Keith Stroup, born in 1943 to conservative, God-fearing parents in Dix, Ill., founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1971. Fueled by a mixture of charm, anger, hustle, political savvy and commitment to his chosen cause, Stroup found himself a financial angel in Hugh Hefner, and then lobbied and press-released his organization into a kind of outlaw prominence. From 1973 to 1975, NORML helped persuade six state legislatures to end criminal penalties for the possession of marijuana, and in the process Stroup himself achieved a degree of hip celebrity. Then, in 1976, everything changed: Jimmy Carter was elected president, and he appointed Stroup's friend Peter Bourne as his adviser on drug policy. It seemed that NORMAL's day had come. As it turned out, it was the beginning of the end.
One frigid February morning in 1977, soon after Jimmy Carter was inaugurated, Keith Stroup came in from the cold. Or so he thought. He walked the dozen blocks from NORMAL's office to the White House, but it was more like a walk through time, from one life to another. Six years earlier, when he started NORML, Stroup had been a freak, an outlaw lobbyist who dealt with the White House only via angry letters and defiant gestures. Now, incredibly enough, he was the leader of a respected national lobby, and he was on his way to see his friend Dr. Peter Bourne.
He marched up briskly to the guardhouse outside the West Wing and announced that Mr. Stroup had arrived to see Dr. Bourne. There was a brief delay, as there always is, but that was all right. The trick was to be cool, as if you came to the White House every day, and not to notice the tourists who gawked and wondered who you were. Stroup was wearing jeans and a blue blazer with his gold marijuana-leaf pin in its lapel. He had thought it over and decided he couldn't not wear it just because he was going to the White House. After a moment the guard gave Stroup a pass and pointed him up the driveway to the West Wing door.
For all his professional cool, Stroup felt his heart beat faster when he stepped inside the White House. You couldn't deny it: There was something awe-inspiring about the place. If you were a power groupie, this was your Mecca, your Rome, your rainbow's end. Stroup did a double take as he started down the stairs to Bourne's office: James Schlesinger had passed by, puffing on his pipe. Stroup thought about lighting a joint, and laughed.
In truth, Stroup was already high, but not on drugs. No more would he have to do battle with hostile, faceless bureaucrats. He would be dealing with friends now, with Peter Bourne and with Mathea Falco, from the Drug Abuse Council, whom Peter had put in the top drug-policy job at State. These were people who knew the score, people now with the power to pick up the phone and make the bureaucrats snap to.
And it was more than Peter and Mathea. A new generation of political activists, smokers, had come to power. He'd heard plenty of stories about people using drugs in the Carter campaign. Carter's three sons had all smoked -- their mother told a reporter this during the campaign -- and the oldest one, Jack, was booted out of the Navy for smoking.
Stroup's meeting with Bourne went well. The two men spoke frankly, and neither side made demands. Afterwards, they had a pleasant lunch at the White House mess. It was clear to Stroup that Bourne would deal with him as an insider, as the spokesman for a legitimate and important constituency. Stroup was jubilant as he walked back to his office. He liked the view from the inside.
Incredibly enough, Stroup's honeymoon with the White House was over within a week.
One of the questions Stroup raised with Bourne that first morning was how the White House could help the passage of decriminalization bills in state legislatures around the country. Stroup had a specific suggestion. There would be a hearing in New Mexico in a few weeks. The vote was expected to be close. Why didn't Chip Carter, the president's son, go testify on behalf of the bill?
The proposal had a certain logic. Carter had said, in his campaign, that he favored decriminalization. And Chip, the second of his three sons, was the most politically active of them, an attractive and articulate young man who would make an excellent spokesman for reform. Bourne promised to take the idea up with Chip. He did, and Chip rather liked it, but when he discussed it with Hamilton Jordan, Jordan suggested that maybe it wasn't such a good idea after all.
It was, of course, a crazy idea. Send Chip to testify for marijuana? Sure, and why not send Rosalynn to testify for abortion too? That would be swell on the evening news.
