The New Pot Advocates: Keith Stroud and NORML Win in Oregon - Rolling Stone
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The New Pot Advocates: Mr. Natural Goes to Washington

Keith Stroud and NORML find early decriminalization success in Oregon on the road to marijuana legalization

Marajuana, plantMarajuana, plant

Marajuana plant.

Hannah Keogh/Getty

In this same room, so I had been told, the Washington Redskins hold their prayer breakfasts. Local society books a room like this to hold debutante balls or get married. Air conditioner salesmen from all over America meet in rooms like this to sit at long tables and wear little plastic name tags. They probably get a little bored by mid-afternoon. The same way we did at this year’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) conference. Sit here and stare at the steak house interior and let the hot beef sandwich from the motel coffee shop settle in the stomach while someone at the head table drones on endlessly.

Last year, this was a doozy of a conference. It was held in a church a block from the nation’s Capitol and every one of the 250 or so folks slept on the floor, for free. This year, the 56 conferees slept in the same motel where the Green Bay Packers stay when they play Washington, ate the same food as the Packers, and coughed up $55 a person, just to eat and sleep and talk. Last year dope was smoked constantly and there were long, vaguely comprehensible talks about taking over the world, for Christ’s sake, in marijuana’s name. This year, the conferees conducted business stone sober and pleasure stoned. There were discreet giggles late at night. Last year a shrill delegation of women demanded a female chairperson, citing sexist repression. This year the meetings were almost parliamentarian and nobody got laid. Last year the plans were half-baked for a 100,000-person I-have-a-dream smoke-in at the Washington Monument. This year there were quiet, business-as-usual discussions on fundraising, legislative tactics. Last year six narks led by a pimp-like, vice squad heavy swept down on the conference for a quick bust which resulted in talk of violent confrontation: Block the streets, turn over the cars. This year no narks, no busts, no confrontation.

Invitations were limited to state NORML directors and people who had done serious work on the “issue”: academics with books on marijuana, churchmen, legislative aides, sympathetic law enforcement personnel. It was conducted with all the flair and excitement of a corporate retirement party.

Which may be a measure of how far the issue has come in the last year. On October 10th, NORML filed a civil suit in federal court in Washington, D.C. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark will ask the court to declare the nation’s marijuana laws an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Two decriminalization bills are currently pending in Congress. Texas reduced its marijuana penalties from automatic felonies to the status of “low misdemeanor.” And Oregon, in a surprisingly uncontested move, became the first state in the nation to decriminalize completely possession of a small amount of marijuana. And all of this was done with the excitement attendant to a Lawrence Welk music festival.

Decriminalization was endorsed by the American Bar Association, by the National Education Association, by a number of local Jaycee groups across the country, by the Central Conference of Rabbis, and by the National Council of Churches. Influential groups, but certainly not your counterculture heavyweights.

It was, all in all, a landmark year for marijuana law reform. These things don’t happen by themselves.

Most of the people in the forefront were at the weekend conference in Guthenberg, Maryland. They tended to be moustachioed 30-year-old lawyers in earth-colored suits. Most of them smoked their first joint in law school, about 1967. They could tell you more than you wanted to know about how to talk to conservatives, how to draw up press releases, and the best arguments to use on reluctant liberals. The conversation was humid with statistics: These people spoke in percentages.

During the evenings, these bright, successful young people retired to their rooms, where very discreetly, very politely, they got totally blown away on everybody else’s grass in a pleasant self-congratulatory way. One had the impression, talking to these people, that they expected legalization soon—within the next few years.

Clearly, 1973 was the year the middle-class smoker stepped out of the closet.

Keith Stroup: I’m No Martyr

NORML is not the only group working for marijuana reform, but it is the most prestigious and the most successful organization: It has set the style for an effective approach to the issue.

Keith Stroup, 30, NORML’s executive director, is a lawyer who smoked his first joint while at Georgetown Law School. He worked for a time at the Federal Product Safety Commission learning the techniques of legislative push and pull and defended his first marijuana case in 1969. He drew up papers for NORML and after a time received his first money from the Playboy Foundation.

