January 20, 1973, was a cold, overcast, gloomy day in Washington, a dismal day for all those who opposed Richard Nixon. At noon Nixon took the oath of office for the second time and then led a heavily guarded motorcade back down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. A few blocks away, Keith Stroup and his NORML colleagues were among the tens of thousands chanting, dope-smoking, anti-war, anti-Nixon demonstrators who marched in a "counterinaugural" parade that culminated with defiant rhetoric at the Washington Monument.
One of Stroup's companions that morning was his friend Joe Sharp, the red-haired drug dealer who had turned him on to marijuana three years earlier and had since gone underground, a fugitive from a marijuana charge in Virginia. Joe Sharp's appearance was somehow symbolic of the uncertain future that NORML and all the political left faced that gloomy Saturday morning. Stroup and his friends were not fugitives, but their immediate prospects did not seem a great deal brighter than Joe Sharp's.
The election had proved that the political center was further to the right than most liberals had been willing to admit. The revolution wasn't coming. The reality was Nixon, and the only hope for reform was a straight, middle-class approach. For Stroup, Schott, and others at NORML it was a time to stop tripping, to cut their hair, to watch their rhetoric, to mind their manners. Bob Dylan had said it years before: You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Still, two winds were blowing as the new year began. Large forces were at work, poised for confrontation. On the one hand, the forces of reform were gathering momentum. The Marijuana Commission's report was a rallying point not only for smokers but for many lawyers, scientists, parents, politicians, and civil and religious leaders who were impressed by its conclusions. Yet, in opposition, there remained the seemingly immovable object of Richard Nixon, politically supreme and unyieldingly opposed to reform.
It was war. Marijuana arrests had risen year after year as the conflict escalated; in 1973 they would exceed 420,000. It was a war and as in the one in Vietnam, new weapons were constantly being introduced. The anti-skyjacking searches at the nation's airports were resulting in twice as many arrests for marijuana as for weapons, and narcotics agents were starting to use police dogs to sniff out marijuana in the nation's high schools. The newly-formed Drug Enforcement Administration was Washington's fastest-growing agency; it had an army, a navy, an air force (as, increasingly, did the nation's drug smugglers). As this zealous new bureaucracy was challenged by the reformers, it fought back, like any bureaucracy, with more arrests, more raids, higher body counts.
One night in April of 1973, Herbert Joseph Giglotto, a boilermaker, and his wife, Louise, were asleep in their suburban house in Collinsville, Illinois, when armed men broke into their bedroom. Giglotto later recalled, "I got out of bed; I took about three steps, looked down the hall, and I saw men running up the hall dressed like hippies with pistols, yelling and screeching. I turned to my wife. 'God, honey, we're dead."' The intruders threw Giglotto down on his bed, held a loaded gun to his head, tore the house apart, and warned, "You're going to die unless you tell us where the stuff is." Then the leader of the raiders said, "We've made a mistake," and the men departed.
The raiders were from ODALE, the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement, a special White House-directed agency that Richard Nixon created when he could not prod other federal agencies to enforce the drug laws as vigorously as he desired. In their zeal ODALE'S warrantless raiders often raided the wrong houses. In the aftermath of the Giglotto raid the New York Times reported there had been hundreds of similar raids across America, during which at least three innocent citizens were killed. (A jury later acquitted the men who terrorized the Giglottos, apparently because they felt such errors were justified in the name of vigorous law enforcement.)
Nixon's concern about drug-law enforcement was largely political. Having run for president in 1968 on a law-and-order platform, Nixon believed he needed tangible proof of an anti-crime crusade to be reelected in 1972. Unfortunately, the federal government has very little crime-fighting responsibility. Nixon therefore looked to drug control as an area in which the federal government had some authority and one, also, that would be politically popular. One of the masterminds of Nixon's war on drugs was the ineffable G. Gordon Liddy, whose projects included Operation Intercept, in September of 1969, wherein tens of thousands of tourists were searched at the Mexican border in a crackdown on smuggling. Few drugs were found, and thousands of tourists were forced to sit in the hot sun for up to six hours, but Liddy was not discouraged. Another of his pet projects was ODALE, a two-fisted, gun-toting outfit, undeterred by formalities such as search warrants.
