Keith Stroup is a serious Washington lobbyist, a public-interest lawyer who started out in this twon working for the President's Commission on product Safety. He doesn't want you to forget that. Never mind the dark glasses and the hip hair and the music pouring from the stereo in a corner. That's just style.
Keith Stroup's lobby is marijuana. It is a job not without peril: He was busted for possession at the Canadian border last fall. His 9-year-old daughter still gets upset sometimes when she tries to tell people about her daddy's work - and gets shushed. "She comes home and says to me, 'Why don't they want me to talk about it, daddy?'
"I think," he says slowly, not looking up, "being classified as an outlaw over a long period of time does some damage to your psyche."
The 34-year-old director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) is seated in his small, semi-lit office on M Street. Pot's national headquarters is in an old three-story townhouse across from Sarsfiled's. Desks and file cabinets comfortably clutter the place. Until recently Stroup lived here, in a bse room on the third floor. Now he's got a $123 per-month apartment a few blocks away. It has an askey, dirty-dishes, grad-student look.
Today a half-dozen people are at work on typewriters and telephones - answering mail, discussing legal cases, plotting Hill strategy. It's not an air of crisis, one senses; more a trench spirit.
"I don't know what people imagine it's like around her," Stroup says, thumbing through mail. (He has been out of town and there are stacks.) "Everybody in the place works his tail off - we don't have time to sit around and get high. I probably get 20 calls a day I never even hear about. Every crazed, spaced-out zombie who comes by wants to tell me how he did acid and talked to God in the woods.Well, we're not into that. You want crazies, talk to the - ing yippies. We're a little more to the middle."
Mr. Marijuana (as he has been known has spent the 1970s edging marijuana's imgage to the middle. There are now 13 to 15 million Americans regularly smoking grass - that's a government figure - cutting across socioeconomic and most age groups. (The Gallup organization reports a clear majority of Americans now favor descriminalization.) They constitute, Keith Stroup feels, a legitmate political constitueny. Marijuana may still threaten the silent majority; it is no longer the "killer drug" of Harry Anslinger and the old Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
"I think it's the soft "j" that threatens people," says Stroup, grinning. "Mari-juana. Sounds sinister, doesn't it?"
Ten states have decriminalized marijuana. While maintain laws against selling it.
"Nebraska, Michigan, Vermont and Kansas are our next most likely winners at the moment," Stroup ssays, sounding like a croupier. "We had bills in 35 states last year at one time!" The District of Columbia, he expects, will fall next year.
"Actually," says Stroup, "decriminalizing was only the first step - getting it out of the way so we could get serious about the marketing aspect, the consumer protective side."
The consumer protective side is the focus of a recent controversy involving NORML and the governments of Mexico and the U.S. On March 13, NORML, on behalf of its 20,000 members filed suit against the U.S. for its alleged role in aiding and supporting an aerial spray program of Mexican marijuana and poppy fields with an herbicide known as Paraquat. Paraquat, it has now been admitted by all sides, can caused an irreversible lung damage called fibrosis. On March 31, NORML filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against resumption of the spraying. That motion is under consideration and may be answered this week.
Even the president of the united States has come out on the soft side of the possession issue, asking last August for the adoption of what would amount to civil sanction charges - misdemeanor citations and small fines - against apprehended smokers. Stroup puts Jimmy Carter's name at the top of his latest ads.
"I don't need to use mine when I've got the president's," he explains.
Later, he says: "We have access to the White House for the first time ever. Lots of groups have access to the White House, it's just that the outlaws take a long time to get there." His contact and friend there, he says, is Peter Bourne, head of the White House Office on Drug Abuse Policy.
In official Washington Stroup is generally respected. Robert DuPont of HEW's National Institute of Drug Abuse says, "He has the one invaluable asset, credibility." DuPont, who has known Stroup five years, thinks, though. "There's a side of the guy that's a little crazy." A few months ago4, at NORML's annual convention, Stroup was in on a pie-throwing incident involving a guest panelist, Joe T. Nellis, chief counsel for the House Select Committee on Narcotics. Stroup now admits it was a mistake.
A spokesman at the Drug Enforcement Agency, theoretically NORML's nemesisQ, says, "He's done an effective job of presenting his own point of vie." Wes Pomeroy, associate director to Peter Bourne at the White House, says, "He's gotten in there and worked within the system. His energy is amazing."
That Keith Stroup is in there at all, given his background, is amazing. He was brought up Southern Illinois. A rural accent still laces his talk. his father was a farmer who lost the farm and ended up sharecropping before he gave up the alnd for good. "The bottom line for them, I think," Stroup says of his parents, "is that marijuana falls into the broad category known as sinfulness. It's always been easier for my folks to tell their friends, 'Oh, Larry, he's an engineer in Albuquerque. And Keith's a lawyer in D.C.' I don't think I've talked to them about NORML in six years. We're just not close."