Today NORML refers bustees to lawyers nationwide, provides information to lawyers bringing challenges against the marijuana laws, brings its own suits against the laws, and—probably most effective—it has established an invaluable fund of expert witnesses which it will fly to any state in the midst of legislative hearings. These include people like Dr. Norman Zinberg, chief of psychiatry at the Washington Center for Addiction and an expert in the medical aspects of marijuana. John Finlator, former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, testifies from the enforcement point of view that the laws are shoddily enforced, that it wastes millions of dollars and man-hours, and that “it has led to a growing lack of respect for our entire legal system.” Dr. Dorothy Whipple, an author, pediatrician, and grandmotherly lady of 73, can spear the hardest-eyed legislator through the heart with a statement like, “The majority of young people picked up for marijuana offenses are ordinary decent kids. In one California study, 98% of such offenders had never had a brush with the law before … the punishment meted out is a lifelong tragedy … it also deprives society of a person who would likely become a good responsible citizen.”

The opposition, in almost all states, is poorly organized. Often the NORML array of expertise finds itself countering the arguments of an angry seventh-grade woodworking teacher and a half-sympathetic assistant district attorney.

Stroup thinks that, perhaps as a result of the President’s Commission report in 1972, the quality of people involved in the issue has “risen to another level.” Street freaks, hippies, zippies, yippies and the like are “already believers” and are a group Stroup feels he doesn’t have to work with. He sees the individual state legislatures as the most potent arena for changing the law, and the conference was designed for people likely to impress your average Montana assemblyman.

The first night of the conference we saw a short film, apparently made in the late Thirties, in which three homely women took drags on a single joint, stripped naked and ran screaming into the night. The next night, we bussed into a private home in Washington for a party. It was a definitely middle-class sort of place with polished hardwood floors, throw rugs, lace curtains, a fireplace and a circular staircase. Almost 50 of the 56 people at the conference crowded into the several rooms and circulated in a noisy clatter of cocktail chatter. We drank champagne and ate chocolate torte off tiny china plates.

I was looking for a ledge to stash my drink when a 30-year-old lawyer named Guy Archer, a NORML national director, offered me a long, exquisitely rolled joint. There was a moment of confusion—let’s see, where do I put the champagne—which I gather Archer misinterpreted.

“I suppose you think this is strange,” he smiled. “I mean champagne and marijuana.”

I said it seemed a far cry from the viper-devil weed-dope fiend image of the Thirties and was even a bit removed from the Sixties scene.

“We’re middle-class people,” Archer said. “We like to live well.” He had been an East Harlem Vista volunteer, an organizer of the New York Lawyers Against the War, and had worked at a prestigious Park Avenue law firm before coming to NORML at a 50% cut in pay. “We didn’t start the movement,” he said. I gathered he was apologizing for something. “Millions of smokers started it. We’re just trying to get the institutions to reflect a change that has already happened. All we are is technicians.”

Later, I bumped into Keith Stroup in the kitchen. He was wearing a classy beige suit and an outsized green bowtie. There were empty champagne bottles on every flat surface and he was rolling a joint out of a huge bag of finely manicured grass that appeared to have gold flecks in it. He told me that NORML’s budget this year—from Playboy, from distribution rights for the film Reefer Madness, and from sales of “Liberate Marijuana” T-shirts and the like—came to about $150,000. As executive director, he earned $18,000 and was buying a house in Washington.

“I’m no martyr,” he said, handing me a lit joint.

The next day, Sunday, there was to be a morning briefing on fundraising. A lot of people slept through it. I woke up at noon, and the conference was over.

Mike Stepanian: De Facto Decriminalization

There is a form of de facto decriminalization that has nothing to do with state or federal laws. The people responsible are also lawyers, and generally young ones. They’ve sprung up in the last five years.

Mike Stepanian is a good example. He is fiercely moustachioed, Armenian-built—like your basic NFL fullback—and while generally in a jovial, back-slapping mood, he’s got something in him that makes him the least bit threatening. Sunday at the NORML conference, the two of us drank beer for lunch in the bar and watched the Redskins run all over the 49ers. Mike was cheering loudly for the 49ers and several Washingtonians were silent.

“This is the kind of thing that makes me think I must really be a nice guy,” Stepanian said happily. “Here I am cheering for San Francisco and none of the Washington fans here are offended.”

A man in a windbreaker sitting a safe distance down the bar looked over. “Mister,” he said, “we’re scared of you.”