Eventually, after a congressional investigation into its abuses, ODALE as such was disbanded, but it set the tone for the Nixon administration's attitude toward drugs and drug users: all-out, unconditional war. The Supreme Court, venturing onto the field of battle, sided with Nixon's law-and-order forces. In a six-to-three decision it upheld the power of police to search people who had been stopped for minor traffic violations. One of the cases involved a man who was stopped for driving without a license and was found to possess several marijuana cigarettes. Justices Douglas, Marshall, and Brennan dissented, calling the decision a betrayal of the Constitution.
As in all wars, it became increasingly hard for the civilian populace to remain unaligned. As more and more people were arrested, an increasing number of individuals and groups felt obliged to take a stand. Indeed, such glimmers of hope as the reformers saw in the early months of 1973 had mainly to do with the growing number of voices calling for reform. The National Education Association, the National Council for Churches, and the Central Conference for American Rabbis, for example, all called for decriminalization. The two most important endorsements, however, came from Consumers' Union and the American Bar Association.
Consumers' Union's 632-page report, "Licit and Illicit Drugs," called for the immediate decriminalization, and eventual legalization, of marijuana. As Stroup saw it, the CU report had bitten the political bullet that the Marijuana Commission had avoided. The commission clung to the idea that marijuana use might fade away, and therefore saw decriminalization as the end of reform, but CU declared that marijuana was here to stay and there should therefore be "an orderly system of legal distribution and licit use."
The ABA's call for decriminalization at its 1973 meeting in Washington was the result of several factors, one of which was an intensive lobbying effort by NORML. Frank Fioramonti, NORML'S legislative counsel and a member of the ABA's committee on alcoholism and drug reform, managed to get a decriminalization resolution on the agenda for the annual meeting. He brought in a dozen young lawyers to lobby actively among the several hundred delegates to the convention. This effort, plus support for decriminalization by the ABA's president-elect, Chesterfield Smith, and its past president, Whitney North Seymour, was enough to pass the resolution by a vote of 122 to 70. The vote came despite the argument of one lawyer, who said he spoke for the U.S. Army's judge advocate's office, that marijuana had been responsible for untold violence by drug-crazed GIs in Vietnam.
The ABA endorsement was of particular importance because of its well-known conservatism and its prestige among lawyers and state legislators. Another endorsement from the right came when William F. Buckley, Jr., put himself and his National Review on record in favor of decriminalization. Buckley's conversion came about because of the efforts of a young Texan named Richard Cowan, who showed up at NORML's door one day in 1972 and told Stroup he was a Yale graduate, a conservative, an aspiring writer, and a smoker who wanted to do something for reform.
Cowan was short-haired and neatly dressed, not the typical NORML volunteer, and Stroup was suspicious: It was always possible he was a narc. But, as with other volunteers, he gave him a menial job, to see if he really wanted to work. Cowan's job was to read and respond to the prison letters that came in daily. Soon after he started, Cowan stumbled into Stroup's office in tears, overcome by the prisoners' stories. Well, Stroup thought, if he's a narc, he's a soft-hearted one.
Cowan in time reported that he was personally close to Bill Buckley and was working on a pro-marijuana piece for the National Review. Stroup remained skeptical, but one day that winter Cowan rushed into his office with the journal, which had a cover picture of a dozen young people being booked on marijuana charges and a headline announcing that the time for marijuana-law reform had come. Buckley had not only printed Cowan's article but had added his own editorial declaring that he agreed entirely with Cowan that there was no justification for jailing marijuana smokers. Buckley went on to confess that he had himself tried marijuana, but only, he explained, on his sailboat, outside the three-mile territorial limit, where U.S. laws did not apply. He added, "To tell the truth, marijuana didn't do a thing for me."
The Buckley-Cowan statement soon moved conservative columnist James J. Kilpatrick to join the call for decriminalization and to declare, "I don't give a hoot about marijuana, but I care about freedom!" To both Buckley and Kilpatrick the marijuana issue turned on the question of personal freedom, the right of the individual to be left alone by big government, and they had the intellectual honesty to take a position they knew would offend many of their conservative followers.
