Stroup's dream, as NORML opened its doors early in 1971, was to build a national political organization, representing smokers and financed by them, that would focus political pressure on the federal and state governments to reform the marijuana laws. His reality was $5000 from the Playboy Foundation, an office in the basement of his home, and one paid employee besides himself: his $100-a-week secretary, Dinah Trachtman, who had been Schott's secretary at the Product Safety Commission. The question was how to make the dream come true, how to advance from his basement into the national political mainstream.
There was no precise model for what he hoped to do. Nader came closest, but even Nader had not championed the consumers of an illegal drug. Still, if NORML had no exact precedents to follow, it had several obvious needs. Money was the most obvious. Another was the kind of big-name endorsements that could give NORML respectability. Another was mass support from smokers who would send in their dues, write their congressmen, and otherwise create a political presence. There was a need for a larger Washington staff, too, and for publicity to generate money and mass support. And there had to be substance, a program, specific actions and victories that would justify public support. NORML faced the same Catch-22 as any new reform group: You need money to build a program, and you need a program to attract money.
Underlying the obvious need for money, publicity, and a program was the basic question of how NORML defined itself. On this, Stroup had been lucky. The first important people he had talked to, Ramsey Clark and John Kaplan, were lawyers who had studied the issue dispassionately and concluded that marijuana should be legal. That was Stroup's view, too, and it was reflected in the first letters he wrote to Playboy. But that winter, as he talked to people at Playboy and to lawyers and scientists whose support he wanted, they told him again and again they could not be associated with any organization that advocated the use of marijuana. Thus, by the time NORML began operations, Stroup had changed his emphasis: NORML was not pro-pot, only anti-jail. If asked, Stroup would say that he personally thought marijuana should be legal and regulated, as alcohol was, but NORML'S official goal was simply to end criminal penalties for its use. He was thus on solid political ground from the outset.
In the first months of NORML'S existence, Stroup did not seek publicity, because he knew he had little to publicize. Instead he concentrated on trying to persuade prominent people to join what he called NORML'S "advisory board of directors." This was not the real board of directors, which had power over money and consisted of Stroup, Schott, Dubois, and a few other close friends. The advisory board had certain vaguely defined dutiesin theory it met once a year, and in reality some of its members did advise Stroupbut its most immediate role was to give Stroup some impressive names to print on NORML'S stationery. Seeking recruits, Stroup wrote liberal politicians; he wrote celebrities whose children had been busted; he wrote scientists who had made moderate statements on marijuana; and he wrote people recommended to him by friends in Washington's left-wing community. In March, at the suggestion of Marcus Raskin, the cofounder of the Institute for Policy Studies, Stroup wrote to Max Palevsky, the California liberal who had made a fortune in Xerox stock and who, the next year, would be one of George McGovern's biggest financial backers. A meeting was arranged in Palevsky's suite at the Madison Hotel the next time he was in Washington.
The talk was rather formal, until Palevsky asked, "What about your own drug use?"
Stroup hesitated. He had no idea how Palevsky felt about drugs, and for the most part he was minimizing his own drug use in those days. He would sometimes tell interviewers, "I have smoked, but I'd be crazy to now," which, if true, was not the whole truth. But he decided to be candid with Palevsky.
"I smoke a lot of dope," he said, "and I've been experimenting with hallucinogens."
Later he thought Palevsky had been testing him, and he must have passed the test, for the California millionaire soon joined NORML'S advisory board and became an important financial backer, contributing more than twenty-five thousand dollars over the decade.
Another important lead came from Burton Joseph, who urged Stroup to contact Aryeh Neier, the national director of the American Civil Liberties Union. Neier not only agreed to serve on the advisory board but provided NORML with free office space in New York and put Stroup in touch with the ACLU's state coordinators, who sometimes became NORML'S state coordinators.
Stroup did not always get his man, or his woman. There was no one he more admired and wanted on his advisory boardnor anyone whose name he more often droppedthan Ramsey Clark, but Clark was not yet willing to link himself officially with the marijuana lobby. One problem was that Clark was defending the Berrigan brothers, two anti-war clergymen who were accused, incredibly enough, of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger. One of the government informants was a drug dealer, a fact Clark hoped to use to discredit the witness, and he feared that effort might backfire if he was himself linked to a pro-marijuana lobby. After the Berrigan trial was over, Clark did join NORML'S board and helped in many other ways as well.
Another big name Stroup went after in that first spring was Margaret Mead, the celebrated anthropologist, who had been critical of the marijuana laws. He wrote to Mead in May, asking if she would serve on his advisory board. He followed up his letter with a call, during which she said she was leaving for a trip abroad and would prefer not to make a decision until she returned. Stroup brooded over this rejection overnight, then called her back, full of zeal and indignation: This was important. People were in jail. How could she say no? He succeeded only in offending Mead and ending any hope of her support.