Today Stepanian makes about $75,000 a year. In 1965, he was a young lawyer looking for a practice. He noticed that no one wanted to handle marijuana cases. “The older lawyers couldn’t relate to the young people. Dope lawyers handled syndicate stuff: heroin cases, cops and robbers. The young lawyers wouldn’t take those cases because it was criminal law. Dirty stuff.”

Stepanian set up a neighborhood service in the building where the Grateful Dead used to practice and Bill Graham produced some benefit concerts to hire three or four young lawyers. “Guys were always getting busted for grass in 1966. They would arrest 30 kids in a commune.” The year before there had been a void where there should have been lawyers. Now Stepanian and his colleagues were trying every case.

“An interesting trick for beating these cases would be to have long evidentiary hearings on search and seizure violations. We would be in court, working for a guy who had a joint or a couple of seeds in his pocket and there would be another guy in a holding cell waiting for his hearing. An accused killer or a robber and all they’d need is maybe 15 minutes to decide if he’s competent to hold trial. And some long-haired lawyer would be going on for five hours about this one joint: ‘Well did the officer knock on the door? Did he have consent?’

“The judges were getting pissed off, but what could they say? ‘For Christ’s sake, Mike, it’s only a little marijuana.’

” ‘Why your honor, this is search and seizure, your honor. The Fourth Amendment, your honor.’ They’d have to hear the whole thing. So the judges started letting the police and the prosecutors know that they didn’t want to hear any chickenshit cases. The murderers would be coming back on appeal and the courts would be stacked up, long-haired lawyers working evidentiary hearings: 21 joint cases in a row. After a while a joint didn’t make any difference, then a lid, then a couple of lids, then a pound. Pretty soon a hundred pounds didn’t make any difference. ‘Throw it out.’ We would have search and seizure issues four days, five days, two weeks. After a while even the heaviest judges—the real tough guys—would say, ‘Mike, can’t we work this out?’

” ‘Search and seizure, your honor.’ “

What started out for Stepanian as a basic public-interest law practice turned out to be quite lucrative. The older lawyers who didn’t want to defend indigent kids had neglected one thing. “The parents were paying the money. $1,400. $2,500. $3,000. You have to represent 250 whores or 75 robbers to make $2,500. And here were these guys who had never practiced criminal law—out of law school for a year and a half—suddenly watching their bank accounts grow.”

Today, Stepanian says without exaggeration, “There are more dope lawyers in San Francisco than disk jockeys.” And today, in San Francisco, one has to work pretty hard to be busted for possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use.

Dick Cowan: Courting the Conservatives

The first night of the conference we all stood to introduce ourselves: “Then it came time for this short-haired fellow in a pin-striped black suit for funerals and ambassadorial appointments. He introduced himself as “Dick Cowan, from the Committee to Re-elect the President.” It got a bit of a laugh.

But Cowan had indeed interviewed for a job with CREEP at the beginning of 1971. He had also interviewed with former Vice President Spiro Agnew. “Luckily,” he said, “there were no positions open and I got into something respectable.” Meaning NORML.

Cowan, 33, is a native of Fort Worth, Texas. He attended Yale in the early Sixties and was active in student politics: the chairman of the Party of the Right, president of the Calliopean Society (a conservative group founded by John C. Calhoun), and a charter member of Young Americans for Freedom. He remains a friend of William F. Buckley, Jr., and spent many of his college days with Buckley in Sharon, Connecticut.

After college he returned to Fort Worth and worked in his father’s business for a time. Later he struck out on his own as a self-confessed “wheeler-dealer,” one of those folks with ten phones in the house and two in the car. Also at that time, about 1967, he was introduced to marijuana by other wealthy folks in Fort Worth. “We would smoke in the living room, but the first few times, I didn’t get off. Then one day I left a guy’s house and we were driving up over a hill and I could see all the lights glowing and … uh … I knew I had gotten off.”

In late ’69, recovering from hepatitis, Cowan decided to come to Washington to “get into politics.” He stopped into NORML in his suit and wingtips to tell them they were doing a good job and to offer his services.

(As Keith Stroup remembers, they were a little wary of Cowan at first. “We had this other guy,” Stroup remembers, “a middle-class older guy from the suburbs who walked in off the street and asked if he could do volunteer work. About a week later he came up to me and said, ‘I’ve got $500. Think you could get me a pound of grass?’ I said, ‘Jesus Christ, how dumb do you think I am?’ The guy never came back but about a week later, Cowan walked in.”)