Buckley's conversion to decriminalization contributed indirectly to an extremely important alliance that Stroup formed in 1973. Soon after Buckley spoke out, he decided to devote one of his Firing Line television programs to the marijuana issue. Having taken a controversial stand, Buckley wanted to justify it to his fellow conservatives, and for his star witness he chose Dr. Thomas Bryant, the handsome and articulate president of a new, eminently respectable private institution called the Drug Abuse Council.
The Drug Abuse Council was created in 1971 by the Ford Foundation, which is both extremely rich and cautiously liberal. (It was, in effect, the liberal establishment's government in exile during the Nixon years.) This action reflected the Ford Foundation's concern about the nation's ever-widening drug-abuse problemheroin in the slums, tranquilizers in the suburbs, marijuana and hallucinogens on the campusesand its fear that the Nixon administration would react to the problem only with negative, law-and-order programs. The Drug Abuse Council was to be a specialized think tank, an independent voice evaluating drug programs and recommending public policy. Because of political pressures, law-enforcement officials had always dominated government drug policy, and moderates had been afraid to speak out. The Drug Abuse Council was intended to correct this imbalance.
As head of the council the Ford Foundation picked Tom Bryant, who was in his early forties and had degrees in both law and medicine and experience in the federal anti-poverty program. It also saddled him with an ultraconservative board of directors, one that one scientist said "didn't know marijuana from heroin, but knew that it didn't want to be embarrassed." At first Bryant moved carefully, sponsoring fellowships and academic studies, but he was under pressure from his young, liberal staff to do more on the marijuana issue, and that was his own instinct as well.
Then came the invitation for Tom Bryant to discuss marijuana on William Buckley's television show. Bryant was glad to accept, for it was the kind of exposure that was good for him and for the council. But on the afternoon of December 20, the day before he was to tape the Buckley show, Bryant became alarmed. He wasn't sure he knew enough about all the legal, medical, and political complexities of the marijuana issue to discuss it for a half hour on television. His staff had brought him scores of books, memos, and policy papers on marijuanafar too many to do him any good. He needed a briefing from an expert, and one of his project officers, a young woman named Jane Silver, had an idea: Why didn't they ask Keith Stroup to come in and brief Bryant?
At that point Stroup knew Bryant only casually. They were very different types: the freewheeling pot lobbyist and the cautious foundation executive. But Stroup had already become friendly with several members of Bryant's staff, including Jane Silver; Bob Carr, a forty-year-old former college professor who was the council's top writer; and Mathea Falco, a lawyer and Senate aide who would later have a top drug policy job in the Carter administration.
Silver called Stroup, who raced the six blocks from NORML'S shabby row house on M Street to the Drug Abuse Council's elegant suite of offices in the high-rent district of L Street and gave Bryant an intensive three-hour briefing. The next day Bryant taped the Buckley program, and when it was shown, in early January, everyone agreed he had done very well. Thus was born the NORML-Drug Abuse Council alliance.
The incident underscored a basic fact about the drug-policy field in those days: If you wanted to deal with the marijuana issue, you had to deal with Stroup, because he simply knew more about it than anyone else. In Washington, as elsewhere, knowledge is power. Traditionally in Washington there is some obscure congressional aide or bureaucrat who has become the world's leading expert on any given issue, so his boss can appear wise on that issue when the need arises. But since no such government expert existed on the marijuana issue, that role fell to Stroup by default.
In mid-1973 Bryant joined NORML'S advisory board and thus lent his and the Ford Foundation's prestige and credibility to the dope lobby. He also made Stroup a $200-a-month consultant to the councilnot an insignificant amount of money to Stroup in those days. Most important, the council began giving grants of up to $30,000 a year to NORML'S "nonpolitical" spinoff, the Center for the Study of Non-Medical Drug use. Money given to the center was used for such "nonpolitical" purposes as lawsuits, publishing costs, and the like, which of course freed other NORML money for its political activities. Indirectly, the council was subsidizing NORML'S political and legislative program, helping NORML do things that the council thought needed doing but that it legally could not do.