He had an urgent need for pro-marijuana scientists to combat the reefer-madness mythology. Early in 1971 he read Marijuana Reconsidered, a scholarly work by Dr. Lester Grinspoon of the Harvard Medical School, who concluded that marijuana was essentially harmless. He quickly called Grinspoon, who soon agreed to serve on NORML'S advisory board and to testify on its behalf before legislative panels. He also recommended that Stroup contact his Harvard colleague Dr. Norman Zinberg, who had written extensively on drugs and who also became an advisory board member and, in reality, an important personal adviser to Stroup. There was a certain chain-letter quality to Stroup's search for support: One scientist would recommend another, until by May of that first year Stroup had a pool of nationally respected scientists he could call upon to rebut the more outrageous scientific claims against marijuana.
In mid-April Dinah Trachtman and Kelly Stroup represented NORML on a television show called Women Take a Stand, and they came back with enthusiastic reports about two other panelists: an elderly woman doctor who believed marijuana should be legal, and a senior official of the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD), who seemed to think that people should not be jailed for smoking. Stroup was quick to follow up on the lead, and thus recruited two of the most unusual and politically useful of NORML'S early supporters: Dr. Dorothy Whipple, a seventy-year-old professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University, and John Finlator, deputy director of the BNDD. "We ripped off the number-two narc," Stroup liked to boast of Finlator's recruitment to the cause, although in fact the law-enforcement official came voluntarily. When Stroup called him that spring and said he'd like to meet him, Finlator laughed and told him to call back after he retired at the end of the year. Stroup did, and Finlator joined NORML'S board and also issued a statement that putting people in jail for marijuana use was not stopping them from smoking, was ruining lives, and was wasting the time of law-enforcement officers. Because of who he was, Finlator's statement made front-page news.
That Dorothy Whipple would take up the cause of legal marijuana in her seventies was a surprise only to those who did not know this remarkable woman. She was born in 1900 into an old New York familya Whipple signed the Declaration of Independenceand as a young girl she decided she wanted to be a doctor, no easy feat for a woman in those days. When she was married in the early 1920s, to an economist named Ewan Clague, she kept her own name ("Dorothy Whipple is me," she says), although that, too, was quite rare then. She, her husband, and their children settled in Washington, where she practiced and taught medicine. (She also found time, at age sixty-six, to take a two-week raft trip down the Amazon.) During the 1970s she found that more and more of her teenage patients were using drugs. She was shocked, and moreover she realized she was quite ignorant about drugs. "I decided that if I was responsible for these young people, I should know something about drugs," she says. "I read all the books I could and I interviewed scientists who'd studied drugs. In the course of my investigation, my attitudes changed." She concluded that although drug use among the young should be discouraged, marijuana should be made legal and regulated. In 1971 she published a book, Is the Grass Really Greener?, which spelled out the facts on drugs in her usual no-nonsense manner.
Dr. Whipple became, along with John Finlator, one of NORML'S star witnesses at state legislative hearings across the nation. Once, in the interest of research, she invited Keith and Kelly to her home to introduce her and her husband to marijuana. Their visit came during Easter week, so the Stroups brought a toy Easter egg filled with good grass. They all smoked, got a little high, got hungry ("got the munchies," Kelly recalls), and raided the refrigerator. The experiment was pronounced a success, although Dr. Whipple decided she preferred to stick with a cocktail before dinner. Some months later, when she was testifying before the Minnesota legislature, a state senator asked if she had ever smoked pot. "Why, yes, sir," she replied innocently. "Haven't you?"
For Stroup, struggling to overcome the image of the marijuana proponent as a sinister, drug-crazed hippie, such allies as the grandmotherly Dr. Whipple and the square-jawed, white-haired ex-narc, Finlator, were gifts from the gods. By the end of the year, NORML'S advisory board included not only Aryeh Neier, John Finlator, and Drs. Grinspoon, Zinberg, and Whipple but Margery Tabankin, president of the National Student Association; Dr. Edwin Schur, a criminologist at Tufts University; Burton Joseph, of the Playboy Foundation; Canon Walter Dennis, of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, in New York; former senator Charles Goodell, of New York; and Dr. Benjamin Spock, the child-health expert and anti-war spokesman.
In those first few months Stroup reached out in many directions, seeking whatever help he could get. He wrote to Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, asking for a free ad, which Wenner provided. He wrote to Peter Fonda, who had played the dope-smoking Captain America in the movie hit Easy Rider, asking for his help. He wrote to a judge in Kentucky who'd outraged his community by saying smokers shouldn't be jailed. He advised the head of the Society of Ultimate Logic, in Corpus Christi, Texas, that he didn't think the Nixon Supreme Court would accept religious freedom as a justification for marijuana use. All this was fine, sometimes fun, sometimes useful, but it wasn't going to change the marijuana laws. Then, in April, Stroup began to focus his and NORML'S attention on a political target that was of immense importance to America's smokers: the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, which was about to hold public hearings on the marijuana issue and would then recommend what national policy on the drug should be.
The Marijuana Commission, as it came to be called, was created by the Drug Reform Act of 1970, largely because of the efforts of Rep. Ed Koch, a Democrat who lived in Greenwich Village and later became mayor of New York. The 1970 drug act was a distinctly mixed bag. On the one hand, the Nixon administration wanted a tough drug law to highlight its law-and-order campaign. On the other hand, in Congress, as elsewhere, there existed by 1970 a growing awareness of the need for drug-law reform. Both sides won a partial victory. The Nixon administration won the reclassification of marijuana as a dangerous drug, which all but eliminated its medical use, a decision that NORML would fight throughout the decade. The reformers won the reduction of the federal penalty for possession of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. Actually, few people are prosecuted under the federal law, but it is traditionally a model for state laws, and the 1970 act set off a wave of reform at the state level. Within two years, first-offense marijuana possession had been reduced to a misdemeanor in almost every state. This simply meant that in most states you could be sentenced to up to a year in jail for possession, but not more than a year.