For NORML Cowan read and replied to letters from marijuana prisoners. “It really affected me. I always thought the law was foolish and counter-productive, but I never thought they were putting people in jail with these impossible sentences.” With the prisoners in mind, Cowan, who had never published anything before, wrote a tightly reasoned article for William F. Buckley’s National Review. The cover letter read, “Dear Bill, guess who’s gone to pot.”

Buckley wrote back saying, “My inclination is to run it and National Review‘s inclination is to follow my inclination.” The article: “American Conservatives Should Revise Their Position on Marijuana” and subtitled, “The Time Has Come: Abolish the Pot Laws,” was run as an eyebrow-raising cover story of the December 8th, 1972, edition. “Whoever chose the cover photo knew just what I had in mind,” Cowan says. It showed several short-haired, white, middle-class kids being booked in some suburban police station.

Buckley himself wrote a commentary on the article: “Mr. Cowan insists quite simply that there are no arguments of any force or gravity by which to justify the treatment routinely given to people who use marijuana here and there in the United States. I flatly agree with him.”

So what happened with Buckley? He had been strongly against marijuana until National Review ran the article. Does he smoke? Cowan smiled. “Bill always says that he smoked marijuana three times, on his yacht, outside the three mile limit. He says he never got off.” Did Cowan believe that? “I believe he never got off.”

Texas Thinks Twice

Until May 29th of this year, Texas had the most severe marijuana penalties in America: two years to life for possession of any quantity. Only the People’s Republic of China had stiffer sanctions: three years to death for possession.

Dick Cowan’s article was widely distributed, especially to the conservative Texas legislators, and Cowan himself testified at the Lone Star State hearings. “I’d like to think that the senators were impressed by the fact that marijuana is lower on the hazard scale than tobacco or alcohol. I’d like to think they were swayed by civil libertarian arguments. Unfortunately, our biggest selling point is that we had over 700 people in jail with an average sentence of nine and a half years and they were mostly middle-class WASPs. As long as we were arresting 40-year-old Mexicans and blacks, it was OK. But when we started jailing their kids, that made them think twice.”

A tentative pass at a penalty reduction bill had been made at the Texas State House in 1971. In the interim until the 1973 session, a five-member committee of senators was appointed to study the drug laws. Committee counsel was a young lawyer, Griffin Smith, who, along with former State Senator Don Kennard, worked the behind-the-scenes-give-and-take of political chess. A young stockbroker named Steve Simon, the NORML state director, coordinated publicity efforts. He found the press to be overwhelmingly friendly.

“NORML,” he says, “was an enormous help.” Keith Stroup made two widely publicized visits to Texas where he held press conferences and visited the jails. Large newspaper ads drew funds for more ads. The 1973 publicity campaign cost a paltry $6,000—most of it derived from showings of Reefer Madness. Griffin Smith was ready with bills and alternative bills.

The turning point, however, came during several days of hearings. NORML flew in John Finlator and Dr. Whipple. Tom Price of the National Council of Churches and David Lewis of the American Public Health Association spoke for decriminalization and their stands were endorsed by the San Antonio Jaycees, by Sheriff Ray Frank of Travis County, by George Beto, retiring director of the Texas penal system, and by a group of parents of imprisoned children.

While NORML’s stand has been to “de-emotionalize” the issue, Texas volunteers worked to create “a sense of urgency” about the number of people in jail. They worked hard to identify the types of people who were smoking in Texas.

One piece of information that particularly jolted the legislators was a survey that showed that in the University of Texas Law School—the alma mater of a majority in the Texas house and senate—75% of the student body had smoked marijuana and over 50% smoked regularly. State Director Steve Simon called the second largest sorority on the University of Texas campus and asked for a survey. “The president of the sorority said she would testify for us. Now this girl could have been Miss America. She was the perfect, typical American sorority girl. And she testified that 90% of her sisters smoked grass. I can tell you, the senators were really shook up by that. They were telling her, ‘Please be careful. The police may come tomorrow.’ “

Another significant bit of testimony came from the president of the student body of Texas A&M, a basically rural-oriented school not generally known for its liberalism. This guy was one of the military cadets and he wore his uniform and his boots and, in a very articulate manner, he told them that if the police were effective in their enforcement of the law, 67% of the student body at Texas A&M would be in jail.