The alliance benefited both parties. It gave NORML money, credibility, and increased access to the ultra-respectable scientists and policy makers who clustered around the council. For Bryant, alliance with NORML was a move to the left. As Stroup saw it, NORML had, in effect, become the political arm of the Drug Abuse Council. It was a delicate arrangement, given the tax laws and the Ford Foundation's sensitivity to criticism that it was subsidizing liberal political causes, but it was one that for several years was crucial to NORML'S success.
NORML had a flurry of publicity in January of 1973, first a news story in the Washington papers, then a major article in The New York Times Magazine. The first came about when Stroup, Schott, and Dinah Trachtman invaded the New Senate Office Building one Monday afternoon carrying large cardboard boxes that contained several hundred small plastic bags of a chopped-up, greenish-brown substance that looked very much like marijuana.
Guards stopped Stroup and company at the door and insisted on inspecting the boxes. When the guards spied the mysterious weed, they said the visitors could not enter without first getting approval from higher authority.
Stroup put on a great show of indignation, insisting that he and his friends had a constitutional right to enter, that they were peacefully petitioning their elected representatives. The guards were unimpressed, and some pushing, shoving, and shouting ensued. The Stroup whispered to Dinah to find a phone and call the newspapers, and he and Schott took off down the corridor with the guards in hot pursuit. They eventually took refuge in Sen. Charles Percy's office, where Stuart Statler, their friend from the Product Safety Commission, was working.
When this Keystone Kops scene had run its course, reason prevailed, and the NORML forces were permitted to deliver a bag to each member of Congress. An attached letter explained what it was all about:Dear Congressman:The letter went on to give some facts from the Marijuana Commission's report and to urge support of the Hughes-Javits-Koch decriminalization bill. That bill never got anywhere, but Stroup's bag stunt did get NORML some free publicity. His knock at tobacco also inspired a North Carolina congressman to demand a chemical analysis of the substance in the bags, to make sure it really wasn't marijuana after all.
THE ENCLOSED BAGGIE DOES NOT CONTAIN MARIJUANA! Actually, it contains tobacco, a legal but potentially more harmful drug. If the contents were marijuana, you would be subject to criminal arrest!...
The Times Magazine article, which appeared on January 21, dealt in part with a trip Stroup had made to Texas the previous month.
Texas was then one of two states in the Union (Rhode Island was the other) where simple possession of marijuana was a felony, punishable by up to life imprisonment. Nor were the Texas laws an idle threat. There were some seven hundred young men in Texas prisons for simple possession of marijuana, serving average sentences of about ten years. Thirty had sentences of thirty years or more, and thirteen had been sentenced to life. Half of the seven hundred marijuana prisoners were first offenders, and a third were younger than twenty-two.
In other states reformers were trying to reduce marijuana penalties from a misdemeanor to a civil finedecriminalizationbut in Texas the effort was still to reduce the penalty for possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. A bill to do that had failed in 1972, and a new bill was to be introduced early in 1973. It was to support that bill that Stroup made his trip to Austin, the state capital.
Stroup's visit to Texas was fairly typical of his work in many states at that point. He had four target groups: the legislature, the media, NORML supporters, and prisoners in the state prison.
The first night, he met with Steve Simon, NORML'S Texas coordinator, and eight or ten other supporters. They sat around someone's apartment smoking and talking about what was happening in Texas and elsewhere. Simon had written NORML a year earlier, angry about the use of lie detectors by the state government to determine if job applicants smoked marijuana; he had gone on to be one of NORML'S most active coordinators.
The next day, Stroup met with two young men who were central to the reform effort in Texas: Griffin Smith, a lawyer and legislative aide, and Ron Waters, a modish, twenty-two-year-old legislator from Houston who had been elected on a pro-marijuana platform. (Asked if he smoked, Waters replied smoothly, "That's irrelevant.") To these two reformers Stroup was valuable as a source of information on strategies in other states, and as a source of expert witnesses. Anyone who was trying to reform the marijuana laws in Texas needed all the help he could get, and a major source of Stroup's power was his ability to produce witnesses like Dr. Whipple and Dr. Grinspoon.
Stroup gave numerous newspaper and television interviews while he was in Texas. He got a good press, partly because he was articulate and statistic-laden, partly because he said things that were still shocking in Texas (that he smoked marijuana and liked it), and partly, it appeared, because most of the young reporters who interviewed him had reason to support his cause.