The federal law did not go far enough to satisfy Ed Koch, who believed that if a serious commission looked at the facts, it would recommend the end of all criminal penalties for marijuana use. He therefore added to the 1970 act a provision for the creation of the Marijuana Commission, which was to hold hearings in 1971 and issue a report on national marijuana policy in 1972. The goal of NORML and all reform groups was to persuade this top-level commission that people should not be jailed for smoking marijuana. For NORML, especially, as it struggled for credibility, the hearings would be an opportunity to prove its effectiveness, to gain publicity, and to meet virtually everyone in America who was professionally concerned with the issue, pro or con. NORML'S dealings with this government commission would, in effect, be the first real test of its political potency.
At the outset, the Marijuana Commission gave every appearance of being hostile to reform. President Nixon appointed nine of the commission's thirteen members, including its chairman, Raymond P. Shafer, a former Republican governor of Pennsylvania. The ones Nixon did not appoint were members of Congress two liberal senators, Harold Hughes and Jacob Javits; and two conservative congressmen, Paul Rogers and Tim Lee Carter. The commissioners were mostly white, middle-aged, and, with three or four exceptions, conservative. The reformers feared that, whatever Ed Koch had intended, this Nixon-appointed commission existed only to rubber-stamp the government's well-known anti-marijuana, anti-drug orthodoxy. Still, the commission existed, it would be a battleground for publicity, and if NORML was indeed to be a credible, respectable spokesman for reform, it would have to show that it could deal with the commission.
Stroup therefore wrote Chairman Shafer in mid-April and as a result was invited to meet with the commission's executive director, a young lawyer named Michael Sonnenreich. Stroup knew enough about Sonnenreich's background to view him with misgivings. Sonnenreich had previously been assistant chief counsel of BNDD, and he was known as a Nixon loyalist, one of a group of conservative young lawyers who had ridden to power on Nixon's coattails. Still, knowing all this, Stroup was stunned at the curt rejection he received when he told Sonnenreich he hoped to testify at the first commission hearing, in Washington on May 17. In essence Sonnenreich told him, We'll decide who testifies, we have enough pro-marijuana witnesses, and we don't need you.
Stroup's shock soon turned to despair. If NORML could not even testify before the Marijuana Commission, it might as well disband; all its pretensions to respectability, to working within the system, would be a joke. The Nixon administration would have destroyed NORML by ignoring it. Groping for a next stop, Stroup asked Ramsey Clark if he would testify before the commission on behalf of NORML, and when Clark said yes, Stroup thought he had solved the problem. Certainly the commission could not refuse to hear a former attorney general.
So Stroup went back to see Sonnenreich, only to be told bluntly that the commission didn't need Ramsey Clark, either. Desperate, Stroup fought back with a technique he had learned at the Product Safety Commission: a leak to the press.
He called columnist Jack Anderson's office and told a young reporter named Brett Hume about Sonnenreich's rejection of both himself and Clark. The column that followed, implying that the commission was anti-marijuana, was an embarrassment to the commissioners, who, whatever their views, wanted to appear to be open-minded. Chairman Shafer quickly called Clark to say he would be welcome to testify before the commission. A while later Sonnenreich called Stroup and invited him to testify at the commission's second set of hearings, in San Francisco in June.
Stroup's leak to Jack Anderson, suggesting that the commission was a stacked deck, had embarrassed the commission, but it was far more embarrassed on May 1 when President Nixon declared, at a news conference, "Even if the commission does recommend that it [marijuana] be legalized, I will not follow that recommendation."
Stroup's response to Nixon's anti-marijuana outburst was to demand equal time from the television networks under the "fairness doctrine." He didn't get it, because the networks claimed they had given the other side of the marijuana issue in their news shows, so he had to settle for sending a written response to Nixon's statement to several hundred newspapers.
As the first day of the hearings drew near, Stroup's concern focused on two anti-marijuana psychiatrists who were to be the leadoff witnesses. The two witnesses had previously published an article that linked marijuana use with mental illness, based on a study of thirty-eight young people with histories of mental disorders. Stroup had nationally known psychiatrists who would dispute the study, but that was not the point.
All the way back to Harry Anslinger's heyday, marijuana hearings had always led off with scientific horror stories that grabbed the headlines while dull scientific rebuttal went unnoticed. The fact that the commission had scheduled the two anti-marijuana psychiatrists as its first witnesses convinced Stroup that the commission wanted only to set off another round of reefer-madness headlines. He had Dr. Zinberg and other scientists who had agreed to come to Washington and rebut the study, but the key was timing. A rebuttal the next day wouldn't matter. He somehow had to steal the commission's thunder.
