EDITORS NOTE: This is the true story, as told by its witnesses, of how NORML intentionally sabotaged marijuana legalization during the Jimmy Carter Administration. NORML’s leader, Keith Stroup, always claimed that he set up President Carter because of his administration’s use of Paraquat on the marijuana fields of Mexico during the late 70’s but as this story will reveal Stroup had far more sinister motivations. President Carter had in fact been using Paraquat to end the Mexican Cartel’s domination of the marijuana industry to create both a pathway and an economic advantage for a domestic marijuana industry within the United States. Stroup, at the behest of the Mexican Cartel’s and his need to maintain a paycheck, sabotaged marijuana reform leading to thousands of growers, vendors and patients incarcerations under the Reagan Administration of the 1980’s. This is the sad but true tale of how the leadership within NORML prevented marijuana’s legalization to save their own jobs and should be remembered by every pro-marijuana American before making a donation to their organization.
Excerpt from The Jimmy Carter Coke Scandal
by Mike Chance and Dana Beal (1978)
The Peter Bourne Affair was the direct fruit of continued associations with cocaine among closely knit Carter insiders who had successfully diverted the 1976 U.S. Grand Jury investigation of cocaine dealing at a recording company headed by key Carter fundraiser Phil Walden. Bourne’s ouster not only blew the lid off their two-year cover-up of drugs and the Carter White House, but signaled Carter’s capitulation to DEA hardliners, as evidenced by his defense of the Paraquat spraying campaign despite the health threat to U.S. [marijuana] smokers. The second act of the Carter cocaine drama began casually enough, with a doctored prescription for Quaaludes for a woman on Peter Bourne’s staff. Suddenly one of Jimmy Carter’s key aides and top troubleshooters found himself front-page around the nation, the subject of another drug scandal.
Before the ink was dry on the Quaalude [scandal], follow-up stories had Bourne sniffing cocaine at a chic Georgetown gathering. Worse, the Georgetown bash in question was sponsored by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) as part of their annual conference – where, according to Gary Cohen of Jack Anderson’s office, Bourne partook of a rock of cocaine “the size of a prune”. In attendance were numerous minor officials of the Carter White House team as well as most of Washington’s ‘hip’ media people, one of whom later characterized it as “the social event of the year”. But while the gossip columnists and social pontificators [balked] at Bourne’s nasal habits; investigators at [the original] High Times, took another look at Bourne’s past. [They had previously published] evidence that a cover-up had occurred during the original Macon Grand jury investigation [known as Waldengate].
Bourne had been director of Georgia’s drug abuse program under, then governor, Jimmy Carter. He not only knew most professionals and prosecutors on the Atlanta/Macon axis, but was one of the earliest Carter Campaign Directors. During the time of [the 1976 election] Bourne was identified as Carter’s chief hatchet man for special campaign problems. Unlike Nixon’s unwieldy corporate-style campaign in 1972, only a handful of ‘Georgia Mafia’ (as Carter insiders were called) knew of the delicate negotiations going on, and perhaps only Ham Jordan was as well suited to talk to prosecutors and separate the wheat from the chaff as to whether Gregg Allman [of the Allman Brothers], Scooter Herring or Phil Walden would face the [court].
For 4 years, Bourne was Governor Jimmy Carter’s chief drug advisor, as he was to be later at the White House. Instrumental in liberalizing Georgia drug laws and enhancing Georgia’s image as the semi-hip center of the ‘New South’ in the early 1970’s. Bourne was also the nation’s foremost advocate of methadone programs for junkies. To add to his credentials as a middleman with the Grand Jury, Bourne had even, at the peak of Nixon’s War on Drugs been advisor to the White House Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention.
At the same time, Bourne was propelled by his wife Mary King, a liberal feminist, into the ‘hip’ new Southerner crowd of rock musicians, anti-war activists, leftists and local Atlanta glitterati. He was no stranger to Phil Walden, attending many of the famed Capricorn Records parties that Walden [hosted], which featured silver trays heaped with lines of cocaine. Carter’s election in November of 1976 seem to prove his born-again image was impervious to rumors about drugs. At the annual December NORML conference, Bourne gave the keynote address and even took a few discreet puffs without a murmur from liberal reporters present, hoping themselves for drug law reform from the new administration.