Finally, on Saturday morning, Stroup, Waters, and a UPI reporter named Jurate Kazickas, who was a tall, stunning blonde, arrived at the Ferguson unit of the Texas prison system, a large, modern facility located near Huntsville, in central Texas. They were greeted by a polite young assistant warden who had arranged for them to meet with several young men serving sentences there on marijuana charges. Stroup's purpose in being there was to gain publicity, to encourage the prisoners, and to gather material that might be used for articles or radio tapes.
Eventually they settled down in the assistant warden's office for a talk with ten prisoners serving time for marijuana. Stroup, grandstanding, tried to bully the young assistant warden a bit: Did he think it was right that these men were locked up for smoking a harmless weed? But the young prison official only replied, very politely, that it was a shame, but he reckoned the law had to be enforced. The prisoners were anxious to know about the chances for a new law in Texas andthe crucial point for themif reduced penalties might be made to apply retroactively to those already in jail. Stroup and Waters told them what they could, and then asked each prisoner to tell his story.
One was a husky, twenty-year-old Mexican American named Pete Trevino, who said he had grown up in an orphanage and was about to enter college on a football scholarship when he was convicted of selling several ounces of marijuana. By his account, the judge, noting that he was an orphan, said, "Son, we'll give you a home," and sentenced him to forty years.
Another was Frank York, a very straight young man from a small town, married and the father of two daughters, plump and balding at twenty-one, who had been a cemetery-lot salesman before being sentenced to five years for his second conviction for possession of a few ounces.
Another was Coy Whitten, a handsome man of twenty-nine, married and a college graduate, who was serving twelve years for possession.
It went on like that. The prisoners told depressingly similar stories: widespread marijuana use among their friends; an "it can't happen to me" attitude; arrest by undercover agents; headline-seeking prosecutors; and finally conviction, wives and children left behind, and the incredible reality of long, long sentences.
Almost to a man they declared, despite the presence of the assistant warden, that they believed they'd one nothing wrong, that it was the law that was wrong, and that they'd smoke again when they got out.
Another prisoner they talked to that day was Frank Demolli, who was twenty years old and had been eighteen and a freshman at the University of Texas when he was arrested. Demolli was not one of the All-American boys whom Stroup from time to time uncovered and publicizedthe student-body president who got two years for one joint. No, Demolli had been a campus hippie who'd been dealing marijuana and other drugs and had been caught red-handed with twenty-one pounds of weed. His red hair was trimmed short in prison, but it had been long, shoulder length, when he went to trial; that had been one of the several mistakes that had led to his downfall. He was five feet seven and weighed about 120 pounds. He wore glasses and was rather homely, with a sad, owlish face that had become only sadder and more owlish in prison, where he lived in constant fear of being beaten, raped, or murdered by larger, more violent inmates.
Demolli's father was a noncommissioned officer in the air force, and Frank had lived all over the world and had read more books than most college freshmen. That was another part of his problem: Until he entered prison, most of his ideas about the world came from books. He was the kind of kid who would read The Prophet or The Way of a Pilgrim and confuse the way the world ought to be with the way it is. He had gone to high school in Germany for three years and then graduated from a high school in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he was on the school wrestling team. It was in South Dakota that he was first exposed to drugs. Having great faith in books, he read a book called The Marijuana Papers, concluded that marijuana would not hurt him, and began smoking marijuana and using LSD.
He decided to enroll in the University of Texas because he had been born in Texas, when his father was stationed there, and because he had a romantic notion of Texas as an exciting, wide-open place where he could make new friends and seek new truths. When he arrived in Austin, in September of 1970, he found that everyone he met was into marijuana and LSD. His first day there, someone sold him ten tabs of LSD for $20; he resold them at a profit, and his career as a dealer was begun. Soon he met another freshman called Laredo Slim, who was from the border town of Laredo and knew a dope-smoking border guard there, a Vietnam veteran, who would bring marijuana across from Mexico for half the profits. Soon Demolli and his friend Danny were buying twenty pounds from Laredo Slim every other weekend. They were middle men, buying a pound from Slim for $85, then selling it for $100: easy money, and free dope, too.
