Welcome Keith Stroup (NORML.org) (Twitter) and Host Pete Guither (DrugWarRant.com) (Twitter)

It’s NORML to Smoke Pot: The 40 Year Fight for Marijuana Smokers’ Rights

This new book tells three stories at the same time: the life of Keith Stroup (founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), the story of NORML’s history, and the story of the last 45 years of marijuana policy. As you soon discover, the three stories are at times inseparable.

And the stories! This is a book full of anecdotes. After all, Keith Stroup smoked pot with Abbie Hoffman, Hunter S. Thompson, and relatives of U.S. Presidents. He got high in the Rockies, in Aspen, in planes, and in Washington, DC. He hung out with Hugh Hefner, and spent countless hours getting stoned with Willie Nelson.

Keith grew up in rural Illinois without any exposure to marijuana, and in fact, didn’t even try it until he was at law school in DC (an education that he initially pursued to avoid the draft).

However, he quickly became involved. The idea of starting an organization was inspired by his lobbying work with Ralph Nader after law school ­– the only difference was that it would be representing marijuana smokers instead of buyers of unsafe products.

Stroup started NORML with a $5,000 grant from Playboy in 1970, the start of a productive relationship that exists to this day, along with NORML’s symbiosis with High Times Magazine.

He goes on to talk about the early years of building NORML’s name recognition, mostly touring colleges to give speeches ­– a task that was
made more enjoyable once he discovered that the film Reefer Madness was in the public domain. He edited it down to a tighter 45 minutes (the version most people today have seen) that worked very well with his appearances.

One of the big improvements in NORML’s visibility came in conjunction with Keith’s successful efforts in getting the press to notice them during the hearings of the Shafer Commission. While the Shafer Commission report was ultimately ignored by Nixon, it ended up being a useful tool in NORML’s successful efforts to get decriminalization bills passed in 11 states during the 70s.

Keith Stroup then talks frankly about the highs and lows of working with the Carter administration, leading up to the serious controversy with Peter Bourne that led to Stroup resigning from NORML ten years after he founded it.

The next section of the book covers the in-between years when Stroup worked as a lawyer defending drug offenders, worked as a lobbyist for farmers with Willie Nelson, and worked as Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

15 years after leaving NORML, he returned as Executive Director again, but now it was a different organization and a different time. The country was just rebounding from a conservative patch with slowed marijuana reform, there were new drug policy reform organizations competing for the same dollars as NORML, and now medical marijuana had become a focus.

As we get into the 90′s and beyond, the story becomes more complicated. A variety of different kinds of drug policy reform efforts were going on in the states, and personalities sometimes threatened to upset reform goals. The book covers these shifts in detail, but then settles back into the familiar anecdotes of interesting people, and even more interesting parties.

One of the more entertaining stories in the latter part of the book has to do with Keith Stroup getting arrested with the publisher of High Times at the Boston Freedom Rally for smoking a joint behind their booth, and their subsequent decision to take it to trial despite the judge’s offer to let them go.

The book emphasizes that NORML wants pot smokers to be proud of what they do — hence the slogan “It’s NORML to smoke pot.” (although Keith admits that he doesn’t wear that pin when going through airport security).

Keith Stroup stepped down again as Executive Director in 2004 to give the reins to someone younger, but he still keeps involved as legal counsel and serving on the board of directors.

The book’s appendixes include a list of NORML awards, a breakdown of marijuana laws by state, NORML’s “Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use,” and some entertaining photos.

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

76 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Keith Stroup, It’s NORML to Smoke Pot: The 40 Year Fight for Marijuana Smokers’ Rights”

BevW July 21st, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Keith, Pete, Welcome back to the Lake.

Pete, Thanks for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:

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pococurante July 21st, 2013 at 1:48 pm

So there is no audio?

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Thanks, Bev. It’s great to be part of this discussion with topics of strong interest to a huge segment of the population.

Pococurante. FDL book salon is a text-based discussion. There is no audio.

pococurante July 21st, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Gotcha, thanks Pete.

BevW July 21st, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Pete welcome back, great to see you again.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Yes, good to be with you this afternoon.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:00 pm

This should be an interesting discussion whether you’re one who believes strongly that it NORML to smoke pot, or if you’re interested in some fascinating stories about the last 45 years of our history and some of its more colorful characters.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Keith — perhaps you would kick off this discussion by telling us why you decided to write this book.

dakine01 July 21st, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Keith and Pete and welcome back to FDL this afternoon.

