. Stroup was getting higher and higher,
but he was still in reasonably good shape at eleven o'clock when
the party moved a few blocks away to a huge old Elks Club building,
where the official NORML conference party was being held.
Billy Paley and Fred Moore had been in charge of planning the
1978 conference party, as they had the previous year's party at
the town house on S Street. This year, however, because of NORML'S
financial plight, a money-making party was given. Invitations
were sent to all NORML members in the Washington area to attend
at $10 apiece. And they had come, many hundreds of them, seemingly
every long-haired freak within a hundred miles of Washington,
to pack the Elks Club hall, smoke dope, drink beer, eat chili,
and listen to records and a rock band. For a while someone kept
playing a depressing rock song called "Christmas at the K-Mart."
Quite a number of Washington reporters were present, perhaps hoping
for a repeat of the previous year's cocaine scandal, but they
were disappointed, for it would have been easier to locate a two-headed
cow than a Carter administration official at the 1978 NORML conference.
Moore and Paley had set aside one room for NORML's elite. The
door to that inner sanctum was being guarded by several large
black men who were rumored to be black-belt karate experts. These
doormen were admitting only people who displayed little paper
stars that Larry Schott and others were giving to special friends
of NORML. Inside the private room thirty or so people were smoking
dope, snorting cocaine, sipping champagne, and generally having
a fine time.
Outside, however, an angry group of activist lawyers were confronting
the doormen. They were dues-paying members of NORML, they declared,
and there could be no private party, no elitism, no discrimination:
They demanded admission. The reputed karate champions were unmoved.
No star, no entry. The NORML populists were outraged, but push
did not come to shove. Such was the situation when Stroup arrived.
"Let 'em in," he commanded, and NORML's elite were soon
engulfed by a tidal wave of public-interest lawyers and ponytailed
Stroup didn't care. He felt great. With Lynn Darling at his side
he moved about the Elks Club, shaking hands, laughing, greeting
old friends, savoring his last hurrah. The trouble was that like
many an old grad back for his class reunion, he was consuming
more stimulants than was wise. He might have been able to handle
the champagne, the marijuana, the speed, and the cocaine, but
the problem was the Quaaludes that people kept pressing on him.
He downed them, half a Quaalude here, another half there, because
he thought that Quaaludes combined with cocaine produced a nice
high, and also because too much cocaine made you tense, wired,
jittery, and the Quaaludes would bring you down, take the edge
off the coke. All of which was fine, except that too many Quaaludes
can kill you, and Stroup was past counting.
From the Elks Club the party returned to the Hyatt Regency, to
the suite of a big, rich Texan who'd recently become an enthusiastic
NORML supporter. Sometimes, for fun, the Texan would toss handfuls
of Quaaludes into the air, as if they were candy or flowers. Stroup
was saying something to Lynn Darling, was quite rational, and
the next moment he sank to the floor, unconscious.
Darling was scared. Most of the people were higher than she was,
and no one seemed too worried about Keith. People gathered around
and began comparing notes, and as best they could calculate he
had taken four or five Quaaludes, enough, some feared, to kill
him. They tried to take him back to his own room, but no one could
find the key, so they took him instead to Mark Heutlinger's room.
Then there was conflicting medical advice. Someone said the best
thing was to let him sleep, but someone else said no, the important
thing was not to let him sleep, because he might go into a coma.
The Texan thought a cold bath might revive him, so they put him
in the tub, and it revived him enough that he mumbled that champagne
and Quaaludes taken together were synergistic, and all the people
gathered around the tub cheered that sign of improvement.
But he kept falling back to sleep, and they kept slapping him
and talking to him and trying to awaken him. A young NORML aide
had promised Darling he would find a doctor, but no doctor ever
appeared. The Texan announced he had an ambulance standing by
downstairs in case Stroup got worse. At one point the Texan demanded
that room service send up some coffee and food, thinking that
might revive Stroup, but the switchboard operator insisted room
service was closed. The Texan went downstairs and broke into the
kitchen and brought back cheese and crackers, but Stroup wouldn't
eat them. It went on like that for hoursbizarre, chaotic, funny,
or tragic, depending on the outcome. Darling, with a journalist's
double vision, could see the headlines: "Mr. NORML Delivers
Farewell Address; O.D.'s." From time to time Stroup would
open his eyes and mutter some lewd sexual suggestion to her and
then pass out again. Finally, around dawn, he opened his eyes
and seemed to have some awareness of where he was. He squinted
at Darling, then at the other people clustered around the bed.
"What the fuck are all these people doing in my room?"
he demanded. "Can't you see I'm trying to sleep?"
With that, they knew he was all right.