All that needed to be done was to point out to the session that a Texas law student or a sorority girl in possession of a single joint faced potential penalties exceeding those of assault with intent to murder or castration or kidnap.

The Texas legislature voted to reduce possession of two ounces or less to a “low misdemeanor” punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail sentence of up to six months.

Gordon Brownell: I’m Tired of Being a Criminal

Gordon Brownell was not present at the NORML conference. He is president of Amorphia, the only other nationwide organization bucking for reform in the marijuana laws. For a time there was some animosity between NORML and Amorphia. Stroup thought some of the publicity Amorphia generated for the California Marijuana Initiative of 1972 “stigmatized” the issue. The Jocks for Joints, the Mothers for Marijuana, the stoned softball and Ping-Pong games seemed inappropriate to the kind of data-based, traditional approach Stroup favors. The rift—while downplayed by both groups—is not completely resolved.

Brownell, 29, says, “I don’t think there is much difference in approach between the two organizations anymore. Amorphia is older: It’s been in existence about five years and when it started, of course, it was very much a group of what you would stereotype as hippies, freaks, dope-users and so forth. But since that time there have been a number of substantive changes at Amorphia.”

One of those changes was the election of Brownell to president of the San Francisco–based organization in August of 1973. Prior to that, in 1969 and 1970, he was a pre-Watergate, dope-smoking White House aide: an administrative assistant to Harry Dent, special counsel to the President. In 1970 he came to California to work with Ronald Reagan. He remains a Republican and is a member of the party’s state central committee, though, aside from marijuana, he has some serious questions about Republican positions on many issues.

“Amorphia has several other former aides to both Nixon and Reagan doing volunteer work. There were others—a number of people—working for both Nixon and Reagan that I knew who smoked marijuana. The phenomenon is no less widespread among young Republicans than it is among young Democrats. I cannot say with certainty that dope has ever been smoked in the White House. I thought about doing it myself, but didn’t, primarily out of paranoia. But in 1969 and ’70 there was considerable marijuana use among congressional aides and young government officials. I knew a few at the White House who smoked, but it was very hush-hush.

“I haven’t been to the White House in over a year, but I’d be willing to bet that there are fewer people there who smoke now. A lot of the bright young people who were attracted to the Nixon administration at the beginning have left. The G. Gordon Liddy mentality just doesn’t mix with bright young dope-smokers. And that is one of the things I’d like to do: Inject into the public consciousness the fact that the people who were deeply involved in Watergate—Liddy, Dean, Krogh, the whole group of them—were also the men who formulated the Nixon administration’s repressive criminal approach to marijuana.

“I’m sure a lot of legislators are aware of this. Also, the number of congressmen and senators who are aware of their sons and daughters and aides smoking marijuana would constitute a majority in either house.”

(There follows a completely libelous discussion between the writer and Brownell about exactly which aides and which children smoke. Excluding the Nixon family, it reaches into the very highest levels of government.)

Amorphia feels grass-roots organizing is essential. Stroup would argue that the California initiative was disastrous. It lost two to one, and any politician looking at such results must conclude that marijuana decriminalization is a negative political issue.

Brownell disagrees. “The initiative helped reform in California last year. A misdemeanor reduction bill had been defeated in California in the summer of ’72. After the initiative, the bill was re-introduced and it passed both the assembly and the senate. … I think the fact that 2.8 million people said they wanted to remove all criminal penalties got people thinking quite a bit. It’s been my experience in Sacramento, as a registered marijuana reform lobbyist, that legislators and their aides will now listen to me. Before the vote I was treated as some kind of freak.”

Amorphia has a budget similar to NORML’s—about $150,000 yearly derived from five-dollar membership fees and from sales of Amorphia cigarette papers. The five full-time staff members, including Brownell, are paid $61 weekly.

I asked Brownell why he took a job that paid a fifth of his former salary.

“I was tired of being a criminal,” he said.

Oregon Decriminalizes

In the biggest surprise of the year—without much publicity or help from NORML or Amorphia—Oregon quietly became the first state in the nation to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use. When the first big drug busts hit Portland in 1967, a nonsmoking psychopharmacologist and teacher at the University of Oregon, Sam Irwin, wrote a letter to all the local papers decrying the “witch hunt.” He said that marijuana was a “benign” drug and that it was absurd to “crucify” kids who “were not wrong in smoking it.” He quickly found himself one of marijuana’s major apologists in the state. He did some writing, appeared on radio and television talk shows and arranged to talk with state legislators both in groups and privately.