Keith, I enjoyed the book very much as it brought back a lot of memories. I was one of the early readers of High Times and also made a couple of early contributions to NORML (I was an 18 year old freshman in college when I first smoked).

I have to say, the story of your encounters with Abbie Hoffman, Hunter Thompson, and Tom Forcade was a bit bittersweet with the knowledge all three committed suicide. Was it all a coincidence do you think?

BevW July 21st, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Pete, do you have any predictions on the next State to legalize marijuana?

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:09 pm

dakine01 – I was also very taken by that, and those weren’t the only ones in the book who ended their lives with suicide. It makes me wonder if is has to do with being so strongly outside the system and the pressure that entails.

pococurante July 21st, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Related: who are the current groups (thinking SAFER) who are already showing a track record of success and who deserve donations (besides NORML of course!)

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:11 pm

What are the numbers for African American and Hispanics getting charged for Pot offenses vs Whites? How many African Americans and Hispanics go to prison for the same amount of Pot as Whites had but the Whites don’t get charged?

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:11 pm

No, I think this type of work — grass roots activism — attracts a lot of us who are probably a little out of the mainstream, and with that willingness to consider non-tradional alternatives in our lives, comes the possibility of extreme outcomes.

I knew three out of the four were suicidal at times, but that was part of what made them creative and effective in their work. While I first attempted to counsel them to seek alternative options, I soon earned that they were thoughtful about the option of suicide, and I concluded that it was their choice, although I hated to lose them as a friend.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to BevW @ 10

Good question, Bev. I really don’t know and have a terrible track record in predictions (I think it’s the optimist in me…)

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Nationwide it was close to 4 to 1, and in some cities (DC, for example), it was closer to 8 to 1, even though blacks and whites smoke marijuana at the same rates.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to BevW @ 10

If I may speculate, I would guess that California, Oregon and Massachusetts will legalize in 2016. I know some states may try to make the change in 2014, but I doubt they can get the serious money required to run a professional campaign in an off-year election.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Keith – can you tell us more about NORML’s founding being inspired by Ralph Nader’s organization? How do you envision the role of NORML to the consumer?

dakine01 July 21st, 2013 at 2:16 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 11

I am one of those who sampled most every substance around in the early ’70s (and for the longest time, thought I might be the only person who had used and remembered using MDA) but concluded that caffeine (Coffee) was as much speed as I wanted, alcohol as the top depressant (though don’t do that much anymore) but that grass was indeed the substance best able to keep me sane – even though it has put me breaking the law all these years

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:18 pm
In response to pococurante @ 12

All of the current legalization groups contribute to the progress we are experiencing in public policy debates, and in actual legislation. I would separate the groups based on where their focus is, and some groups focus only on patients’ rights; some focus on the student or law enforcement perspective; and NORML focuses on the consumer (or smoker, in this instance).

But all of the groups do good work. And on many issues, we all work cooperatively

wmd1961 July 21st, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Hi Keith, welcome to FDL. We know each other from relegalization billboards I helped get put up in Indiana back in the 90s.

What do you think about California postponing its legalization initiative until 2016? Was presidential election turnout among Millenials a key to the Colorado and Washington state victories in 2012?

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Is it all racism or is it classism?

In June 2007, Ravenel was indicted on federal cocaine distribution charges by US Attorney Reginald Lloyd.[7] The filed charges allege that Ravenel purchased less than 500 grams of cocaine

Ravenel underwent a rehabilitation program in New Mexico, and then returned to plead guilty to “conspiring to buy and distribute less than 100 grams of cocaine” in September 2007.[13][14]

Sentencing[edit]
On Friday, March 14, 2008, Thomas Ravenel was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for drug charges against him, but was not immediately ordered to report to begin his sentence.[15]


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Ravenel

Thomas got a half kilo of coke dropped down to less than 100 grams of coke and only did 10 months but he is rich and has political friends.
John McCain’s wife was stealing hundreds of pain killer pills from her own charity and never did any time.
There are much less rich and powerful African Americans and Hispanics out there so maybe its not all racism its just classism? Whats your opinion if you have one on the subject?

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:19 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 16

Thanks got a link:)

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:20 pm

How much tax revenue do you think the states that legalized pot can raise?
What would you suggest the states do to increase revenue and to make pot smoking safer?