Of course, it wasn't just the money. Demolli believed in marijuana, believed it was a path to truth and awareness. Perhaps more important, being a dealer gave him an identity. The University of Texas was a very large, very rich university, with its social life dominated by sororities and fraternities; Demolli, a funny-looking little guy from South Dakota, was never going to make that scene, but by dealing and by letting his red hair grow long, he soon became a character in the freak scene, the hippie scene, and that was all he needed. Some years later he tried to capture what it had been like.
"We had fought against the war together, grown our hair long, balled our brains out, immobilized ourselves with Panamanian red, Mexican dirt weed, Colombian gold, Oaxacan, Michoacan, touched God with orange barrel, blotter, and clear light. We were all part of the Austin scene in January, 1971. We were outlaws with cars screaming down the drag, drivers yelling out to passersby, 'What is truth?' Some of us were sure we were on to something with LSD and marijuana. Even as we saw the scene deteriorate into guns, speed, smack, and rip-offs, we still believed love and peace could come out of dope. University life was wide open in those days. No one gave a screw about school. Just dope, women, the Armadillo, music, and going out to the country."
Frank Demolli's fantasy world began to crumble on the afternoon of January 7, 1971, when he and his partner Danny drove to the Greyhound station to pick up a shipment of dope from Laredo Slim. Other times, they had gone to Mexico themselves, made the big deal, felt the excitement of outfoxing the border guards, been big shots flashing their money and telling their ladies to take all the dope they wanted. But this time they were in a hurry, so they'd asked Slim to ship their twenty-one pounds up by bus. Demolli marched up to the package desk, flashed his fake ID, signed for the package, and carried it back out to Danny's green Camaro. They were congratulating each other on another successful mission when a black Chevy squealed to a halt beside them and the two men jumped out and pointed guns at their heads and yelled, "Up against the wall, you motherfuckers."
The next thing Frank Demolli knew his bail had been set at $20,000 and he was in the drunk tank of the county jail. The local media proclaimed the capture of two major drug dealers.
Soon he had a lawyer, one who was sent to him by his codefendant, Danny. The lawyer assured him that he could take care of his case, that the search was probably illegal, that at worst they could get him off with probation, but there was the question of money: five thousand dollars, in fact, if the case went to trial. The lawyer seemed to think Demolli, being a drug dealer, had plenty of money. He didn't, but he scraped up $500, and the lawyer got him out on bail. Soon he was driving a cab to try to earn money for his legal fees. When that didn't bring enough money, he returned to dealing. As the spring progressed and he awaited trial, Demolli was dealing more than ever before, this time with all the profits going to his lawyer. Once he hitchhiked to Tucson to buy some marijuana and cocaine. A friend wired him $300 to make the deal. When he went to Western Union to pick up his money, a seedy-looking guy came up and started talking to him and asked if he was looking for weed. Demolli was suspicious, but the fellow quoted a good price, so he finally went with him and his skinny girl friend to see a dealer. But the seedy-looking guy, who called himself Jess, said he would have to take the $300 and Frank would have to wait in the car. Frank protested, but Jess said the skinny girl, Donna, would wait with him, and from the way Donna was rubbing up against him, it looked as though it might be an exciting wait. So they waited five or ten minutes, and the girl was talking about meeting him later, and finally she said she'd go see what was keeping Jess. And she disappeared.
It was another ten or twenty minutes before Demolli could face the fact that he'd been ripped off. His new friends were gone, and his $300 was gone with them. He was so furious that he went to the police to report a swindle. The police laughed at him.
Demolli's lawyer had got his bond reduced to $5000, but for some reason it was raised back to $20,000 and he was forced to return to the county jail. He turned himself in, carrying copies of the Bhagavad-Gita, The Joyous Cosmology, and his German textbook. Most of his fellow inmates were also there on drug charges, and it was on that tour of the county jail that he first saw a rape, two tough speed freaks ganging up on a high-school kid who'd been busted when a traffic cop found an ounce of weed in his glove compartment. Demolli was in for a week before his lawyer got his bond reduced again, and he vowed then that he'd never go back. He'd run first, become a fugitive. Still, his lawyer kept telling him not to worry.