On the morning of the first hearing, Stroup and Schott were stationed outside the hearing room in the massive Rayburn Office Building, passing out their press releases and alerting reporters to the NORML press conference at noon, right down the hall. Stroup even put up his own sign announcing the news conference, next to the sign that said the commission was meeting in the hearing room.
Stroup attended the hearing, and as the noon break neared, he was pleased to hear a reporter he knew, William Hines, of the Chicago Sun-Times, ask Chairman Shafer a question: What about charges by Keith Stroup, the head of NORML, that the commission was rigged? Shafer responded indignantly that perhaps Mr. Stroup should speak for himself.
On cue, Stroup stood up and invited everyone to NORML'S news conference, which began a few minutes later in a nearby hearing room that had been provided by a friendly member of Congress, James Scheuer, a Democrat from the Bronx. NORML'S news conference featured vigorous rebuttals of the anti-marijuana study by several nationally known scientists, and the upshot was that they blunted the anti-marijuana testimony and stole the first day's headlines. The Washington Star's headline, for example, read "Marijuana Study Challenged." NORML'S victory was complete when its scientists got equal time with the anti-marijuana scientists on the CBS Evening News that night.
Stroup assumed the commission would be outraged by his performance, but he didn't care. He assumed the commission was already outraged by his leak to Jack Anderson. No matter. He saw NORML locked in an adversary role with the commission, and if they could not be friends, he thought he could at least force them to respect him.
For Stroup, one of the important by-products of the three commission hearings was the opportunity it provided to meet potential allies in the reform movement. It was at the hearings, for example, that he first met Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard-trained expert on mind-altering drugs who would soon introduce Stroup and his friends to the hallucinogenic drug MDA, and also Dr. David Smith, of the Haight-Ashbury Medical Clinic, who joined NORML'S advisory board.
At the hearings in San Francisco in June, Stroup had his first contact with Amorphia, the California legalization group. Stroup already regarded Amorphia as a potential rival, and was quick to tell people that it was a hippie, pro-pot group, whereas NORML was straight and only anti-jail. Mike Aldrich, the LeMar activist who had joined Amorphia, was testifying, and Stroup watched with cool professional curiosity. Aldrich appeared in a rumpled Brooks Brothers suit, sporting an Indian headband and wearing his pale-brown hair in a long ponytail. He was accompanied by a short-haired man who was wearing a suit, tie, and porkpie hat and whom he introduced as his "spiritual and financial adviser, Allen Ginsberg." It was true: Ginsberg's own guru had told him he was too concerned with his image, so he had shaved the long hair and full beard he had worn for years.
Aldrich read a statement to the commission, tracing the history of marijuana and calling for study of alternative forms of legal regulation, and then at its conclusion he leaped to his feet, raised one fist defiantly, and shouted, "We want free, legal backyard marijuana." Immediately, thirty or forty of his hippie followers jumped to their feet and began cheering. Stroup, watching, was grudgingly impressed. The fellow might be a freak, he thought, but he knew how to turn out his troops. Stroup and Aldrich chatted warily, and agreed to meet in September at the National Student Association convention in Denver to discuss ways they could work together.
At the third set of hearings, in Chicago, Stroup for the first time met the New York reformers, Guy Archer and Frank Fioramonti. They were a kind of Mutt and Jeff team: Archer was tall and easygoing, Fioramonti short and intense. They had become friends at Columbia Law School, and by 1970, when Fioramonti was a lawyer for the City of New York and Archer was in private practice, they spent a lot of evenings together, smoking marijuana and denouncing the marijuana laws. That fall they read a law-journal article about proposals to legalize marijuana, and they talked with Franz Leichter, a state assemblyman from Manhattan's Upper West Side, about introducing such a bill. Early in 1971, working with Leichter and several other young pro-marijuana lawyers, they drafted a bill to permit legal sale of marijuana in liquor stores, under the supervision of a state regulatory agency.
The bill got nowhere, but Archer and Fioramonti were by then committed to the reform cause. They organized the Lawyers Committee to Legalize Marijuana, and they found hundreds of New York lawyers willing to sign petitions and otherwise work for reform. In the summer of that year they got themselves invited to testify before the Marijuana Commission, at its final hearings in Chicago, and it was there that they met Stroup. The encounter boosted everyone's morale. All three of them sometimes thought they were crazy to be working for marijuana-law reform, and for Stroup to meet two talented lawyers working on the issue in New York, and for the New Yorkers to learn of Stroup's national ambitions, was cause for celebration. Archer and Fioramonti had not been thinking in national terms, but-Stroup had been thinking in terms of New York, and Archer and Fioramonti would soon become NORML'S men there.
At the first Marijuana Commission hearing, various of the commissioners had seemed hostile to pro-reform witnesses. When John Kaplan said that one reason to end criminal penalties for smoking was that millions of people were ignoring the law, a commissioner asked if Kaplan also favored legalizing auto theft. There were many barbs like that, but by the second and third hearings, the mood of the commission seemed to change. Some of the commissioners began to ask friendly questions, and one or two would chat with Stroup during breaks. This new mood, plus encouraging reports from his sources on the commission staff (who were, he had learned, often sympathetic to his cause), made Stroup optimistic. That fall, in the first issue of NORML'S newsletter, he wrote, "I'm guessing the commission will recommend the repeal of all criminal penalties for simple possession of marijuana. They've heard it from so many people so often it's going to be hard to avoid."