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to wmd1961 @ 21

Yes, the higher youth turnout was incredibly important in 2012, and the lower youth turnout in CA in 2010 was the major reason for the disappointing loss. When we are trying to change the law via voter initiatives, we should limit those efforts only to presidential election years for now. That will change as we gain additional momentum, but for now that is important.

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to wmd1961 @ 21

Was presidential election turnout among Millenials a key to the Colorado and Washington state victories in 2012?

Seconded and may I add if Millenials were a key to turnout what states will or are likely to have pot on the ballot next election?

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Class is a regrettable factor in all things having to do with the criminal justice system in this country. Our justice systems works reasonable wll for the rich, but not worth a damn for the rest of us. So your point is surely valid.

But the recent analyses released first by New York City College professor Harry Levine, and more recently by ACLU, make it clear that the color of one’s skin is the predominant factor in determining who will be arrested on marijuana charges. It shows a shocking disparity, and racism is the only explanation.

wmd1961 July 21st, 2013 at 2:26 pm
In response to pococurante @ 12

MPP is good.
DPA is good.

There are a lot of local groups too. Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform out here in CA is working on the 2016 initiative and has a commitment of matching funds somewhere in the $5M range.

DWBartoo July 21st, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Thank you, Keith and Pete, for joining us this evening (right coast time).

As Bev has introduced, @ 10, the notion of prediction, might either Keith or Pete, care to speculate how the Obama administration and his DoJ might react to legalizing legislation and implementation in the various states?

I ask this from the perspective of concern for the rule of law, broadly applied in the war on drugs through forfeiture laws that surely must continue to place a strain on justice … and not much applied at all when torture and economic fraud blatantly have taken place, not to mention several other concerns about the minimization of the importance of a certain “piece of paper”.

Frankly,if the federal government backs down on its drug war “policies”, then is not the whole rotten core of racism and economic warfare revealed? Is not the history of many political careers made on being stern drug warriors revealed to but self-serving games of “moral” gotcha, cheap means to scapegoat certain populations?

DW

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Personally, I’m not a big fan of depending on estimated potential revenue as an argument for legalization. It gets people arguing over the numbers and missing the bigger picture. Certainly there will be income and also there will be savings, but the real benefits come in so many other areas.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to wmd1961 @ 28

If we are naming names,, both LEAP and SSDP must surely be included.

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Do pot arrests go up in certain states or all states right before an election? Do they go up in close elections? Do they go up more in Red State elections? In states that have the highest Incarceration rates for minorities.

http://www.ct.gov/opm/lib/opm/cjppd/cjresearch/stf/disparity/presentations/20070718stateincarcerationratesbyraceandethnicitydisparity.pdf

South Dakota at 4710 and Wisconsin at 4416 surprisingly lead at their Rate of Incarceration per 100,000 Population for African Americans.
( I always thought the South would lead in this number.)

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:33 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 29

I think the Obama administration has already made clear its course of action. Ignore it.

It’s a lose-lose situation for them, so keeping it in legal limbo for as long as humanly possible seems to be the strategy. I’m sure we’ll hear more mentions of upcoming deliberations, and meanwhile the U.S. attorneys will hassle as many random operations as possible, leaving the states without any assurance of what the feds will do.

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:33 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 27

Again when you get a chance can I get a link. Also any information about class being a factor in sentencing, being able to afford a good lawyer, having politicians as relatives pull strings for you effecting sentencing would be great.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 29

Let me say that I believe the best thins we legalizers can realistically hope for right now is that the Obama Administration will continue to keep silent about any possible response to the situation in both CO and WA. If we force them to state their position, they will have to say they have an obligation to enforce federal law.

If they leave this vague, but continue private discussions with the state officials in those two states, and continue to permit those states to experiment with systems of legalization, we will continue with this incredible opportunity to demonstrate in fact how a good legalization system can work. As consumers, we should see this as a wonderful opportunity to show how responsible marijuana smokers behave. It is am important political point for us to make.

wmd1961 July 21st, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 31

Certainly.

And ASA as a patient advocacy group.

Whatever Eric Sterling is doing these days is likely worth supporting, same with Kevin Zeese (although Kevin seems to have moved over to economic issues more than drug policy of late).