Simultaneously, a young soft-spoken lawyer and state representative from populous Multnomah County, Stephen Kafoury, began assessing the chances of decriminalizing grass. In the spring of 1973, he ran across a survey taken by a sociologist at the University of Oregon which showed that a majority of the state’s senators and representatives were personally in favor of legalization.

“I think,” Kafoury says, “that the Oregon legislature is younger and maybe a bit more rational than most. At any rate, there were a number of us that wanted to see the law changed. I was chosen chairman of the Special Joint Committee on Alcohol and Drugs because I came from a very safe Democratic district where I could handle a difficult political thing without getting booted out of office. The first bill we introduced went pretty far. It totally legalized nine ounces in private possession and the cultivation of two plants. We worked hard on the bill so people had to face the issue, and couldn’t back out on a technical flaw.

“We had a hearing and no private citizens came. I had no letters even though I had been on radio and television. The apathy was a help because we knew we had the votes if we could just convince guys they weren’t going to lose their office. We did a lot of work to make it easy for them to vote for the bill. I called up all the media people that I knew and got endorsements. We got politicians to endorse it on an ‘if-my-opponent-will-then-I-will’ basis. This was so there would be a lot of cover for the guys who voted for it: They were just going along with editorial opinion and with other politicians.

“After the first bill failed, as we thought it would, we came right back with our next bill. We tried to make everyone feel guilty for not voting for the first one. We knew the majority privately favored legalization, so we tried to make them embarrassed and ashamed. We tried to make it a question of courage. It was subtle, but they felt so bad they came back and voted overwhelmingly for the bill.”

Since October 5th, 1973, possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in Oregon is punishable by a fine not to exceed $100. It is no longer a criminal offense, but a violation—like a parking ticket.

Oregon’s Republican governor, Tom McCall, promptly signed the bill and prepared for the onslaught of outraged public opinion. He prepared a tightly reasoned letter reply to critics and had it printed up in bulk. Those letters are presently gathering dust in Oregon’s statehouse. McCall received less than a dozen letters and they were evenly split between those who favored the bill and those who opposed it.

Ira Sachs: Benefits for Everybody

Sometime during the Saturday night party at the NORML conference, I found myself, champagne in hand, in an intense discussion of economics with a successful and moderately long-haired businessman from Memphis named Ira Sachs. He had been working with NORML on a post-legalization scheme for marijuana distribution and regulation. Sachs was not personally interested in profiting from eventual sales, nor was anyone else I talked to at NORML. He was working on his scenario so that when NORML began pushing hard for legalization, there will be a counter argument for skeptics who will ask: “How are you going to control it?”

“I’ve been collecting studies and articles on this for five years,” Sachs said. “None of them mean a hill of beans compared to a study the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs [BNDD] contracted in 1971.” (The study was conducted by William H. McGlothlin of the Department of Psychology at the University of California in Los Angeles. It bears the stamp and seal of the U.S. Department of Justice BNDD and is titled “Marijuana: An Analysis of Use, Distribution and Control” and is the basis of Sachs’ scenario.)

“McGlothlin estimates that there are some 170,000 low-level dealers in the United States. They make about $250 per person, per month. In California, a dealer has a three-year life expectancy. They bust a third of the dealers every year. The cost to the state in 1969 was $43 million.

“Now, we know the government is studying and growing marijuana. In ’69 through ’72 they grew all the different types at Ole Miss. So the scenario as I see it is that the government gets smart and instead of having 90% of our grass imported from Mexico, we grow it in America under quality control. Their own report says that it would only take about 5,400 acres to produce all the marijuana smoked in the United States in 1971. They might need 10,000 acres today.

“So let’s say they set up three large fields somewhere in Mississippi. They’d have tests for quality control of the product similar to what they do with California wine. Then they put a cigarette factory next to each field. The factory would be owned by the government and operated on a low-bid basis by a tobacco company. That’s nothing new. Lockheed and Boeing have similar operations. And it would keep the large tobacco companies happy.