He dropped out of school, kept dealing, kept driving a cab, kept giving all his money to his lawyer, and finally in May his case came to trial. By then he had given a lot of thought to his trial. He had decided, for one thing, that he would not cut his shoulder-length red hair. By leaving his hair long, he would show the jury that he was being honest with them. Then, when he explained to the jury that all marijuana did was make you giggle, that the government's scare stories were false, the jury would believe him. He had decided, too, that after he had explained to the jury how harmless marijuana was, and after they had given him probation, he would thank them and promise them that he was going to quit smoking marijuana. He had decided it wasn't worth the hassle. His education was more important, he wanted to get his degree in social work. He'd had enough of Texas, however; as soon as the trial was over he was going to fly to Germany and see his parents and enter college there. Maybe he would come back to Texas later, but for now there was just too much hassle, too much madness.
The morning of his trial, Demolli realized he didn't even own a suit, so he borrowed one from a friend. The only trouble was that his friend was three inches taller and sixty pounds heavier, so Demolli, in his baggy suit and with his long red hair, looked rather like Bozo the Clown. He and his friends broke up with laughter. Oh, well, he thought, it'll give the jury something to laugh about.
When he got to his lawyer's office, he had his first surprise of the day. His lawyer said he'd decided not to let him testify. Demolli guessed that was all right. He'd never liked the idea of pleading innocent: Since he was obviously guilty, that seemed dishonest. He was sorry he wouldn't get a chance to explain to the jury about marijuana, how it was just a giggle, but he guessed it didn't matter. Probation was probation, no matter how you got it.
Demolli's next surprise came when prospective jurors were being questioned. The assistant prosecutor asked if any of them would object to sending a person to prison for life for possession of even a seed of marijuana, if that was the law. A few said they would object, and they were excused.
The next surprise came when the flamboyant local district attorney appeared to argue the case himself. In his opening statement he talked about the defendants as purveyors of corruption, men who tried to pervert children, men who made money off a vile substance that was spreading like a cancer through society, leading to heroin, to untold human tragedy. Demolli began to feel some concern. It did not sound like the statement of a prosecutor who would agree to probation. Still, the jury couldn't possibly believe all that junk about perverting children and about marijuana's leading to heroin. Marijuana was just a giggle.
There were only a few witnesses. The arresting officers said someone at Greyhound had smelled the marijuana and called them. They brought out the twenty-one one-pound bags and piled them on the prosecution table, a veritable mountain of marijuana.
Demolli's lawyer called no witnesses. Demolli took this as proof that they had the probation all locked up. Instead he made a brief summation. He said his client was sorry for what he had done, and he asked the jury to act with compassion.
Then the prosecutor got up. His cowboy boots clicked on the floor as he paced restlessly back and forth before the jury. He shouted that Demolli said he was sorry, but he had refused to say where he had got the twenty-one pounds of marijuana. That was true; when he was arrested, Demolli had said it was against his code of honor to cause trouble for anyone else.
The prosecutor said Demolli might look young and innocent, but he was in truth a pusher, the kind who hangs around the junior high schools luring Austin's young people into trying marijuana, into lives of corruption.
What should we do with someone who was arrested with twenty-one pounds of that filth? the prosecutor asked. We should put him in prison for forty-two years, he declared, two years for each pound.
Forty-two years, Frank Demolli thought. That's a lot of probation.
This is our chance to show the rest of the country that we Texans can stop the dope traffic, the prosecutor said, to show the dope pushers that we mean business.
The judge gave his instructions, and the jury retired to the jury room. Everyone else left the courtroom, too, and Demolli was alone there with the twenty-one pounds of marijuana. He started to laugh. It was as if the game were over and he could take his toys and go home. Giggling, he walked over and put his ear to the jury-room door. He heard a man say he wanted to give this kid thirty-five years.
But wasn't he a college student? a woman asked.
No, that was just a lie, a man said.
Demolli wondered if he should go into the jury room and set them straight about himself and his case. Just then an elderly bailiff came in and told him to get away from the door. Demolli went over to the bailiff and told him his ideas about marijuana, and asked if the bailiff couldn't see that there was nothing wrong with him.