He wouldn't know until the next spring if his optimism was justified, but in the meantime he could take pride in a textbook example of how a media-wise David can hold its own with an establishment Goliath. NORML may or may not have done anything to change the commission's thinking, but Stroup had clearly used the commission to reap maximum publicity and political contacts for himself.
NORML's news conference at the first Marijuana Commission hearing, when Stroup used his pro-marijuana scientists to rebut the anti-marijuana studies, had been the pot lobby's first publicity splash. Stroup's instinct had been to go slowly with the media, to wait until he had more to talk about. If reporters came to him, he would talk to them, but he wasn't going to them empty-handed. It was a good policy, in part because the reporters who sought him out tended to be the younger ones who were favorably disposed to his cause. One day that summer a young wire-service reporter appeared, chatted awhile, confessed that he was a smoker, and said he wanted to do a feature on NORML. When he asked what the pot lobby had accomplished, Stroup was overcome by candor and replied, "Not a hell of a lot." The feature that resulted, although friendly, was headed "Washington's Feeblest Lobby" and treated NORML as something of a joke. Moreover, Stroup had foolishly agreed to be photographed with the plastic marijuana plant he kept in his basement office. The story and picture received front-page play in hundreds of newspapers, and Stroup was mortified. Instead of the earnest young public-interest lawyer of his self-image, the feature made him seem an ineffectual hippie with a marijuana plant in his office.
Then, after a week or so, he began to notice that his mail had gone up sharply. In time he realized that the wire-service story, however embarrassing to him, had introduced NORML to millions of people. Like all politicians, he was learning that the only bad publicity is no publicity.
In those early days he would fly halfway across the country for a local television show or a campus lecture. He wanted the exposure, and in a sense he was trying out his act on the road, preparing for an eventual opening in Washington. He was trying to build local chapters, too, and by the end of the year, NORML had organizers on nearly a hundred campuses, including fourteen in New York State alone. In Nashville NORML'S volunteer coordinator persuaded Kris Kristofferson to give a NORML benefit concert and to cut NORML's first public-service radio tape, which consisted of Kristofferson singing a few bars of "Me and Bobbie McGee" and saying that marijuana smokers shouldn't be tossed in jail. Kristofferson, the Rhodes scholar turned country songwriter, was a fitting spokesman for NORML, for many of his great early songs, like "Sunday Morning Coming Down," not only had specific references to marijuana but in their free-flowing Iyricism reflected something very like a stoned consciousness.
One substantive issue that NORML tried to address that summer concerned a BNDD program to use a powerful herbicide called "2,4-D" to kill marijuana plants that grew wild in many Midwestern states. NORML'S inquiries forced the Department of Agriculture to admit it knew nothing about the harm that might befall people who smoked the poisoned plants, but it was soon clear that the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs was not concerned with that issue. The spraying continued despite NORML'S protest, and the incident foreshadowed the confrontation six years later when NORML sued the government to stop the spraying of Mexican marijuana fields with paraquat.
The first issue of The Leaflet, NORML'S newsletter, went out to its members that fall. It was a well-written, handsomely designed, six-page publication that reflected the straight, non-hippie tone that Stroup wanted for NORML. It also reflected the fact that, in terms of its own progress, NORML did not have a great deal to report at that point. The lead article was an account of a Vietnam veteran in Ohio, with no previous arrest record, who had been sentenced to twenty to forty years in prison for being present when a friend sold marijuana to an undercover agent. There was also an account of the case of John Sinclair, the radical poet who was sentenced to ten years in prison in Michigan for allegedly giving two joints to an undercover agent. The Leaflet account noted, "Since his sentencing, freedom and humanity have been denied John Sinclair. He is in administrative segregation in Jackson prison. For 22 of 24 hours each day, he is in solitary confinement. He is allowed to exercise and eat only with the prisoners in the special administrative segregation. He is allowed to shave and shower once a week. His mail is censored and copied." The article noted that NORML had filed an amicus curiae brief with the Michigan supreme court on Sinclair's behalf, its first such action.
The Leaflet also had long reports on the Marijuana Commission's hearings and the herbicide-spraying program, a feature on Rep. James Scheuer, of New York, who favored drug-law reform, and reports on two American Bar Association committees that had called for legalization. For comic relief, The Leaflet told of the gift memberships that NORML had sent to President Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell. Both men had responded. Mitchell asked that his name be deleted from membership. A Nixon aide wrote, "At the President's direction, we are forwarding the materials about your work to officials of the Department of Justice. With the President's best wishes."
No one at NORML was sure if that was a joke or a threat, or maybe both. The paranoia level was always high at NORML, since there was usually an ounce or two of marijuana around. Once, in the early days, a crew-cut, middle-aged man appeared and said he wanted to volunteer. Stroup shrugged and put him to work, but at the end of the day, when the man asked if Stroup knew where he could score a pound of marijuana, he threw him out. Sometimes Stroup wished the BNDD would charge in and arrest them all. It would give them a million dollars' worth of publicity; Nader, after all, had got his real start when General Motors foolishly put a private detective on his trail. But the government had apparently learned from GM's mistakes, and NORML'S staff and guests smoked with impunity.