“There could be different packaging methods. It would then be sent through postal inspection to a bulk handling facility. The next level is where it goes to wholesale. In each geographic area you have five or six liquor wholesalers who already have regulatory controls right on down to the retail level, where you have your local vice squad checking to see that you aren’t selling to minors, or whatever the law is.

“There are a lot of things I’m saying that I hope a thousand people pick apart, because this scenario can be improved. What I’m saying isn’t original. It is a composite of a lot of people’s thought, including officials I’ve talked to at the Justice Department.”

Conservatives could be sold on the idea that billions of their tax dollars would no longer be wasted on a shoddily enforced, ineffective law. Police could be sold on the basis of man-hours saved for use in more pressing crimes. Liquor and Tobacco would be somewhat placated by their cut of the take. The public at large would benefit from a massive influx of tax dollars. “The government would take 30% off the top, split evenly between federal, state and local jurisdictions. The BNDD report says that tax revenues from marijuana sales are estimated at $450 to 500 million. In five years it could go as high as $1 to 2 billion.

“I think this is all going to come about before most people realize. All you have to do is show them how everybody benefits.”

Winning Isn’t Everything, It’s the Only Thing

Sunday night after the conference, I stopped off at NORML’s Washington office. It is a narrow, two-story building in the middle of a parking lot across the street from a Cadillac dealership. Inside Keith Stroup and Guy Archer were rolling joint after joint, talking nonstop, giddy about the conference.

“I was really reassured about the quality of the people,” Stroup says.

“Everyone was.”

The joint comes my way. Stroup asks me: “Hey, did you talk to Walter Dennis? He’s a canon at the largest church in New York City.”

Archer says, “God, it’s nice to have the church on your side.”

“And law enforcement,” Stroup says. “I hope you talked to Jim Moore. He’s an assistant prosecutor from Colorado. He’s going to be fantastically effective in the hearings out there.”

They went over every name. Richard Bonnie, the assistant director of the President’s Marijuana Commission, the Jaycees from Connecticut, the attorney-pharmacist from Minnesota, all of them.

A fresh joint comes around. “I think we’ll decriminalize in as many as half a dozen states in 1974.”

He listed them: “We have a reasonable chance for decriminalization along Oregon lines in Washington with Richard Kelley’s bill, we have a good chance in Minnesota, and Massachusetts. Hawaii and Alaska are both quite likely. Neither of them got the full brunt of marijuana scare tactics in the Thirties because neither of them were states at the time. Colorado is very likely. We came close on a legalization bill last session. This time we’ll hit them with decriminalization.

“I think we’ll have a lot of hearings in 1974. I think we’ll have hearings in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida. Some of the Southern states are not as moss-backed as you might suspect. We have some very impressive endorsements in Florida. I think a lot of legislators are going to be highly impressed with the quality of our expert witnesses: There has never been a straighter group of people talking about marijuana.”

One persuasive argument in the state houses has been that decriminalization would open up the floodgates and dope fiends would pour into the state. Statistics from Oregon are expected to disprove the argument. Already Pat Horten, district attorney from Lane County, which encompasses Eugene, can show that marijuana arrests have neither increased nor decreased in the two months since the state decriminalized. Assemblyman Steve Kafoury says there is no evidence of an influx of smokers.

Stroup hit on the joint and I took the opportunity to ask him if he didn’t get some animosity from the garden variety street smoker. “Sure. There are some people who feel like we’ve coopted the movement. But look, we didn’t start it, and we’re not charismatic leaders. It’s like we’re riding an elephant. We didn’t produce all that force and power. Other people did that. We’re just trying to hold on and point it in a productive direction. The laws don’t change automatically. You have to kick the process into motion.”

“We’re technicians,” Archer told me for the second time in two days.

Sometime later—my time sense seemed to be a bit distorted—I asked Stroup if some of his peers, the Nader people for instance, didn’t think marijuana reform wasn’t a hedonistic, dilettante issue. “Well, maybe it is, but when we started there were no legally trained people in it. You don’t change laws without legally trained people. Something else: 293,000 people were busted last year for marijuana. Ninety-three percent of those people were charged with simple possession. Two-thirds of them were holding less than an ounce. For those people, this is the most important issue in their lives.”

He finished rolling a fresh joint. “In five or ten years we’ll all be working on another issue.” Stroup held the lit joint in the air as if it were a miniature torch of liberty. “It’s nice to win,” he said.

In This Article: Cannabis, Coverwall, marijuana


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