During Carter’s first year, a honeymoon atmosphere existed between the administration and the pro-marijuana bloc that had delivered votes in return for promises to decriminalize marijuana. Peter Bourne, Ham Jordan, Jody Powell and others around Carter got to know some of the pro-marijuana leaders personally. NORML head, Keith Stroup, spoke of his closeness to Chip Carter and presented himself as a sensible, controlled lobbyist who could push a sensitive issue like decriminalization without alienating too many of Carter’s crucial moderate supporters. Stroup in fact wrote Carter’s message on drugs, delivered in the summer of 1977, as a call for federal decriminalization.
But after a summer that saw 15,000 people engaged in civil disobedience on the 4th of July, defiantly smoking marijuana across from the White House [at the Annual DC Smoke-In] – the December 1977 National NORML Conference (the party where Bourne snorted cocaine) was marked by considerable infighting. Carter was intensifying use of the deadly herbicide Paraquat in Mexico [to wipe out Mexican Cartel grows]. Radicals [within NORML] defeated a bid to gain NORML endorsement, based on a decriminalization provision, of the represented criminal code revision once known as “S-1”.
Keith Stroup feared a power play by some NORML staffers and the White House to get rid of him [for his radical views and Cartel collaboration]. These staffers, in charge of the day-to-day administration at NORML’s DC offices, were the primary organizers of the National Conference. Stroup, in a ploy to change the flow of the convention, worked with infamous prankster Aron Kay to hit Joe Nellis, chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, with a pie as he gave his keynote address. “Keith paid me for the pie,” Aron recalls. “I only had a quarter, and he gave me $4 dollars. I got a lemon meringue pie.”
Stroup downplayed the plan after Kay let the word get around. But the next afternoon, as Aron sat with the pie, Nellis asserted that international law, in the form of the UN Single Convention Against Marijuana, superseded the US Constitution. Aron, seeing red, ran up to the speaker and let fly with the lemon meringue. In the resulting uproar, the conference coordinator Marc Kurzman took the microphone and denounced Stroup as the provocateur. A few days later, a Bourne aide who had been sitting next to Nellis fired off an indignant letter on White House stationary to stress the severity of the issue. Bob Angarola, general counsel to the Office of Drug Abuse Policy stated clearly that he was “upset…at the unfortunate pie incident”.
“I think they wanted Marc Kurzman to run NORML” stated a bitter Keith Stroup later in New Times Magazine “I told Bourne aides to pass on to their boss, a threat” that was as dangerous to Bourne as Kurzman’s had been to Stroup. He implied that he knew about the recreational drug preferences of certain senior White House aides. He also suggested that those preferences could end up in the newspapers so that the threat could “hit home”.
Stroup then took the offensive, launching the great ‘Paraquat Panic of 1978’, a publicity assault depicting a government resolved to poison those it could no longer afford to imprison. The tide finally turned when Stroup leaked to the press knowledge of Bourne’s drug habits. Bourne was first busted falsifying the Quaalude prescription, then the Washington Post broke the story on July 19 of 1978 that Dr. Peter Bourne was under investigation in Prince William County, Virginia, setting off a number of political mines.
Bourne had been informed of the script investigation a week earlier and took a leave of absence from the White House, with pay, the morning after the news hit the papers. He was determined to stay on, convinced, along with his White House superiors, that he could weather the storm. He probably could have considering the Quaaludes were not for himself nor for monetary gain. It was embarrassing for the head of the nation’s drug abuse office but it wasn’t akin to Burt Lance’s ‘sticky-fingered’ loan [embezzlement]. Supportive stories appeared within hours, quoting doctors who said the writing of pseudonymous prescriptions was a frequent practice, especially among the rich and influential. The investigation came to a close and it appeared that Bourne would survive.
But that night everything changed with the almost simultaneous publication by [former OSS China Agent] Jack Anderson and the Washington Post of charges that Bourne had been seen by a number of people at a NORML party the previous December; snorting cocaine and toking marijuana. The stories that Stroup had planted months earlier with his allies in the media now blossomed in the summer heat. Bourne and the White House were besieged by questions from reporters: How much dope was there in the White House? Did President Carter get dope from Bourne? How were Gregg Allman and Phil Walden Involved? The New York Daily News, which had run the Quaalude investigation on page 3, now ran the new story on the front page with a 3-inch headline: “Pot, Coke, Tied to Carter Aides”.