I’ve got to run, it’s time for my workout.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Here’s the ACLU report

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:37 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 30

If you want to convince GOPers talk about what they care about money. Both from pot revenue and reduced prison costs.
Which brings me to my next question state and federal how much money does America spend locking up pot prisoners a year?

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:37 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 37

Thanks :)

wmd1961 July 21st, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 35

One last comment/question – what do you hope for from Gil Kerlikowske in reaction to Washington state’s initiative? Will he let science drive the response?

His coming from Washington state, and experience with I-75 (lowest law enforcement priority for marijuana in Seattle) gives me some hope. Dominick Holden did some great work documenting the positive effect of I-75 on clearance rates for other crime and I’d hope that Gil would give things a chance to work out like he did when he was police chief.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:39 pm

As an attorney who formerly served as executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, I agree with your position that being able to hire a good lawyer often has a lot to do with the outcome. Not because of corruption, but because these experienced criminal defense attorneys are quite skillful, and when they focus their skills on your case, the results are inevitably better. But all good criminal defense attorneys also do a certain amount of pro bono (free) work. Unfortunately there are not enough lawyers to provide quality legal defense pro bono to all criminal defendants in this country. The public defender system is designed to help with that problem, but most states pay appointed counsel so little that they simply cannot spend a lot of time on each case.

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:42 pm

You are more connected to the pot issue than anyone do you know what the mood is in Washington about pot not the WH the House and Senate.
With the WH whether its ending the wars, ending torture, ending NAFTA, pot Obama seems intent on breaking every campaign promise so what he says doesn’t matter.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to wmd1961 @ 40

As I posted previously, I hope the feds just remain silent and allow these states to experiment with versions of legalization.That is the best we can hope for until we finally have the political strength to change federal law.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:45 pm

The estimates of the cost, and the lost revenue from failing to legalize and tax marijuana, vary somewhat, with costs of arresting and prosecuting marijuana offended around 10-12 billion dollars, and the lost revenue from failing to legalize and tax marijuana as high as 32 billion.

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 41

The public defender system is designed to help with that problem, but most states pay appointed counsel so little that they simply cannot spend a lot of time on each case.

Either the system gets fixed or America can expect its own Bastille Day we got more people in prison per capita than the USSR or White South Africa ever did and both of them are gone now in part because it costs so much to keep that many people in prison.

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 44

Is that a year?

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Keith – what do you see the role NORML should play in the future?

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:47 pm

With all the pressing issues of national and international importance, domestic issues frequently take a backseat in Washington, and pot-related issues suffer somewhat from that reality. But because the national polls have turned so strongly in our direction over the last couple of years, official Washington is paying a lot more serious attention to marijuana and efforts to legalize marijuana than in the past. The change in Congress has been dkramatic, but we still have a long way to go.

ThingsComeUndone July 21st, 2013 at 2:48 pm

What are the goals you think NORML can achieve in the next few years? What needs to be done to make Pot legal Nation wide?

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Yes, annually. Sorry I was not clear.

BevW July 21st, 2013 at 2:50 pm

What do you consider your anniversary date for starting NORML? Was Abbie Hoffman there with you then, or later?

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:54 pm

NORML’s work as we enter the full legalization phase will be to assure that the consumer perspective is prominent at the table when legalization is discussed in every state, and before Congress. Consumers (or responsible smokers) in this area want what consumers always want: a high quality product that is safe, affordable and convenient. I want to be sure my marijuana is free from molds or pesticides, and I want to know at least the RHC and CBD levels.

The industry will be trying to get rich, and corner as much of the market as they can, and with the enormous marijuana market in the US, they will have plenty of money to assure their views are part of the debate. There are already several industry lobbies both at the state and federal level.

NORML’s challenge is to forcefully represent the interest of smokers.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to BevW @ 51

I generally use November of 1970 as our founding, as that was when I began holding frequent meetings with a handful of friends and associates to outline the plans to form NORML. We actually filed the incorporation papers on March 2, 1971.

I did not meet Abby Hoffman or Tom Forcade until 1972 at the Democratic National Convention in Miami.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Back in the 70s, things seemed to be going so well, with decrim passing in 11 states, and good momentum. Yet things went sour with a conservative turn in the country. Now again, things look very good with public opinion polls at an all-time high and legalization passing in Weshington and Colorado. Have we reached a true tipping point?  Or are things in danger of backsliding again?

dakine01 July 21st, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 54

This is a two song YouTube from a group of Nashville session musicians (including Charlie McCoy) and the first song is called Tokin’ Ticket

The group called themselves Barefoot Jerry

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 3:05 pm

One thing I really enjoyed in the book was all the stories about Willie Nelson. Willie is one of the few people in the world that pretty much everybody loves. Cops don’t even want to arrest him.

pococurante July 21st, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to wmd1961 @ 28

Thx!