After a few days, still thinking he was about to bring off a great political coup, Stroup called Bourne's office and Bourne's assistant, Ellen Metsky, gave him the bad news: Hamilton had advised Chip that to testify in New Mexico would not be a good use of his time.
Stroup might have taken the news philosophically, and reasoned that the White House would owe him one the next time around. Instead, he exploded. Those bastards had campaigned as pro-decriminalization and now they were backing away. This was a personal rebuff to Stroup. He had trusted the Carter people. They were his contemporaries, they were smokers. Now, in his very personal view of the world, they had betrayed him.
He decided that if he could not get Chip Carter to testify, he would at least get some mileage out of the episode. He began calling reporters, telling them how Jordan had refused to let Chip testify in New Mexico. He added his own allegation that senior Carter staff people had smoked marijuana during the campaign. The newspapers were delighted with the story. The White House was not, and Peter Bourne did not invite Stroup back for lunch in the White House mess a second time. Mr. NORML was out in the cold again.
Another, even more serious problem soon arose between NORML and the Carter administration. In 1975 the U.S. government began giving more than $10 million a year to the Mexican government for a program in which marijuana fields in the Sierra Madre mountains were sprayed by helicopter with a deadly herbicide called paraquat. By late 1976 Stroup began to hear reports of this program from California drug dealers, and to hear that some of the paraquat-sprayed marijuana was harvested by the Mexican peasants who grew it and sent on to the United States for sale, with unknown damage to the Americans who smoked it. At his lunch with Bourne, Stroup had asked about the spraying program, and Bourne promised to check on it.
A month later Bourne replied by letter. He said it was true that the Mexican government was using herbicides to eliminate illegal opium-poppy and marijuana crops. The U.S. government, he said, "has nothing to do with the selection, procurement, payment or reimbursement in regard to the herbicides." He added that the experts he had consulted did not know the effect, if any, the poisoned marijuana might have on the people who smoked it.
Early in 1977 Stroup wrote Phil Walden, the burly young president of Georgia-based Capricorn Records, asking for a chance to tell him about NORML's work. Walden, the manager of the Allman Brothers Band and an early financial supporter of Jimmy Carter, was known as an intelligent, politically astute man. Stroup hoped that Walden would help him persuade some rock groups to give benefit performances for NORML.
Walden responded to Stroup's letter with an invitation to come down to Capricorn's annual picnic that summer. Stroup did, rubbed elbows with a lot of musicians, and hit it off well with Walden, who agreed to join NORML's advisory board.
On April 11, 1978, Stroup wrote Walden and urged him to discuss the paraquat issue with President Carter if he had the opportunity. By then, government tests that Bourne had ordered had confirmed that paraquat-contaminated marijuana was being sold in the U.S. and that it could cause permanent lung damage. But despite these findings Bourne had continued to support the spraying program. Stroup wrote Walden taht he would himself be glad to discuss the paraquat issue with Chip Carter, although that seemed unlikely, given the way he he had burned Chip 14 months earlier. However, one afternoon a few days later, Walden called and told Stroup he was just leaving the White House and he would drop by NORML in a few minutes and bring Chip Carter with him.
Monents later, Walden, Chip, and two men with bulges on their hips arrived, and Stroup and his visitors sat down to talk. Stroup was all charm that afternoon. He outlined NORMAL's current political priorities: medical reclassification, a federal decriminalization bill and, most of all, stopping the paraquat spraying. Chip listened politely, asked some questions, and said he'd like to know more. Soon, Walden said he and Chip had better be going. It had been only a get-acquainted call, a favor Walden was doing for his friends at NORML. After that, it would be up to Stroup to follow through.
Stroup saw young Carter's visit as purely business. Chip was the Carter administration's unoffical ambassador to the youth culture, and Stroup assumed that he therefore saw the pot lobby as part of his political responsibility. As Stroup saw it, he wanted things from the Carter administration and the Carter administration wanted things from him: You make me; I make you. Certainly he was excited at the prospect of using the president's son as a way to bypass Peter Bourne and the bureaucrats and to present the anti-paraquat case directly to the president.
