Pubdate: Sun, 25 July, 1999
Source: Gainesville Sun, The (FL)
Copyright: 1999 The Gainesville Sun
Author: Carl Hulse, Gainesville Sun Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON - His graying hair reaches the ears, but it is considerably
shorter than the near shoulder-length style Keith Stroup wore in the 1970s
when he was known as Mr. Marijuana, the prime minister of pot.

The founder of the nation's foremost marijuana legalization lobby has also
trimmed back the reckless behavior and anti-establishment antics that
turned him into a counterculture hero on college campuses and persona non
grata in some quarters of Washington.

But don't be misled: The 55 year-old executive director of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has not completely changed
his ways. Stroup still gets stoned.

"Contrary to what the government would lead you to believe, a lot of us did
not give up our marijuana smoking", said Stroup, who has made a career out
of disputing government drug claims. "We may not be as open about it. We
may have to work and support a family. That doesn't mean when Friday night
comes along that we don't still smoke marijuana instead of drink alcohol."

Almost 30 years ago, Stroup and a few similarly rebellious friends created
NORML in a burst of indignation over the jailing of thousands of young
marijuana smokers. After eight roller-coaster years at the helm, Stroup was
forced out in late 1978 for violating the drug movement's code against
informing on another's drug use.

Creating a sensation at the time, Stroup - angry over the Carter
administration's policy in support of spraying the herbicide paraquat on
Mexican marijuana fields - confirmed for a reporter that the president's
drug adviser snorted cocaine at a wild NORML party in 1977. The revelation
in the summer of 1978 contributed to the aide's ouster but ignited a push
for Stroup's removal as well.

In the ensuing years, Stroup (rhymes with top) practiced law, directed the
trade association for criminal defense lawyers, joined other public
interest efforts and worked on behalf of family farmers. But in the
mid-1990s, he was invited back to the board of NORML to restore some vigor
to the group. He formally returned as full-time director two years ago.

Stroup concedes his side was battered in the drug war during his exile;
marijuana was closer to being legalized in NORML's 1970s heyday than it is now.

"For the last 20 years all you heard was 'just say no,' mandatory
penalties, zero tolerance and how many people can we lock up in this
country," Stroup said.

But he and other key members of the legalization movement believe the
pendulum may be swinging their way. They point to the approval of medical
marijuana initiatives in a handful of states and a decision last year by
voters in Oregon - the first state to drop criminal penalties for marijuana
possession in 1973 - to reject a legislative push to recriminalize it.

"I think it is beginning to turn," said Dr. Lester Grinspoon, chairman of
the NORML Foundation and a Harvard Medical School professor whose 1971 work
"Marijuana Reconsidered" was one of the first scholarly papers to claim the
drug was essentially harmless.

A House subcommittee is even conducting hearings on the concept of
legalization, not that anyone expects the anti-drug, GOP- controlled
Congress to move forward on that front anytime soon.

Conservative lawmakers are more apt to advocate jailing people like Stroup
for pressing legalization. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., inquired about that
possibility at one of the recent hearings but was dissuaded.

To anti-drug leaders, legalization proponents like Stroup are dangerous and
misguided elitists concerned more with their own gratification than the
larger consequences.

"They are mostly affluent, well educated and socially distant from the
potential victims of their experiment, " said a disdainful Thomas A.
Constantine, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, during
one of the recent legalization hearings of the House Subcommittee on
Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources.

Legalization proponents ignore evidence that marijuana can be detrimental
to some users, particularly younger people whose memory, motivation and
energy level can be affected, said Dr. Herbert Kleber, medical director at
the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

"They are still fighting this old battle that marijuana is a perfectly
safe, harmless drug," he said. "To that extent, they are not credible."

Stroup was one of the first combatants in that fight. Born in a small rural
community in southern Illinois, Stroup came to Washington in 1968 for law
school at Georgetown. The ambitious young man quickly grew enamored of the
high-powered atmosphere.

After a friend was busted, Stroup, then working as a government lawyer to
avoid the draft, became intrigued with the enforcement of marijuana laws.
He originated the concept of NORML, which he got off the ground in 1971.
After a struggling start, Playboy's, Hugh Hefner agreed to finance a
full-fledged lobbying operation, and NORML took off.

Stroup toured college campuses, showing the campy movie "Reefer Madness."
NORML conferences became a fixture in Washington. Prominent people like
former Attorney General Ramsey Clark joined the group's board. The fast
talking, fact-tossing Stroup was a master at manipulating the sympathetic
press and he became a leading voice for the pot-smoking generation of the

He also lived the life himself, was arrested for possession in Canada and
had numerous scrapes with the law, a colorful history chronicled in the.
1981 book, "High in America" by Patrick Anderson.

"Stroup was more than an effective lobbyist; he had made himself a star,"
wrote Anderson. "In a city of dull, careful men, he was out an outlaw, an
adventurer." Stroup did drugs, rubbed shoulders with rock stars and other
counterculture, celebrities and generally roared down the fast lane.

But he came to a screeching halt in 1978. In the midst of a bitter fight
over the herbicide spraying, Stroup contributed to the downfall of Peter
Bourne, President Carter's drug adviser. Angry over Bourne's paraquat
stance, Stroup helped make the cocaine incident public.

Stroup regrets his role, but said he was driven by anger over the potential
herbicide poisoning of unsuspecting marijuana smokers.

As time passed, NORML drifted into the background. With hundreds of
thousands of marijuana arrests still recorded each year, some top members
sought to recapture its original spark and invited Stroup back to revive
the flagging movement.

Stroup admitted he might seem "out of sync slightly" as a middle-aged
champion of marijuana use, someone known around his own office as a "cool
old guy." But while his delivery is more tempered than in the past, his
message is the same.

"I don't feel as out of step as you might think," he said. "We've got a
significant segment of the American public who are regular smokers. Our
challenge is to translate what is clearly public support into public policy."

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