It soon became obvious that NORML was a one-man show. Larry Schott, Larry Dubois, and Kelly Stroup helped out as they could, but Keith was NORML, and NORML was for him an all-consuming passion. That fact was painfully clear, above all, to Kelly, who felt herself losing her husband to his political crusade, and the fact that she agreed with the issue did not make it any easier. She had come to regret that NORML'S office was in their basement, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the house was constantly filled with people who were smoking, sometimes dealers, and she lived in fear of a police raid She didn't know what would happen to her baby daughter if she and Keith were both arrested. Sometimes as she put Lindsey to bed at night, she wondered if she would be able to convince the police that she hadn't known anything about all that grass they'd found in the house.
And there were other problems. Lindsey wasn't even two, but she answered the phone not with "Hello" but with "Marijuana reform!" And there was the question of money. Keith was paid at a rate of $18,000 a year, but when Kelly worked for NORML, she was paid $2 an hour. When she protested, Keith snapped, "We can't have a mom-and-pop operation." There were also her fears that he was having affairs with other women. She had dreams about his affairs sometimes, very specific dreams, but when she pleaded with him to be honest with her, he only denied there were other women at all.
One night when Keith was away, two young men with a gun forced their way into the house and demanded money and drugs, and Kelly was sure she and her daughter would be killed. When the robbers finally left, Kelly realized that she couldn't even call the police, because they'd find marijuana when they came to investigate. By the fall of that first year, Kelly was urging Keith to move NORML'S office out of their home, to give them some kind of a private life. But of course that was impossible, because NORML didn't have money for another office.
Everything always came back to money. By September 15 NORML had taken in almost $24,000: $14,125 from Playboy, $7550 in memberships, and about $2100 in donations. It was enough for survival but not for a real national program, with paid organizers and legal challenges and mass mailings and everything Stroup dreamed of. For a while that fall he and Schott thought their money problem was solved. Playboy had given NORML a free full-page ad. Headed "Pot Shots," it showed mug shots of a young man arrested for marijuana, and it told a little about NORML and urged readers to send their $7 ($5 for students) to join. As the ad's mid-August publication drew near, Stroup and Schott would sit in the basement office each night getting high and dreaming of all the money that would soon be pouring in. A similar Playboy ad for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War had drawn about $100,000 and in their fantasy the NORML ad might draw twice that amount, maybe more. After all, the war was an old issue, but theirs was new, and there were millions of smokers out there waiting to send their money to someone who would lead them out of the wilderness.
The flood of money never began; there was hardly a trickle. Six thousand dollars came in, but nothing like they'd dreamed of. When Stroup returned to reality, he thought he knew what the trouble had been. People had heard of the VVAW, but they knew nothing about NORML. At best, it was just a name; at worst, the more paranoid smokers would think the ad a trick by the government to get their names for John Mitchell's files.
It was, for Stroup, the last straw. The first year of NORML had not been all fun and games. There was the constant concern about money and the threat of arrest. There had been plenty of rejections, plenty of reporters and politicians who'd laughed in his face, plenty of nights when there was nothing to do but go home and get stoned with Schott and Dubois and curse a nation that didn't care about the smokers who were rotting in jail. That was the worst part, the prison mail that had started to pour in, hundreds of letters from guys who were serving six months or six years for a couple of joints or a couple of ounces. NORML answered every letter, and sometimes it asked a volunteer lawyer to look into an unusual case, but it was maddening to keep sending those letters that really said nothing but "I'm sorry you're in jail; enclosed is our brochure." The truth was that NORML had nothing to offer them yet, no real legal program, no legislative plans, nothing but brochures and an impressive advisory board and a lot of good intentions.
"This is a fucking sham," Stroup raged to Schott one night after the Playboy ad had flopped. "We're nothing but a pen-pal operation. I won't go on like this."
The more he thought about it, the angrier he became. He'd given NORML all he had, and Playboy was playing games with him, giving him $5000 here, $5000 there, but never the kind of money he needed. He wouldn't take it any longer. He would go to them and say "Put up or shut up; get in or get out."
Stroup did indeed make a formal request to the Playboy Foundation that fall for more money. He put it in writing, neatly typed, well reasoned, each penny justified, and it was presented to the staff and the board of the Playboy Foundation and considered, in the somber way that foundations make decisions. But all that probably mattered a great deal less than the fact that for several months Hugh Hefner had been hearing good things about NORML. For that, Stroup could thank two women, Michelle Urry and Bobbie Arnstein.