At the same time, on a personal level, Stroup liked Chip, and thought they had a lot in common. Both were small-town boys who were fascinated with politics and who also enjoyed parties, celebrities, life in the fast lane. wWhen Chip left NORML's office that first afternnon, Stroup intended to send him data on paraquat and to request another, more formal meeting. As it turned out, he soon had an unexpected chance to lobby Chip in an informal setting.
When Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson played the Capital Centre that month, John Walsh, an editor on The Washington Post's Style section, got tickets and chartered a bus to take a party of journalists and politcal people to the concert. Walsh gave Stroup a backstage pass and whispered that Willie wanted to talk to him after the concert. That was good news: Stroup had been after Willie Nelson for months to do a NORML concert.
Stroup made his way backstage and spent some time hanging out with the band. He had some cocaine and good Columbian marijuana with him, for it was rock-world protocol that you always offered drugs to the musicians, although they usually had better drugs than you did. He noticed that Jody Powell and some other White House people were backstage, and after a while he was pleased to have his new friend Chip Carter come over and join him. They watched the show together for a while, and when the concert was over, Carter asked Stroup what was happening next. Stroup said he was going over to Willie's motel to party for a while. Chip asked directions and said he'd meet him there.
When the postconcert party assembled, in a Hoiday Inn near the Capital Centre, there were a dozen or so people present: Willie and Waylon; two or three members of the band; Chip Carter and his wife Caron; the actor Jan-Michael Vincent; Struop's friend Fred Moore; and Stroup and a friend from Atlanta, Marlene Gaskill.
The party was in a typical Holiday Inn room, with two beds and only two chairs in it. Chip was sitting in one of the chairs, and Willie's drummer was slouched in the other. Everyone else stood or sat on the beds. There was a lot of talk and laughter, and a few dirty jokes, but nothing too dirty. Marlene was wearing her Coca-Cola T-shirt, which was a patriotic act if you were from Atlanta, but it gave rise to a lot of cocaine jokes. Chip and Caron had on jeans, and Willie had on his jeans and red bandanna. Keith was huddled with Chip and Willie, talking politics the way he always did, talking to Chip about rock concerts he'd helped organize for the president's campaign, asking if Chip could help persuade any groups to play a NORML benefit. When Keith urged Willied to do a NORML benefit in Austin, Willie's adopted home, unless that would cause him any problems there, Willie growled. "There ain't nothing I can do that would be unpopular in Austin."
Keith was rolling joints and passing them to some people. That bothered Marlene, until she realized that Chip's Secret Service men were out in the hall to protect them, not to hassle anybody. At first someone had locked the door, but an agent had banged on it and told them, "Look, we don't care what you do in there, but just don't lock the door." At that, Chip had said, "Keith, for God's sake put that dope away."
Stroup's friend Marlene talked mostly to Caron Carter, a slender, vivacious young woman whom she liked immediately. Caron seemed so happy to be there. The White House could be so stuffy, she said, so formal, and it was so rare for her and Chip to get a chance to wear jeans and sit cross-legged on a bed and talk to people without any political pressures. Caron told how she sometimes saw the president at breakfast and he would say how his advisors were always urging him to do the expedient thing, the political thing, but he wanted to know what was the right thing. Stroup chimed in and said he hoped the next time Chip was having breakfast with his dad, he'd urge him to do the right thing about paraquat. There was some more talk about paraquat, and finally Chip and Caron said they'd better be going.
Stroup was jubilant. He thought the evening had gone perfectly. He had made his case with Chip, but he hadn't pushed him. Stroup was increasingly impressed with Chip Carter. The more he thought about it, the more he regretted that Chip had not testified in New Mexico the year before. The kid was so damn smooth he might have gotten the bill through.
On June 1 Stroup went to a party of media and political people and once again encountered his new friend Chip Carter. They left together and returned to Stroup's $126-a-month efficiency apartment in an old building called the Marchetta on New Hampshire Avenue, where once again Stroup put his anti-paraquat case to the president's son. This time, Chip said he would talk to his father about it. When Chip finally left the Marchetta that night to return to his more elegant lodgings in the White House, Stroup counted it another good night's work.
