Families in Action
A Guide to the Drug Legalization Movement
2001: NORML Director Keith Stroup Denies "Red Herring" Quote
I received a note from Dale Gieringer telling me you were engaged yesterday in a debate in which your opponent was (once again) claiming falsely that I had said in a debate in 1973 that we (NORML) were using the medical use issue as a "red herring for legalization."
That is obviously a lie, and it suggests how desperate these drug warriors have become. Surely since I am around and easy to find at NORML, if they were really interested in my views on the medical use issue, they would ask me, rather than come up with some sound bite from a speech I gave nearly 30 years ago and try to twist the meaning into something that suits their political agenda.
NORML was started in late 1970 as a public-interest lobby to represent the views of those tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly, and those who, whether they smoke or not, oppose the arrest and jailing of marijuana smokers. It was not until 1972 that we became aware of the possible medical uses of marijuana, and petitioned the federal government to reclassify marijuana to permit physicians to prescribe it when appropriate.
While I have no specific memory of the details of this speech that I gave in Georgia nearly three decades ago, I do know that we considered the question of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana for recreational use to be the principal issue, as it involved tens of millions of Americans, hundreds of thousands of whom were being arrested each year. Therefore, I might well have said that the medical use issue was a "red herring," because it diverts attention away from the larger issue.
Our opponents are now suggesting that we were trying to use the medical issue to lure people unsuspectingly to our larger agenda, when the opposite was true. At the time we were concerned that the attention being given to the emerging medical use debate might make it more difficult for us to focus public attention on the issue we preferred they consider; i.e., whether to decriminalize or legalize marijuana for everyone, recreational users as well as medical users.
At NORML we have always been forthright about our support for legalizing both medical use and recreational use, and we have always said that each issue must be considered and evaluated on its own merits. Right now, 3 out of 4 Americans support the medical use of marijuana, while the country is about evenly divided over the recreational issue. We should move forward now to implement medical use in the remaining states, and under federal law, and continue the public dialogue over the larger issue.
At NORML we believe it is unconscionable to continue to deny an effective medication to the seriously ill and dying, in order to advance a political agenda. That is precisely what our opponents are doing.
I hope this helps clarify the matter.
1979: Keith Stroup Says NORML Using Medical Marijuana Issue As A Red Herring to Give Pot A Good Name
CHAIRMAN KEITH STROUP TALKS ON POT ISSUES
In a post debate encounter January 26, the Wheel conducted the following candid and revealing interview with Keith Stroup, the founder and director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Mr. Stroup was the defendant in the Thursday evening debate entitled "Is Marijuana a Wonder Drug? And "If Marijuana were Legal?" He opposed Sue Rusche, head of National Families in Action, before a standing room only crowd of over 300 people in White Hall.
Stroup had no holds barred throughout the debate on the issue of decriminalization and openly illustrated his opinions in our discussion afterwards.
ED. NOTE: Stroup is currently holding the position of chairman of the board of NORML and is pursuing the practice of law in Washington, D.C. Portions of the interview have been withheld upon editorial decision due to the incriminating nature of some comments.
WHEEL: As one of the leading proponents of marijuana decriminalization, do you ever find local police go out of their way to shake you down and bust you for possession?
STROUP: Well, they do but for every little sheriff that would like to bust me because it would look good on their record, there's somebody comin' in from the state police or the governor's office saying "Hey, wait a second. If you do this, we're gonna have eight lawyers down here. We don't want a bad name for Georgia. Can you imagine if they busted me for an ounce of marijuana in my room? My hotel? That's my home on the road!
WHEEL: But even after a lecture where you openly talk about having dope back in your hotel room?
STROUP: It blows them back when I say that but they never bother me; can you imagine if they busted me for an ounce of marijuana in my hotel room. That's my home on the road! I wish they'd do it in every state I go to! We'd kick their ass. Everybody in the state would be on my side.
WHEEL: Getting back onto another level of the drug issue, just what is the pot smoking situation with Washington politicians?
STROUP: I know about seven or eight senators who smoke themselves including a couple of enormously powerful older senators--people whose names are just everyday in the news. One of them is a republican who votes against us. It's crazy, although most of them are supporters. We've got 35 co-sponsors of our bill in the House. Well, obviously out of that 35, 30 of them smoke occasionally--about half of them are----heads. There is not a single office on the hill that doesn't have a number of dopers and fairly open about it. Everybody is familiar with dope. The first year or two I'd go around the hill--they'd laugh--a dope lobbyist! It was all a big joke--but not anymore.
WHEEL: Then why is there so much resistance to decriminalization from the congressmen?
STROUP: They are worried about the folks back home.
WHEEL: How do the people feel back home?
STROUP: The latest poll nationwide by Harris shows 52 percent of the people in the country support our position, 44 percent oppose it, and 4 percent are undecided. So we've got the majority of the country on our side. It's just that our majority has been a little quiet and the minority against us has been very vocal.
