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Exhale, Stage Left

At 61, Longtime Marijuana Lobby Leader Keith Stroup Is Finally Leaving the Joint

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 4, 2005; Page C01

Keith Stroup's mouth is dry. His brain is foggy. America's most famous marijuana lobbyist admits that a powerful drug has messed up his mind.

The drug isn't marijuana, although he smokes that nearly every night. It's Tylenol cold medicine. He took some this morning, he says, and it made him feel goofy, spacey, stoned.

Stroup in the K Street offices of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He retired yesterday as head of the organization he founded 34 years ago. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

"I hate taking it," he says. "But my nose was running and I kept sneezing and I thought, 'I gotta take something.' "

Wearing a bright white shirt and dark blue suit, Stroup is sitting at his impeccably neat desk in the tidy K Street offices of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He founded NORML back in 1970 and now, 34 years later, he's retiring at 61 as the pot lobby's executive director.

"When I turned 60, I looked in the mirror and I saw this gray-haired old man and I said, 'I think we need younger leadership,' " he explains. "It has to do with more energy, fresh perspectives, new ideas. It's not like I'm ready for the old folks' home. I just think we need somebody younger running the organization."

That somebody is Allen St. Pierre, 39, who has served as NORML's second-in-command for the past decade. St. Pierre took over yesterday, while Stroup, who recently got married for the third time, headed off to his Falls Church home to become a consultant and lecturer.

But now, Stroup, stoned on cold medicine and nostalgia, starts showing off the strange souvenirs of his strange lobbying career.

He pulls a black-and-white photo off the wall. It shows him in jeans and a jacket addressing a crowd of hippies in front of the White House in the '70s.

"We used to have a July 4 smoke-in every year in Lafayette Park," he says. "I like this just as a period piece. Look at those ragtag folks! Look at the guys without their shirts on!"

He points to a poster on the wall and reads its message aloud: "It's only a weed that turns to a flower in your mind." He laughs. "That's a period piece, too."

Decorating his filing cabinet are stickers -- "Just Say Yes to Legalization" -- and a backstage pass from a Willie Nelson concert. Nelson, famously fond of the weed, is a longtime NORML supporter.

"Over the years, we've built up a nice friendship," Stroup says. "He's going to sponsor a celebrity NORML golf tournament in 2005."

Stoned golf?

Stroup laughs. "It's a lot less competitive," he says.

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