A few weeks later, Chip called Stroup to report that his father would not be moved on the paraquat issue, that he believed the spraying to be necessary and just. Stroup was not greatly upset. For one thing, no lobbyist could ask for more than to have his case put directly to the president by his own son, even if the decision was against him. No, for Stroup, the important thing was that he and NORML finally had acceptance, respectability, lines of communication to the highest levels of government. If you had that kind of status, you would win more battles than you lost.
Having failed with the Carter administration, however, Stroup had to take the battle against paraquat to a new forum. He chose the Congress.
A friend of Stroup's who worked for Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) persuaded his boss to introduce what came to be known as the Percy Amendment. The amendment was quite simple: If approved by Congress, it would prohibit U.S. financial support for spraying of marijuana in Mexico. By July of 1978 a vote was drawing near in both houses of Congress, and a key fctor was what position the Carter administration would take. Stroup was therefore moved to have his first talk in some time with Peter Bourne.
Bourne's public support of the spraying program had been so outspoken that Stroup had quit trying to discuss the issue with him. But now, on Friday, July 14, he called Bourne and, as he later recalled it, said, "Peter, we're in a fight. Do you want to move? Can you move? Because if you can't, let me know and we'll go on lobbing grenades but we won't try to kill you."
He meant that he wanted to know how Bourne really felt about the paraquat issue, whether he truly opposed the amendment or was simply bowing to top level pressure. Bourne's reply seemed encouraging. Stroup could tell senators that, unofficially, the White House had no objection to the Percy Amendment.
Stroup was elated and passed on that good news to a friend of his on Sen. Birch Bayh's staff. "Keith, that's not what Peter's telling the senator," his friend replied, and went on to say that Bourne had asked Bayh to rally opposition to the Percy Amendment.
Once again, Stroup was furious with Peter Bourne. This time, as he saw it, Bourne had deliberately deceived him. And this time, Stroup had an opportunity for revenge.
On the very next morning, Wednesday, July 19, The Washington Post ran the following headline: "Carter Aide Signed Fake Quaalude Prescription."
What Stroup could not know when he talked to Peter Bourne the previous Friday was that Bourne had far more serious problems on his mind than the Percy Amendment. On the Friday before that, July 7, his assistant, Ellen Metsky, had come to him for help. Metsky was nervous, upset. The pressure of the job was getting to her. Bourne wrote her a prescription for 15 soporifics called Quaaludes, using his real name but a fictitious name instead of Metsky's. Metsky in turn asked a friend to get the prescription filled, and by chance a Virginia state pharmacy board inspector happened to be in the drugstore she chose. He asked for identification; and the inspector had her arrested.
While all this was happening, President Carter and his top advisors were in Germany for what was billed as an economic summit conference.
The had barely returned when The Post broke the Quaalude story, and for the rest of the week there was chaos in the White House, as the Carter administration, the press corps and NORML were caught up in an unfolding drama that lurched between tragedy and farce.
Peter Bourne went to the White House that morning with a proposal: He would issue a statement explaining his action, but he would give up his role as the president's drug adviser and continue only as a health adviser until the official investigation of his action was complete.
The men who mattered, Jody Powell and Hamilton Jordan, were not sure that was enough. For Bourne, that Wednesday became an agonizing day of waiting for Powell and Jordan to settle his fate. As he saw it, if they'd only let him issue his statement that morning, it would have ended the story right there. Instead, by midafternoon the reporters were in a frenzy, tasting blood, and Jordan and Powell's inaction had turned his minor error in judgment into another Bert Lance affair.
Hovering in the background of their deliberations was a furious Jimmy Carter, who was trying to demonstrate his global leadership and who had a news conference scheduled the next evening. The last thing he needed was a drug scandal involving a man he had often called one of his closest friends.
Late in the day, at a tense meeting in Jordan's big corner office in the West Wing, Jordan announced the verdict: Bourne must take a leave of absence, continuing to draw his $51,000-a-year salary, until the matter was cleared up. That news was given to the waiting reporters, along with statements by Bourne and Metsky.