WHEEL: With your reputation as the number-one lobbyist for marijuana and the notoriety you have achieved as a public figure, not to mention the political connections you've made along the way--do you plan a political career at any point to lead this silent majority?
STROUP: Well, believe it or not, I really like politics, and people used to always think I had some sinister motive with NORML; for years I was gonna run for office, but I live in D.C. which is 72 percent black, and it is a very viable political city, but you will not ever see a white person elected to our congress and/or our city council. Right now we have two white council members out of thirteen. But we'll never have a white mayor because it's a black city, nor should we have. So, I like D.C. and as long as I live there, I will definitely not run for an elected office. It's not realistic. If I were going to do that, I'd have to be out in the suburbs. Besides, I don't think I want to be in an elected office because if I were, I'd be a little less honest.
WHEEL But since everyone knows you as being an open and "outfront" spokesman, why then do you think you would have to be less honest?
STROUP: Not so much on dope itself, but I'd have to be a little less honest on some of the other stuff. If you're a politician, you're gonna lose some votes if you are not careful and you have to worry about getting re-elected. Now, I don't have to get re-elected. I have to keep a job, but at least I don't have to run for an office every year.
WHEEL: But we already know how you are as a lobbyist, so don't you think people would expect you to be the same as a politician?
STROUP: Yeah. If I were running for office the support I would get would already be from the dope supporters. D.C. is a very progressive city. The dope is very prevalent, and a majority of the people support legal gambling, and over 60 percent support a woman's right to have an abortion, so if it weren't for the black to white ratio, you could run on a dope platform and probably win.
WHEEL: Would you care to comment on the Peter Bourne incident? [NFIA note: Dr. Peter Bourne was President Jimmy Carter's drug advisor. He wrote a prescription for a controlled substance for one of his aides, using a fake name. The woman's roommate tried to fill the prescription, authorities intervened, and a scandal erupted in the press. Stroup allegedly told a reporter that Bourne had snorted cocaine at NORML's Christmas party the previous winter. With the appearance of that story, Dr. Bourne resigned from the White House and Stroup resigned as NORML's director.]
STROUP: I know Peter very well. Peter is a very decent guy, overall. Professionally--generally he's been good. When he was in the White House, he was disappointing because I think he got corrupted - lot of power and ego. The fact that the word had gotten out that we got high together burned both of us. I would never have used that incident against him and I felt badly the way it worked out. It got out by some journalists and then I mishandled it. I could have denied it, but he really let us down on paraquat. So, when it got right down to it, I just didn't feel any longer the obligation to support him. Then I started getting calls saying "Is it true Peter Bourne snorted coke with you at a party?" I would say "I'm not going to say yes, because it's somebody else's job to axe Peter Bourne. But I'm also not going to say no, because I'm not part of some coverup. I'm not part of the administration. My job is to keep the administration honest." Well, it was like driving a nail in his coffin. Within an hour I was saying, "I really blew that one." Three hours later Peter was on TV announcing his resignation.
WHEEL: Are they still spraying paraquat?
STROUP: Oh yeah, they are still spraying. Now, in fairness they have not yet used any of the ‘79 appropriations because we got Congress to pass a law saying they couldn't use any of our money for that unless they could mark it well enough so it was readily identifiable to the consumer. They haven't found a way to do it. They've tried different sprays and it doesn't work. If you spray from an airplane, by the time it hits the plant down here, you get two or three little speckles on a leaf and you'd have to have a microscope to see it and their own reports said that. So far, Congress has cut off the money for spraying paraquat on marijuana and they are having to use contingency funds, but they are still spraying.
WHEEL: But how did Mexico justify the paraquat spraying?
STROUP: Essentially, Mexico saw it as a tool to gather information on dissident growers. The west coast of Mexico is not under the command of the central government. It is in the name but that's all. There are thousands where the Federals fly over and land in big groups because if they land in small groups they get ambushed. The growers get most of their money from marijuana. So what happened was the Mexican government sold out to our government. Our government wanted to crack down on marijuana so they went through the foreign relations committee and said they wanted to give aid for drug control and nobody questioned it. It's a rotten program. The Mexicans use the helicopters we gave them to track the dissidents. They don't mind spraying the marijuana, but they are going to be sorry in a few years because they will lose the market. They have shot down some of the choppers. They have not stopped marijuana--they have just shifted it down to Colombia. I will bet you that in a year, you will see Jamaica, Costa Rica, maybe three or four African nations decide--what I would do if I were them. If you don't have oil and you can grow marijuana, then why the hell would you sit around and let Colombia have a monopoly on the world. Colombia has just thumbed their nose. They have got ships lined up six deep at ports. The government basically controls the channels, so if you're willing to go through the government, you can load up on marijuana. Costa Rica can do it, Jamaica can do it, a lot of countries in African would be more than willing to do it. So that balance of trade that hurts the small country would change if they sell marijuana. I bet they do in the next couple of years.