Hesitation. "I don't think when I was younger I didn't really care if I blew off the map. but they're too old for that now. And I'm too old. I just hope my work doesn't embarass them too much."
Later, he circles back: "My folks are in town now. I haven't seen them yet. This afternoon I'll drive my daughter out to see them. We'll probably have dinner." He shrugs.
After college, at the University of Illinois, where he was a fraternity boy, got drunk a lot, and was eventually suspended for a year - Stroup drove to Washington. He had tried the Peace Corps briefly by then, experimented with amphetamines, had a vague idea he wanted to be a congressman from Illinois. He got into Georgetwon Law, got married, bought a house in the suburbs. On graduation, in 1968, he took a job clerking for the President's Commission on product Safety. (Four of NORML's first five people came from the commission.) He set up hearings, selected witnesses, wrote testimony. he also went to school on a lawyer named Ralph Nader.
A friend's marijuana bust got him thinking. Stroup took the case, got his friend acquitted. The timing was right. Washington and the country needed a national spokesman for a cause just then poking its head above ground: Stroup, whose marriage was crumbling, needed a cause. The twocoalesced and eventually NORML was born. Now, seven years later, some think the name should be changed to NORCL - National Organization for the Reform of Cocain Laws. Ramsey Clark, one of his heroes, convinced Stroup to keep the acronym, but change the name from the National Organization for the Repeal of Marijuana Laws to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, on the theory that the former is a scare word, while the later is on a line with a grand American tradition.
All in all, says Stroup, what America is currently witnessing is an end to an era of prohibition. The analogies aren't perfect (for one thing it was sale and consumption in public saloons Carrie Nation was primarily fighting, not private use), but they apply all the same, he says. Prohibition didn't work the first time around, and it isn't working now.
None of this is to suggest that the thin, mod-clad trigger-talking man continually wiping a hand through dark-hair is alone responsible for the greening of grass in America.Vietnam and the '60s did more than a thousand Keith Stroup ever could to popularize marijuana.
But since the '60s, Stroup is the man who has kept the pole greased. Ever since the Playboy Foundation set him up with his $5,000 seed money, he has crisscrossed the country in the cause of marijuana reform.
Under Stroup NORML has grown from a basement operation with a hippie patina to a $450,000 per-year lobby, with branch offices in several states and affiliates in most others. The staff numbers several lawyers who make in the neighborhood of $16,500. Stroup makes $20,500. He almost seems embarassed by the figure. "We've had two raises and a cost-of-living increase," he explains. "For a long time, I made thirteen-five."
Besides chief spokesman, Stroup is also chief fund-raiser. Playboy kicks in $40,000 annually, and the rest of the budget comes from small contributors, art auctions, appeal letter. Last summer Hugh Hefner hosted a $75 a head benefit for NORML on the lawn of the West Coast Playboy mansion. Original Garry Trudeau cartoons were auctioned off.Several years ago $10,000 in small bills was left on NORML's office steps, along with a note claiming the money was from an alliance of dealers. "It would destroy us politically if we were sene as a front for dealers," says Stroup.
Perhaps the best gauge of NORML's own greening is its annual meeting. The first one - badly titled the First Annual People's Pot Conference - was held in a church basement on Capitol Hill in 1972 and was heavy on hippies. This year the conference was held at the Hyatt Regency. About 400 attended, including White House and government representatives. Trudeau Doonsbury art, one piece of which netted $2,500, was auctioned off. Hunter S. Thompson, the celebrity in residence, autographed the originals for the purchasers.
The pol of pot is explaining why he smokes. As usual he appears confident to the point of near-arrogance.
"The reason most people say they smoke, and I'm really no different, is out of relaxation and fun. It's a recreational drug, a social lubricant. The most natural thing in my life is to light up a joint and pass it around. It's like 'Have a drink of my scotch and I'll have a drink of yours.'"
He isn't much on booze. "I used to drink alcohol in college - a good bit of it. And I often had hangovers. I have not used alcohol for 10, 11 years.I feel terrific about it. I could be in the middle of an alcohol party and I don't have the slightest feeling of 'Gee, I wish I could have a drink.' To me it tastes bad."
But pots, against the law - and liquor isn't . "I know," he nods, serious. "it's the one issue that threatens my freedom every day. I very seldom break any other law, certainly not intentionally. But you break the frug law and if you'r not comfortable you get a handcuff on yourwrists and you're thrown in a jail cell with a buch of real criminals. I am honestly threatened by these laws."
