As the 1970s drew to a close, Anthony Dokoupil saw his business changing. Though pot was still legal as the 1970s dawned, Nixon cracked down on the drug. But the Carter Administration brought winds of change. There's just one other stretch on Gallup's graph above where support for legalization has grown as quickly as it has in recent years: 1969 to 1978.
In 1972, a presidential commission recommended decriminalization; more than 30 states reduced penalties for possession; and the editors of both The New York Times and National Review called for decriminalization. In 1976, the elder Dokoupil realized the biggest threat to his business wasn't a jail term but legalization: "He imagined the Marlboro company flipping a switch to produce Marlboro Greens, the first mass-market marijuana cigarette, and it occurred to him that there weren't many people making money off moonshine these days." In August 1977, Jimmy Carter himself told Congress he supported ending all federal penalties for marijuana possession up to one ounce.
If that sounds familiar, you're not imagining things. In 2014, the editors of National Review have endorsed legalization. Carnegie Mellon professor and legalization expert Jonathan Caulkins worries about the dangerous effects of Big Tobacco capturing the marijuana business as more states adopt legalization. And while the Obama Administration hasn't gone quite as far as the Carter White House, the president has been frank about his own past use and, his team has has decided to stay out of the way of state-level legalization—at least for now.
In Dokoupil's telling, the high-water mark was a Christmas party thrown in 1977 by NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Guests included the founder of High Times, a variety of journalists from traditional media organizations, Hunter S. Thompson, NORML founder Keith Stroup, and Peter Bourne. Bourne, a British-born physician and Vietnam veteran, was the Carter Administration's point man on drug policy. Though he had a reputation as a reformer, Tony Dokoupil reports that even those present were surprised when Bourne was offered cocaine and calmly took two hits from a fancy twist-top dispenser. Bourne has always denied taking coke at the party, but the incident was widely witnessed and, later reported.
"My God, man, we'll all be indicted," Thompson exclaimed.
Instead, Bourne was caught writing a prescription under a false name several months later. Reporters got a whiff, so to speak, of the party story and both Jack Anderson and The Washington Post reported the story, forcing Bourne's resignation in June 1978. (He's since gone on to an entertainingly eclectic career as a UN official, Castro biographer, and elderly distance runner.) His exit cast Carter's loose drug policies in a darker light as the president's political fortunes were flagging.