There, at the end of that long, agonizing Wednesday, the matter rested: Bourne was on leave with pay until it was clear what the legal repercussions of the false prescription might be. If (as proved to be the case) no charges were brought against him, he might have quietly returned to the White House in a few months. But whether Bourne would have been reinstated will never be known, for the next day, Thursday, for the second straight morning, Bourne woke up to a devastating body blow: Shortly after 7 a.m., Jack Anderson charged on ABC's "Good Morning America" that Bourne had used cocaine at NORML's 1977 Christmas party eight months before.
Ah, the Christmas party. It was quite an affair. NORML borrowed a big house near Dupont Circle and invited three or four hundred people. There was a liberal sprinkling of celebrities. A good many journalists were there. Silver trays were passed among the guests, some holding caviar, others hand-rolled joints made of the finest domestic marijuana, seedless, which on the open market sold for as much as $400 an ounce. Joints glowed like fireflies in the dark. Some guests produced small vials and spoons and began to snort cocaine. And, somewhat to Stroup's surprise, Dr. Peter Bourne showed up.
Stroup was chatting with a couple of his celebrity guests -- gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and Hugh Hefner's daughter, Christie -- when Bourne came up and said hello. After a brief conversation, Stroup suggested they repair to a bedroom upstairs and have a little "toot" -- drug users' slang for cocaine use. Bourne smiled and said that sounded fine. They went upstairs. The cocaine was passed around. When it was his turn, Bourne took a "hit" in each nostril, to the amazement of more than a dozen onlookers.
This was what Stroup had on Bourne. Over the next few months, as his feelings toward Bourne grew more bitter, he became tempted to use it. After an exchange with the White House, in fact, Stroup told his friend Gary Cohn, a 26-year-old reporter on columnist Jack Anderson's staff, about it, and gave Cohn the names of two witnesses. But he stressed to Cohn that the information was off the record.
On the Wednesday morning in June when The Post broke the Quaaludes story, Cohn called Stroup and said he had to see him at once. Stroup told him to come by his office.
"We've got to go with the story about Bourne using cocaine," Cohn said when he arrived. "I've kept it off the record, but it's going to break now. Somebody will break it. Can I go with it?"
Stroup knew that question was coming, but he did not know how important his answer would prove to be. "I won't tell you not to use it," he said. "But you can't use me as a source." Cohn took that as a green light. He called the witnesses, and quickly had the story confirmed and written.
So Jack Anderson, a Mormon who used no drug stronger than milk, broke the cocaine story in his regular spot on "God Morning America." Soon thereafter, Peter Bourne had reporters camping on his lawn, as they had on the lawns of Dean and Magruder and Haldeman in the heyday of Watergate. Bourne hurried to the White House, where he nervously told his version of the cocaine incident: Yes, he had gone to the NORML party. Yes, he had gone to the private room on the top floor of the town house. Yes, Stroup and others had been passing around vials of cocaine. Yes, he had held them, examined them, joked about them. But no, he had not actually used the cocaine.
At that point whether or not he actually inhaled the cocaine hardly mattered. For Jimmy Carter's chief adviser on drug policy to admit he had knowingly attended a party where cocaine was used was politically devastating. Possibly Bourne might have survived that revelation alone. Possibly he might have survived the fake prescription alone. But he could not survive both. "Things were out of control," one of his White House colleagues told a reporter. "There was no way he could stay on."
The Bourne affair had to be resolved before the president's 7 p.m. news conference, and it could only be resolved by Bourne's resignation. Hamilton Jordon persuaded Chuck Morgan, Bourne's friend and lawyer, of that fact, and by midafternoon Morgan had persuaded Bourne. With tears in his eyes, Bourne sat in his windowless office in the White House basement, writing a letter of resignation to his friend Jimmy Carter.
It was an emotional letter, by a man under enormous strain. He said, "Though I make mistakes, they are of the heart and not of the mind." He twice noted that "law enforcement officers" had been the source of the "grossest innuendo" against him. "I have never intended to do anyone harm," Bourne said. And concluded, "I fear for the future of the nation far more than I do for the future of, Your friend, Peter."