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 3:09 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 54

I am always a bit cautious, since we felt we had reached a breakthrough point in the late 1970s, after 11 states had stopped arresting smokers for minor offenses. But in fact the mood of the country then turned more conservation (think Ronald Reagan, Just Say No, and what about the kids?), and we failed to win another statewide political victory for 18 years, until CA legalized medical use in 1966. The polling by Gallup and others during this period show convincingly the drop in pubic support around 1978, and it was not until 1990 that things began to come back in our direction.

So yes, I am thrilled with the incredible changes we have witnessed, and been part of, since 1996, and the polling suggest the pace of change continues to accelerate. And I am reasonably confident that we are truly at the point of no return, when a sufficient portion of the electorate have concluded that marijuana prohibition is a failure, and our opponents are powerless to turn back the tide.

But my age and experience requires me to acknowledge that this set of circumstances might now always continue in our favor. If the public were to see results of the two legalization laws in CO and WA that caused them concern about public health or safety (i.e., a significant increase in adolescent use or a spike in DUID deaths on the highway), this winds of chage could turn against us once again.

Remember, only 13% of the adult population are smokers; 87% are not. We must always shape our policies with that reality in mind, and we need to continue to push for full legalization, regardless of why someone is smoking.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 3:11 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 56

Yes, and Willie has been an incredible ambassador for pot smoking to large segments of America that would not otherwise necessarily be supportive. And he also happens to be one of the kindest, sweetest men I have had the privilege of knowing — a good friend for nearly four decades.

Willie largely put a lie to the assumption that good old boys don’t smoke pot!

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 3:12 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 58

Thanks, Keith.

I have a similar sense – optimism, but that we can’t let our guard down. There are groups out there looking for opportunities to exploit health/drugged driving issues to try to turn the tide.

BevW July 21st, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Remember, only 13% of the adult population are smokers; 87% are not.

Only 13% of adults – is this self identified – or statistics? I would have thought it was higher now.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 3:13 pm

You’ve had White House connections and worked with many in government. Can you shed any light on what goes on when Presidents (or others) take office that so often turns them against marijuana? Is it financial interests (campaign contributions from those profiting from prohibition) or political cowardice, or something else entirely?

dakine01 July 21st, 2013 at 3:15 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 59

I know I’ve read that Willie is where the “rednecks and hippies come together”

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 3:17 pm
In response to BevW @ 61

Those are the national averages we generally see, which of course means the rates are higher on the east and west coast, lower in the midwest and the south, reflecting the traditional differences with social attitudes.

The same is true about our support level for full legalization. Nationwide we are now registering about 52%, but that means we are hitting far higher levels in the east and the west.

Usage rates are also essentially even for white, blacks and Hispanics. Around 13 to 14%.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 3:22 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 62

I think most elected officials, even those who I might agree with on lots of issues, usually put their own re-election at the top of their priorities. And for many years (all during the 1980s and into the early 90s, all a candidate had to do to defeat his opponent was to argue his opponent was “soft on drugs”, whatever that twisted language meant, and demonstrate the he favored more harsh drug penalties than his opponent. No one during that period ever lost an election for being to hard on marijuana smokers, but some did lose for being perceived as too lenient towards smokers.

It has taken some time for our elected officials to learn that the public mood have moved forward on the legalization issue, as it has regarding gay marriage, and they now have the option of being honest about marijuana policy, if they wish. Many are still to timid, or believe their constituents would still punish them if they were to support legalization.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Is there anything you learned from the controversy with Peter Bourne (which is talked about quite frankly in the book) that could help others in the drug policy reform community?

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 3:34 pm

For the readers out there. What was your tipping point? What caused you to support legalization (if you do) or decide that it’s NORML to smoke pot?

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 3:44 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 66

Yes, actually something that is quite timely.

As I look at the Bourne affair from the distance of several decades, it is clear to me that I was too close to the action, and lost my ability to stand back and see the bigger picture. I was friends with the president’s drug advisor, got smoked-up with one of his sons, and helped draft his message to Congress calling on them to decriminalize marijuana, the recommendation of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse.