He met Michelle first, and soon was half in love with her, as were a great many men. She was in her late twenties then, a very beautiful, very intelligent, very gentle woman who had already risen to be Playboy's cartoon editor, an important post at the magazine, since Hefner himself started as a cartoonist and took intense interest in what cartoons appeared in his magazine. Michelle had grown up in Canada, the daughter of a prosperous businessman, and had gone to UCLA. After college she visited a friend in Chicago and decided to stay there, mainly because she loved the architecture, the classic buildings, and she took a job as a clerk-typist at Playboy. That was in 1965. She kept pestering the editors for an editorial job, but they said they had no openings. It was Hefner himself who noticed her filing papers in his office one day, liked her, and said she could be an apprentice cartoon editor, his assistant, his protégé. One day he told her there was a vacant apartment on the ground floor of the mansion, and she could rent it for $125 a month if she wished. It was a wonderful bargain, but she hesitated. What strings were attached? None, Hefner assured her. She asked if she could have men in. (The Bunnies, who lived on the top floor, were not allowed to.) Of course, Hefner said. But why me? she said, persistent. Because we think you'll make a contribution, he said. You like people and you'll be fun to have around. And so she moved in, and it was fun, but after a year or so she moved out again, because she wanted her privacy, and because she was a very sane woman who soon realized that life in Hefner's mansion was essentially insane, unless you were Hefner.
Michelle was one of the first people Stroup met in the Playboy world, and she was fascinated by him from the first. To begin with, he was the fastest-talking man she'd ever met, and she herself was someone who thought and spoke very quickly. For another, he had that strange way of saying tough, angry things in a soft, gentle manner, it was almost like a speech impediment. She was struck, too, by the contrast between the way he looked and what he said. He always wore three-button suits when he came to Playboy, and his granny glasses, and he had that wonderful silky blond hair that kept falling down in his eyes, and he looked like a Yalie, a young stockbroker, or an IBM executive, but he kept talking about dope! And he was so impassioned when he spoke, so sure you agreed with him. He talked about the kids rotting in jail and the corrupt, cynical, whiskey-drinking politicians, and he assumed you shared his outrage, or that he could convince you purely through his logic.
It happened that Michelle did agree with him. She had several friends who'd been arrested for marijuana, and she was impressed to meet this very smart, dynamic young lawyer who thought the laws could be changed. They kept seeing each other, whenever he was in Chicago, and she continued to be impressed with him, although she thought she really didn't understand him. He was so detached from everything; she didn't think he really gave himself emotionally to anyone except his child, and she couldn't imagine what his marriage could be like. He didn't have time to enjoy people; he was always on the run. There was something else about him that bothered Michelle, who had grown up with piano and ballet lessons, who had studied architecture and design in college, who loved music and the theater, who in time would marry a sculptor: Keith was a hick, a hayseed. It took her a while to understand that, because he was so sophisticated about everything relating to politics and marijuana. But he was so unsophisticated about everything else. He didn't know which fork to use. He invariably said "Just between you and I." He'd never been to Europe, and he seemed to have no interest in books or music or art; his limits, the vast gaps in his education, constantly surprised her. And yet she found them endearing, too.
Most important, she thought his work was important, that he could make a difference, and so she wanted him to know Hef better. That was when she began to tell her friend Bobbie Arnstein about him, because Bobbie was Hef's executive assistant, the person who if she chose could see that Keith had a chance to sell Hefner on himself and NORML.
All Stroup knew was that one day Michelle picked up her office phone and called Bobbie and said she wanted to send her friend Keith over to the mansion to meet her. What he didn't know was that there were other calls in which she'd discussed him with Bobbie in great detail. She had to, because Bobbie was fragile, paranoid about people using her to get to Hefner. So Michelle had made a very careful decision before she passed Keith on to Bobbie, just as Bobbie would make her own decision before she passed him on to Hef. Then, the decision made, she called Bobbie and told her, Bobbie, you'll love him; he's so sweet; he's adorable; so innocent in a way, but he's very smart and his work is important and he needs to know Hef.
Thus, one afternoon that fall, Stroup made his way to Bobbie's office on the third floor of the mansion, near Hefner's own office. She was busy when he arrived, and she sent him down to her three-room suite on the second floor of the mansion, where she had lived for several years. He put on a recordThe Band's first album, Bobbie's favorite that summerand ordered a glass of wine. Bobbie, right off, introduced him to the wonders of the mansion; all you did was pick up the phone and dial 20, and you could get anything you wanted to eat or drink, twenty-four hours a day. (Not even the president, in the White House, commands that sort of service.) He looked around the apartment, which was very modern, a little spooky, and blatantly erotic. There were no windows, and the walls, ceilings, and floors of the main room were all black. Bobbie collected kinetic art; there was a three-dimensional figure of a man in a business suit tearing open his shirt to reveal a Superman crestevery corporate executive's fantasy, Stroup guessed. There was another puzzling, troubling piece that showed half a male body and half a female bodythe upper half, in each casejoined at the point where their sex organs would have been.
Bobbie joined him after a while, and they smoked a joint and talked. Stroup saw from the first that Bobbie was much different from her friend Michelle. Michelle was serene; Bobbie was frenetic, defiantly burning her candle at both ends. Bobbie lived in the mansion; Michelle had a life apart from the Playboy world. For a long time Stroup had thought of Michelle as someone far above him, untouchable, unreachable, a fantasy figure, but he never felt that way about Bobbie. They were too much alike. He knew that if he and Bobbie had been strangers, at a party with a hundred people, they would have found each other.