The next morning, Bourne resigned – not because of his naïve script mistake, but because of the massive paranoia paralyzing Carter partisans, who assumed the nation would be outraged that a presidential advisor was using cocaine and marijuana. Drugs for pleasure by one who was supposed to be above such things. Worse still, Bourne, in the classic pattern of the exposed individual, turned himself and other aides in, for marijuana and cocaine use. Keith Stroup would receive retribution a few weeks later when NORML chapters across the country voted against his leadership for snitching on a fellow marijuana user, even if that person happened to be Peter Bourne.
Peter Bensinger and the advocates for a total marijuana crackdown were gloriously triumphant; the office of the White House drug advisor itself was simply abolished to make way for total DEA control. The message was clear; elected officials and their appointees were too corruptible to be trusted with drugs, their power was to be given to the keepers of the sacred flame of Law Enforcement.
As was universally recognized at the time, Carter’s actual concession to hardliners lay in sacking marijuana decriminalization completely. After all, official concern with the fate of one fun loving physician paled in comparison to the bureaucratic interests of the DEA’s 80% appropriations increase for enforcing marijuana prohibition. The outcome of the Bourne Affair resulted in even more serious implications for Stroup: the question of how a Virginia Pharmaceutical Inspector, later found to be a DEA agent, happened to be at the small suburban drugstore to intercept Bourne’s forged Quaalude prescription.
Bourne and the White House had successfully stonewalled the press about Walden in 1976 but the expose by Stroup with Jack Anderson’s help seemed to threaten a firestorm of further charges. The intent of the exposing the drug czar’s involvement in the Quaalude incident became very clear to the press, the charges that Phil Walden used cocaine to fund Carter’s 1976 campaign, previously dismissed as incompatible with a ‘born-again Christian’ presidency, instantly became credible. The story was immediately reopened for investigation by a series of Michael Novak articles in the New York Post.
The threat of exposure by the original campaign finance scandal, originally only known to a small inner circle and the DEA, suddenly became real. With the appointment in December of Phil Walden to the advisory board of NORML, the organization completed its transformation from a marijuana lobby to a campaign committee dedicated to marijuana liberalization through a second Carter term. Unfortunately it was too little too late and Stroup’s damage was done. Dr. Bourne, whose tenure had largely become identified with the abolition of marijuana prohibition, was replaced overnight by DEA hardliner Peter Bensinger, who was already noteworthy for proposing stiffer penalties for marijuana than PCP.
A backlash of recriminations about the ethics of continuing to probe the personal use of drugs, which many reporters had used themselves, stopped the flow of leaks before it spread from the toppling of [the drug czar] to calling into question the [legitimacy] of Carter’s 1976 victory. Bourne’s regrettable involvement with [cocaine] did not turn out to be the last time the Carter camp would be involved in a cocaine scandal. As the first shock of from the discovery of the falsified Quaalude prescription was about to hit the White House on June 28 of 1976, Ham Jordan was being recorded doing lines at Studio 54. He would become the next major player in the unfolding cocaine scandal.
The Jimmy Carter Cocaine Scandals, triggered by NORML and Keith Stroup, would lead to a series of other scandals of the Democratic Party throughout the late 70’s and early 1980’s perpetrated by the FBI and DEA called ABSCAM. This scandal, along with the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan would ultimately lead to the fall of the Carter Presidency and the election of Ronald Reagan by the Christian Coalition in 1980. Ronald Reagan and the Republicans would lead the largest Anti-Marijuana campaign in the country’s history, going far beyond Harry Anslinger and Richard Nixon’s anti-marijuana programs with arrests for drug offenses rising 126% after 1980.
Current Vice President and lead politician for the national police union, Joe Biden, would help Reagan with the introduction of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, creating mandatory minimum sentencing, civil asset forfeiture for drug related crimes, and increased federal penalties for the cultivation, possession or transfer of marijuana leading to the arrests and incarcerations of millions of American citizens for marijuana possession. Biden is still considered “the head of the police union” in Washington DC and despite appearances, shares little trust with President Barack Obama, a silent advocate of marijuana decriminalization.
Keith Stroup would go on to create the ‘defend-and-abandon’ model for marijuana crimes as executive director of the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), defrauding the helpless growers through intentionally inadequate legal representation. Stroup would later retake power over the NORML Board of Directors in 1994, and would force the resignation of Executive Director Richard Cowan in 1995. Stroup would ‘retire’ in January 2005, citing the need for ‘new blood’ alluding to a transfer of power from himself to other organizations like Americans For Safe Access and the NORML Legal Counsel to continue his legacy of fraud and manipulation over the national marijuana movement.
Merry Christmas and a Happy Chanukkah!
- The Green Chazzan