But I was also fighting with the White House over a number of issues, most importantly the spraying of paraquat on marijuana in Mexico, that was subsequently harvested and made its way into the US. We feared it would poison smokers, and felt the Carter administration was potentially poisoning our culture. So we pushed back, and in that process, I failed to protect Bourne from charges he had snorted cocaine at a NORML party, resulting in a major political scandal. At the time, all I could see was the potential of thousands of marijuana smokers along the Mexican border dying from marijuana that had been poisoned by our own government. I could not see that (1) my passion might be overshadowing my rational analysis; and (2) having close connections to a sitting president who opening favored marijuana decriminalization in the late 1970s was incredibly important to our long term goals, and I should avoid doing anything that might undermine (or in this instance destroy) that access.

The modern parallel I see is primarily in the state of WA, pertaining to the recent passage of I-502, the full legalization initiative. Several friends and colleagues from WA, including some major payers in the legalization movement, were so close to the action that they focused only on the defects of I-502, and ignored the almost unbelievable value of having a state finally just ignore the federal government and legalize and regulate marijuana on the state levee. That was the single most significant event in this field since marijuana was made illegal in 1937,

Yet several of these folks focused on the less then ideal 5 nanogram per se DUID provisions, or the failure to permit individuals to grow their own marijuana under the proposed system, as an excuse to oppose the legalization proposal. In fact, they were the primary opponents! They were so close to the action (in this instance the culture) to see the big picture. Fortunately we won this initiative anyway, so the right result was reached.

I could not help but see the parallel with what they were doing, and what I had done decades earlier.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 68

That’s a very powerful point. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 3:50 pm

You’ve been involved in so much of the history of marijuana in this country — what would you like to see as your legacy in this field?

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 3:54 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 67

I was part of the generation who were radicalized by the Viet Nam war, and the anti-war movement. Back then every male who was not a full-time student was rafted (this was before the lottery), which kept most of us in school for as long as possible. But I still had 2 years of draft eligibility when I graduated law school, and came within 2 weeks of reporting to the Army. With the help of the National Lawyers Guild I ended up getting what was called a Critical Skills Deferment that permitted me to work near the White House, at 16th and K, NW, in Washington, DC for the National Commission on Product Safety. It was a Congressionally created commission, the result of the work of Ralph Nader, the early consumer advocate who came to town calling for safer automobiles.

Those two years gave me an up-close view of public-interest law at its best, and turned me into a consumer advocate. But instead of safe products, my purpose was to legalize marijuana. So when the Commission was over in two years, and I was then too old to be drafted, I started NORML.

But the thing that caused me to even consider such a radical project (at the time) was because I had been radicalized by the anti-war movement, and no longer trusted the government in a whole range of areas. Because I had been turned-on to marijuana as a freshman at Georgetown law school, marijuana legalization became my public-interest goal.

BevW July 21st, 2013 at 3:55 pm

As we come to the last minutes of this great Book Salon discussion,

Keith, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and thank you for NORML and for all you’ve done over the years.

Pete, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Keith’s website (NORML) and book(s)

Pete’s website (DrugWarRant)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Pete Guither July 21st, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thank you Bev.

And Keith – I really enjoyed your book. Useful information, good history of the organization… and some really great stories.

Keith Stroup July 21st, 2013 at 4:00 pm
In response to Pete Guither @ 70

I hope people who happen on my story understand that it is important to try to follow your intellectual passions, and not worry too much about what others may think. There is surely far more to be learned, and to be gained, from pushing the envelop than from taking the safe path.

Elliott July 21st, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Thank you both!

Kurt Sperry July 21st, 2013 at 8:45 pm
In response to Keith Stroup @ 68

The two listed flaws in the WA state initiative, are in fact well worthy of note because, firstly, the presumptive driving limit is based on garbage science–exactly the same sort of garbage science that rational drug policy advocates should run screaming away from–and, secondly, because the baked in inability of people to supply themselves legally under new WA state law makes the entire viability of the enterprise wholly dependent on the goodwill of an Obama administration with all the wisdom on the subject of a Harry J. Anslinger. The extreme–almost inconceivable–political naivete implicit in this failure should disqualify anyone who signed off on it as self evidently incapable and unqualified to participate at any higher level in further organized advocacy. We’re not going to win this following people that stupid into battle.

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