As they talked the first day, Stroup noticed the book Be Here Now, by Baba Ram Dass, at her bedside; the author was formerly Richard Alpert, in the days when he and Timothy Leary were pioneers of the movement toward LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. Stroup was starting to use hallucinogens, mostly MDA, and he had read the book, and his and Bobbie's talk soon turned to drugs. At the time, Stroup was simply trying to be as impressive as he could to this very important, very attractive woman as she alternately flirted with him and interrogated him. Later, when he understood her better, he realized she was sizing him up in a number of ways. For one thing, she was deciding whether or not Hefner would like him. If he was just an ambitious lawyer on the make, Hefner might support his program but not want to socialize with him. There was also the question of whether Stroup was someone Bobbie might enjoy. She soon decided he was.
"You need to get to know Hef better," Bobbie said, when it was time for her to get back to work.
"I want to, but I don't know how," he said.
"The best way is to make the flight from Chicago to L.A. with him sometime."
"Anytime at all," he said.
She called a few days later and asked if he could fly to Los Angeles with Hefner the next week.
"Sure," he said.
"Do you have any business in L.A.?"
"Well, don't tell Hef that," she said.
Stroup flew to Chicago on the appointed day of the following week and went to the mansion for what Bobbie had said would be a two-o'clock departure. It turned out that Hefner was not ready to go until six that eveningstill early in his dayand so Stroup spent several hours just hanging out. He played pinball for a while and, not wanting to be in the way, waited in Bobbie's suite for most of the time listening to The Band play "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," listening to Robbie Robertson discover America.
Bobbie came in once and said that she'd decided not to make the trip. When Hefner went to Los Angeles, she explained, it was finally possible for her to catch up on her work in Chicago.
"Bobbie, you're not going to put me on that plane alone, are you?" Stroup protested.
It was true that he was terrified of getting on the plane with Hefner without Bobbie, but there was another reason for his protests. There was a current of flirtation between them, and if he was going to Los Angeles, he didn't want her staying behind in Chicago. She dragged it out, protesting, teasing, enjoying the game, and finally she agreed to go. At six in the evening she took him out to the driveway beside the mansion where two Mercedes limousines were waiting to take Hefner's party to the airport.
Two other friends of Hefner's, actor Warren Beatty and writer-cartoonist Shel Silverstein, joined the flight to California in Hefner's $5.5 million converted DC-9, known as the Big Bunny. As they flew, looked after by four "jet Bunnies," Hefner encouraged Stroup to tell about NORML'S work and particularly about its challenges to the laws in Texas, the one state where many young men were still getting long prison sentences for simple possession. The talk soon shifted, however, from drugs to sex, not an uncommon subject in the Playboy world, and then it shifted again, to the subject of women and their many new demands.
This was 1971, a year when the women's-liberation movement was gathering momentum, a time when many men were finding their women embracing dangerous new ideas. Hefner, who at that time kept one girl friend in his Chicago mansion, another girl friend in his Los Angeles mansion, and of course enjoyed the favors of countless other young women, confessed that he could not rid himself of male possessiveness, that he could not surrender the double standard, that he sought sexual freedom for himself but he could not grant it to his women. He said he knew it was intellectually dishonest, but it remained part of his emotional makeup. Beatty and Silverstein confessed to the same incapacity. All this, at least, Stroup could identify with, because the serious problems he was starting to have with his wife arose at least in part from his passionate belief that different rules should guide her sexual behavior and his own.
Bobbie had told Stroup they would have to play it loose when they arrived in Los Angeles, as to whether he went to the mansion with her and Hefner; it was, after all, Hefner's home, and if he and Stroup had not hit it off during the flight, he might not have wanted Stroup visiting there. But Bobbie thought the chemistry had been good and waved Stroup into one of the waiting limousines, and he was on his way to his second Playboy mansion of the day.
When they arrived, Hefner and Bobbie went to their respective rooms, and Bobbie sent Stroup out to the game room, where he could amuse himself with pool, pinball, or any of the dozens of penny-arcade games that lined the walls. After a while Bobbie and Hefner reappeared, along with Barbi Benton, Hefner's Los Angeles girl friend, and Hefner gave Stroup a tour of his thirty-room mansion and the five-and-a-half-acre grounds. Hefner had stocked his grounds with such an assortment of wildlife that he was required to register it as a zoo: There were doves, monkeys, flamingos, peacocks, parrots, rabbits, and even a pet llama.
Stroup, dazzled by Hefner's glittering pleasure dome, was still uncertain of his place in it. He didn't even know where he was to spend the night. Bobbie settled that by taking him to her room. She took some downers, to offset the uppers she'd been on all day, and they talked for a while and then made love. It was for Stroup all wonderfully exciting, and yet unsettling, too. There was an element of role reversal that troubled him, for Bobbie had been very much in control of the situation. Still, the next morning, when she told him that she and Hefner would be very busy that day and arranged for a limousine to take him back to the airport, he decided that his trip had been a considerable success.
All this was part of the background when Stroup went back to the Playboy Foundation in the fall of 1971 and said NORML had to have more money. The final decision was Hefner's, and that summer and all, when from time to time some mention of NORML penetrated Hefner's very insulated world, it was usually Bobbie or Michelle saying what a good job Keith was doing, and they were among the handful of people Hefner paid attention to.
On November 24 the Playboy Foundation agreed to give NORML cash and free printing that amounted to $100,000 a year.