"I think you're crazier than hell," the bailiff said with a snort, and walked away.
Demolli's lawyer and an assistant prosecutor came back in with cups of coffee. The assistant prosecutor was very friendly, and Demolli could tell from his tone that everything would be all right. They weren't mad at him. It was just a game. They wanted to scare him.
Then the jury came back in. Their foreman was the man who'd been yelling about thirty-five years. He gave the verdict to the judge. The judge read it and summoned Demolli and his lawyer to the bench. Demolli could feel his baggy pants flopping against his legs. The jury foreman gave Demolli an odd smile. Then the judge read the verdict.
"The jury hereby sentences you to no more than twenty-five years in the Texas Department of Corrections."
Demolli's head went light. He couldn't think or speak. His lawyer shook his hand and wished him luck. Someone put handcuffs on him and led him out of the courtroom. It was a fat jailer he'd met when he was arrested. Back then, when he left the jail, he'd told the fat jailer he'd never be back.
"They all come back," the jailer said, as he locked Demolli in the drunk tank.
Twenty-five years, he thought. Why, I'll be forty-three when I get out.
They're trying to scare me, he decided.
Then he began to cry and scream and pound on the steel door.
Eventually he fell asleep.
What Frank Demolli and thousands of other young men like him had no way of understanding was that they had become pawns in the very-high-stakes game of presidential politics. Richard Nixon had, in effect, slammed the cell door on them when he rejected the Marijuana Commission's report and then proceeded to win forty-nine of the fifty states in the 1972 election. If that election seemed to prove anything to would-be presidents, it was that the American people wanted toughness, against rebellious communists in Asia and against rebellious dope smokers at home. Two of the men who hoped to succeed Richard Nixon as president in 1976, Ronald Reagan and Spiro Agnew, were already demonstrably tough on drugs. A third, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, of New York, set out in January of 1973 to demonstrate that he was no less so.
Early in 1973 Rockefeller introduced anti-drug legislation that was by far the most punitive in the nation. His program was directed mainly at "hard" drugs. Possession or sale of heroin, cocaine, or LSD could lead to life in prison. However, the Rockefeller bill defined hallucinogenic drugs in such a way as to include hashish and some of the stronger varieties of marijuana, so that in theory you could go to prison for life for smoking high-quality marijuana. For garden-variety marijuana the Rockefeller bill let stand New York's existing penalties, which allowed one-year prison terms for more than an ounce.
Among the many voices raised against Rockefeller's proposed law were those of NORML'S two men in New York, Guy Archer and Frank Fioramonti. The previous year, once he had got his $100,000 a year guarantee from Playboy, Stroup had proposed that their Lawyers Committee become New York NORML. Archer agreed to leave his law firm and become NORML'S $1000-a-month state director, and Fioramonti continued to work with NORML on a volunteer basis and later became the New York coordinator when Archer moved to Hawaii to reenter private law practice.
NORML deliberately limited its opposition to the provisions of the New York bill relating to marijuana. This was a political decision. Stroup thought it was hard enough to challenge the marijuana laws without taking on the laws on hard drugs as well. He thought, for example, that heroin addiction should be treated as a medical problem, but if he started sounding "pro-heroin," he would alienate politicians who were barely willing to support marijuana reform. It was a joke at NORML that the next step would be NORCL, the National Organization for the Reform of Cocaine Laws, but Stroup thought the next generation of reformers would have to fight that battle.
In time, the provision of the Rockefeller law that made possession of certain forms of hashish and marijuana punishable by life in prison was dropped. Otherwise, Rockefeller got the tough laws he wanted. Eventually the courts would rule much of his law unconstitutional, and state officials would find other parts unworkable, notably the "mandatory minimum sentences" that ruled out plea-bargaining.
Still, the political reality in the spring of 1973 was that the nation's most powerful governor, riding roughshod over liberal objections, had passed the nation's toughest new drug law. There was every reason to think that the Rockefeller law would be the model for new laws in other states, laws that would reflect not the restraint of the Marijuana Commission but the rhetoric of Richard Nixon and the politicians who hoped to succeed him as president.
Then, late that spring, there were unexpected stirrings in the state of Oregon.