WHEEL: The Mexico situation could change though if the United States starts getting its oil from their wells.
STROUP: But I think that's all worked together. One of the reasons why Mexico was so willing to say (expletive deleted) on marijuana was because they don't need our money. Their oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia. In terms of the future, Mexico is one of the richest countries in the world. But the poor peasants need it (marijuana trade) because the average peasant on the west coast of Mexico makes about fifteen hundred dollars a year. Of that about a thousand used to come from marijuana. So they just got wiped out. So that's why there is an enormous increase of illegal aliens coming from Mexico because the peasants can't survive now. That was all part of the (expletive deleted) spray paraquat program.
WHEEL: In addition to your debate at Emory, you are also planning some time in court. What is this all about?
STROUP There has been an ongoing paraphernalia battle in Georgia. It wasn't one we chose to be in, it was one that we found ourselves in the defense of for local and political reasons that had very little to do with dope. Some conservatives started utilizing past antiparaphernalia statutes and they passed three laws last year. We are in the U. S. Court of Appeals now, against these laws, and we expect to win it, but it's one of those suits you very seldom win in the legislative level because they deal with emotion and politics. But they can't Constitutionally preclude the sale of pipes and papers and they know it. Unless a product is distinctly a drug related product and they can't be that specific in the law--they can't do it.
But unfortunately the New Right in this country has chosen about three different places to make major battles on paraphernalia laws. Georgia is the first big battle in several years. Illinois now has about five or six suburbs that have done a similar thing, and now Los Angeles does. So we have lawyers in all regions now inundated with work having to do with paraphernalia. I think we will end up winning most of all of it, but it's going to cost a lot of money and time and there's going to be some people put out of business in the process. The unfortunate part about the paraphernalia battle is that if we are going to have to fight, it would be nice if we could have done it in an appellate court situation without the additional factors of broader politics.
Unfortunately we have been targeted as one of the opponents of the right. I guarantee you that you're going to see the biggest coordinated fight against paraphernalia shops in this country in the next year you've ever seen, and the reason is it's an easy battle. If you're a conservative, like a Ronald Reagan type, that wants to jerk somebody's chain, you can go to a PTA meeting and talk about selling cocaine testing kits to 13-year-olds and you'll see every parent up in arms. They'll be ready to go down and close that head shop up. They won't be thinking about free enterprise; they'll be thinking about drug enforcement.
So from the standpoint of consumers, which is how NORML had to approach the paraphernalia issue for quite a while, it's absurd to talk about decriminalization if you don't have something to smoke it in. So we just always assumed the paraphernalia battle was one our constituents wanted us to fight, because they like to smoke dope and want to have a choice of papers.
WHEEL: What type of ruling did the Alaskan Supreme Court make on the right to the possession and use of marijuana in privacy.
STROUP: The right to privacy is the basic challenge. The Alaskan Supreme Court ruled 5 to 0 in favor of the ACLU suit. The judges found that whatever risk is inherent is one the individual should assume; it shouldn't be a matter for the state. We, immediately, as an organization picked about three or four states where we thought we would get a similar ruling and we went into federal court. In California, we took the state court route. The suit in California is put together thoroughly, and I would expect that in the near future there will be a favorable ruling from California.
WHEEL: How do you see the final victory over the battle of decriminalization?
STROUP: My guess is that we're going to have to win this battle the slower way, state by state, legislature by legislature, and we're going to have to educate more people. We are going to have to win their hearts and minds before we win their legal systems. I don't think the courts are going to take care of the drug problem. Even in Alaska, perhaps the best court in the country on issues of privacy, when they ruled on a cocaine case a few months ago found that privacy didn't apply because it was of a different medical value. If privacy applies to marijuana then it applies to whatever the drug is. They didn't have the political courage to apply the principles of privacy regardless of the drug.
WHEEL: How do you think a state such as Florida, where it is a known fact that the biggest industry is marijuana, will evolve into cultivation?
STROUP: States like Florida are going to have to gradually get over the morality of it; they have already had bills introduced to allow cultivation in Florida. I'm sure within a couple of years they will allow cultivation for personal use, and the next step after that will be to allow cultivation for cottage industry--intrastate only. As long as they don't go in interstate, they won't have to worry about the federal Constitution. So I think you'll see a lot of state-by-state interpretation within the next few years.
STROUP: We are trying to get marijuana reclassified medically. If we do that, (we'll do it in at least 20 states this year for chemotherapy patients) we'll be using the issue as a red herring to give marijuana a good name. That's our way of getting to them (New Right) indirectly, just like the paraphernalia laws are their way at getting to us. (Back to top)
WHEEL: In closing, what are your speculations for the next president?
STROUP: Well, it will be pretty hard to dislodge Jimmy. Even though he (expletive deleted) up a lot, he's got a great foreign policy. In terms of foreign policy, there hasn't been such a progressive President ever. I wouldn't mind seeing Jimmy have a second term, because I don't think there is anybody better who can get elected.
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