At his press conference, Carter stunned the reporters present by saying he would not discuss the Bourne affair, but when asked about paraquat, he said he strongly supported the spraying program in Mexico. "Marijuana happens to be an illicit drug that is included under the overall drug control program," the president said, "and I favor this program very strongly."
With that ringing endorsement, Jimmy Carter concluded one of the more difficult days of his administration.
It had not been a good day for Stroup either. Dozens of reporters were calling, wanting him to confirm Jack Anderson's story of Bourne's cocaine use. When he was pushed, Stroup told reporters he would not confirm Anderson's story, but he would not deny it either, and he told one reporter that yes, his new nondenial was "significant." It was one last bit of grandstanding for the media, and it soon came back to haunt him.
The next morning's newspapers carried front-page accounts of Bourne's resignation, and The Post also carried Stroup's remark that it was "significant" that he no longer denied the reports of Bourne's cocaine use. It was not a comment that meant much to the world at large, but it meant a great deal to the staff and supporters of NORML. Stroup had not been named in the Jack Anderson story, but now he had linked himself, by name, to Bourne's downfall. Not it was no longer a matter of Bourne's bringing himself down; the head of NORML had helped destroy him. NORML supporters were troubled by a question of ethics: Should Stroup in any way have contributed to Bourne's downfall, paraquat or no paraquat? Wasn't it dangerously close to informing, which NORML's legal committee had officially denounced? There was a question of practical politics: Would this make it impossible for NORML to work with the Carter administration? And finally there was a personal question that many scientists and lawyers and political activists were asking themselves. Many of the people whe supported NORML used illicit drugs to one degree or another, and many of them could not afford to admit it. Now they had to ask themselves, If Keith would get mad and blow the whistle on Peter Bourne, when might he blow the whistle on me?
Finally, as the calls poured in, from people who were angry, from people who were worried, from people who were disbelieving, Stroup realized how disastrously he had blundered. By evening, he wanted nothing more than to escape the controversy. It was then that the drama moved toward comic relief. It happened that Willie Nelson was back in town, playing concert at the Merriwether Post Pavilion. Someone in Nelson's entourage had sent 30 complimentary tickets to the White House, and one of Stroup's friends there had sent several of them to NORML. Stroup decided to go to the concert, get high, listen to Willie, and get his mind off his troubles. He and a few friends arrived late, and slipped into their seats after Emmylou Harris, who opened the show, had stared singing. Stroup noticed a couple of Secret Service men as he entered, but took that to mean that Chip or perhaps Jeff was around somewhere. When they were settled in their seats, one of Stroup's friends lit a joint, took a hit, and passed it to Stroup, who had a hit and passed it back. Just then, someone spoke to Stroup from the row behind.
"Do you really want to smoke that?" the voice demanded.
Stroup was indignant. Of course he would spoke a joint. Everyone smoked at concerts. "Why not?" he snapped.
"Because the president is sitting behind you," the voice said.
Stroup turned and saw, to his horror, that it was true: Jimmy Carter was sitting in the row behind him, about five seats to the right. Stroup turned to his friend.
"Put that thing out!" he said.
"Carter's behind us."
Seeking to escape from Jimmy Carter, Stroup and his friends got up and went backstage. A few minutes later, Carter and his entourage also went backstage. Stroup was starting to panic: He couldn't get away from Jimmy Carter.
Stroup and his friend sat down on two empty chairs at the edge of the stage and shared a joint and watched the show. Then someone tapped on Stroup's shoulder. He turned and saw a Secret Service agent. "Sorry, sir, those chairs are for President and Mrs. Carter," he said. Sure enough, there were the Carters, waiting to claim their seats. Stroup and his friend fled to the other side of the stage, where they were finally able to smoke in peace. They were watching contentedly a few minutes later, when a grinning Jimmy Carter skipped out onto the stage and joined Willie Nelson in a duet of "Georgia on my Mind."
In December 1978, his effectiveness crippled by his role in the Bourne affair, Keith Stroup resigned as director of NORML. He went on to found a national law firm that specializes in defending people accused of dealing drugs .