Stroup is on record as saying he's tried a number of other drugs, including cocaine and LSD. He has never experimented with heroin, he says. He is adamant, to the point of sounding evagelistic, about keeping drugs out of the hands of juveniles. He thinks 18 is a proper age for a "private decision" on marijuana. "Even so, we shouldn't expect we're going to be too successful. The fact is, marijuana's available now."
Suddenly he is interrupting himself. A grin has rolled up. "You heard about my bust, didn't you?" He rifles through a pile of manila folders, comes up with the STROUP BUST FILE.
"I was on my way to Calgary to lecture at the University of Alberta. I took one joint of very nice Hawaiian dope, and that was it. But as I hit the damn customs going into Canada I forgot and left a gold leaf marijuana pin on my lapel. They took me into a room, gave me a skin search, a body search - you know, as if I was hiding a kilo of grass up my -."
The experience unnerved him. "Here I am, 7:30 at night, sitting in the Calgary county jail and there's an auditorium of 1,000 people waiting for me to lecture over at the university." Finally some students came down and bailed him out. He had $32 in his pocket. He is now scheduled to appear in a Canadian court on April 18.
A moment later, talking of the bust again, he says: "The fear of the marijuana smoker is not very real, if you think about it. "Am I gonna be busted and put away for 20 years?" No, what we're fighting here is a much bigger and more important conceptual battle, and that is: What rights do people have when they fall into a class like marijuana smokers where the majority of the country no longer wishes they be treated like violent criminals?"
Living in that limbo, Stroup thinks, has helped make him a "psychological rebel. Being defined as a deviant or outlaw all those years certainly leaves its scar. I tend to be a bit jaded about the system. I don't trust 'em a lot."
This last is said slowly, as if hearing himself say it is surprising.
Lindsey Stroup, age 9, is chubby, extroverted, the beam in her father's eye. Lindsey, who attends Stevens Elementary in District, spends every other weekend with here father. (Stroup annd his wife were divorced five years ago). Often she come in after school to visit him. Today, a holiday, she's at the office with a girl friend. The two hide under desks in an outer room while her father talks. Later, over at his apartment, when he is rooting though a drawer for a joint, Lindsey will rool her eyes and say with perfect mugging, "Oh daddy. Do you have to?"
"I remember times when she's been riding with me and we'll see a police car," Stroup says. "Now most times when I'm riding in a car I don't have any marijuana with meQ, because it's just a high-risk area to smoke. Certainly, if I have my daughter along I don't. But here were times when she would say, "Daddy, daddy, there's a police car," and start crying. Now she knows either her dad is a bad person or the law against marijuana is wrong. And in fact you know which way she's going to decide."
For now, Stroup says, he's raising his daughter to pick and choose among some of society's laws. "Not a very health thing," he says with a warm smile.
Aside from Lindsey, work seems Stroup life. "I don't drink and I don't dance, so you can see what kind of date I am." He's never been to an embassy party and only "fringe" Georgetown parties. He's never been across the street to Sarsfield's; sometime she hangs out at the Gandy Dancer on Capitol Hill, which belongs to friends.
He doesn't have a steady girl friend, although he and Christie Hefner, Hugh's daughter and vice president of Playboy Enterprises, see each othe when their schedules allow. He was also for a time involved with Bobbie Arnstein, Hefner's executive assistant, who committed suicide in the pressure of a drug trial. That has left a scar.
Stroup says his relationship with Hugh Hefner is close. "The other night we went out and played pinball and smoked a little weed."
And yet, for all his success and current visibility, you can't talk to Stroup very long before you hear him wondering if he's not "burned out" in the case of marijuana. Sometimes he thinks some of his lieutenants would better serve the revolution.
There has been noticeable strife within NORML in the past year. Some people think Stroup has too much control - and ego. Also, the legalization question - and what would happen to dealers - has caused a division of opinion. All of this and other things have made him ponder options.
"I've toyed for years with the idea of trying to do something for the elderly," he says. "I want to see a better guaranteed standard of living. I don't want them having to turn their heat down at night just to save $12 a month, because by God the rich people in this country didn't turn their thermostats down last year. There's all kinds of things we owe people when they get a certain age. I have a grandmother alive I happen to think a lot of. I'd talk to her on the phone last year and she'd say, 'Oh, I'm wrapped up cold here in a blanket,' and I'd say, 'Grandmother, don't you know thats a game the rich are playing on the poor"'"
Does his grandmother, the widow of a coal miner, understand NORML? "You know, I think she may. If she doesn't, at least she never lost the faith."