Getting High with Hunter S. Thompson

“I have always loved marijuana. It has been a source of joy and comfort to me for many years. And I still think of it as a basic staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruits – and millions of Americans agree with me.” –Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

One of the serendipitous occurrences in my life was meeting the late Hunter S. Thompson, the original Gonzo journalist, in 1972, at the Democratic National Convention in Miami. Hunter was there to cover the event for Rolling Stone magazine and I was there, along with a myriad of other activists, hoping to find a way to get some national attention on the need to legalize marijuana, and to stop arresting marijuana smokers.

I had founded NORML 18 months earlier in late 1970, but few people were yet aware of our work, so we jumped in my 1961 Volkswagon camper, a common set of wheels for a would-be hippie back then, and headed to Miami to join the anti-Vietnam war activists along with proponents for all sorts of social change, from environmentalism to gay rights to workers’ rights, and everything in-between.

At the time, we didn’t have any party connections and we didn’t really have any idea of what was going to happen in Miami; but we made plans to go anyway because the prior Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 had been a watershed moment for American political dissent. In what must be a high point in political street theater, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the Youth International Party (the Yippies) nominated a pig for president, and captured national media attention in the process.

When I met Hunter he was smoking a joint under the bleachers at the opening night of the convention. I was sitting in the stands listening to the speeches when, quite suddenly — and without any question in my mind — I smelled marijuana, and quickly realized it was coming from down below. I looked below the bleachers and what I saw was a fairly big guy smoking a fairly fat joint. He was trying to be discreet, but it wasn’t working very well. I could see him hunkering in the shadows — tall and lanky, flailing his arms and oddly familiar. Jesus Christ, I suddenly realized, that’s Hunter S. Thompson!

Like every other young stoner in America I had read “Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas” as it was serialized a few months earlier in Rolling Stone. Hunter would soon gather great fame for himself, the kind of fame from which one can never look back upon. But on the night I met Hunter, his star was still ascending.

Screw the speeches, I thought to myself.

I quickly found my way under the bleachers and approached as politely as possible.

“Hu-uh – What the fuck?!! Who’re you?!”

“Hey, Hunter. Keith Stroup from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We’re a new smoker’s lobby.” Easy enough.

“Oh. Oh, yeah! Yeah! Here,” Hunter held out his herb, “You want some?”

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17 thoughts

  1. I’ve GOT it! Retinal-Anal-Collecting-Endocannabinoid-Robot-Sentinels! (R.A.C.E.R.S.) The DOJ can deploy these bots into the air as drones and into the water supply to collect everyone’s DNA, measure their endocannabinoid levels then shit them out for the government to dredge up in sewer treatment facilities and public restrooms to control all domestic drug use once and for all!
    The entire North American continent will become a great R.A.C.E.R.S. prison!
    Then we can upgrade to Terminator-R.A.C.E.R.S. called T.R.A.C.E.R.S.! The N.S.A. and the D.E.A. can make a whole ARMY of them. And the A.T.F. can use them to stir up civil wars by selling them to both sides of foreign militaries and rival cartels through contrived drug wars that will never end!
    You hear that Obama? You want my T.R.A.C.E.R.? Come and TAKE it!
    (What the fuck is in my water?)

  2. I have long been a fan on Hunter S. Thompson. He is a fascinating character in American history and I am so jealous that you got to spend time with him. He had an insane lifestyle that I would have loved to witness first hand. This article was a great read, thanks for letting us in on what it was like to be with this amazing man.

  3. Thank you for posting that! Today is my birthday, and it just started with a big smile. Also, a much bigger thank you, Keith, for your dedication to cannabis reform throughout the years. Have a safe and happy fourth of July weekend!

  4. The whole let’s-see-just-how-fucked-up-we-can-get thing just never did it for me.

  5. That is a great story Keith!

    It is incredibly sad for America that so many of our leaders would have Hunter locked in a cage for the lifestyle he has chosen.

    The good news is that, thanks to NORML, that moronic attitude is quickly changing. There are still plenty of total dirtbags in congress but soon, the next few years, they will be replaced with improved versions of themselves!

    I still hold out a great deal of hope that President Obama will do the right thing and advocate for legalization of cannabis before he leaves office. I believe with all my heart that he would just love to smoke one, legally, on a beautiful Hawaiian beach.

  6. Miles, Obama used to be a pothead. But, while he enjoyed it, he didn’t find it as useful as people that actually have an issue that marijuana helps with. Obama is just a narcissist with histrionic tendencies, like many people in our government. He believes his perspective is correct and strength comes from being overly rigid in the way you think. Marijuana helps people think “outside the box”; and while Obama says this is what he supports, he doesn’t. Is he less narcissist and less histrionic than Mitt Romney and George Bush? Yes, but anyone with those issues will have trouble making good decisions on a regular basis.

    The fact he brews beer in the White House, but feels it would be a disgrace to plant marijuana in the White House Garden is very telling as to how much he can lie to himself.

  7. I understand why anybody would be enamored with Hunter S. Thompson. So why did he still ended his own life in the mid-aughts of the 21st century?

    This is where my respect for him ends. His own children may have respected his decision, but what about others who relied on him for aspiration?

    Perseverance is just as important as vision. And Hunter S Thompson just didn’t have the will to persevere.

    Do the latest generation of Americans (the millennials and beyond) even know who Hunter S. Thompson is? The millennials are really important because their support for marijuana legalization is really high and understandably so.

    Hunter S Thompson ended his life before he could have reached this up and coming generation of Americans and that’s really sad. If Hunter had lived, I think he would have made an awesome grandfather.

  8. We better start thinking about turning our prisons into universities when we reschedule marijuana. Otherwise we will have millions of angry, under educated Americans added to the work force with no money or jobs to support themselves. Prison my be perceived as the best option for some, we need to prove it is not. Let’s spend money on education not prisons. It’s time to reverse the damage caused by marijuana prohibition.

  9. @1notfooled; I was born in 85 and have a Gonzo tattoo, I received it from a 1 legged biker at a parlor owned by a hell’s angel (didn’t know this until 8 years later) right after I read HST’s classic about them. HST is huge with millennials thanks to the F&L motion picture, it has become a cult classic. I mean, I met a random stranger in Copenhagen and he started talking to me about HST out of nowhere (both our Gonzo tats were covered btw). He’s still huge, most of my friends have read at least one of his works.

  10. Guys, Thompson was BPD–they are always afraid of loosing control and thus never have it. However, unlike most BPD’s he does deserve a lot of respect because he didn’t internalize the abuse, he shoved everyone’s face into it! He understood Nixon was a source for Evil and that people like him live to abuse other people. When children are abused–they can become emotionally unstable (BPD). People like Nixon with his histrionics, narcissism and antisocial behavior/beliefs are the reason we send good men to die in useless wars and set the police against their own people and protect child rapists in high authority, like the chronic problems the Catholic (Histrionics mostly) Church has with protecting child rapists.

    There would be a whole lot less BPD’s out there abusing drugs and themselves if they had not been abused as children or young adults in the first place!

  11. It would’ve been fun as hell getting shit-faced with Hunter Thompson (and Keith). I know I never would’ve been able to “keep up” with them intellectually, stoned or straight, but sure would’ve had fun trying.

  12. Hunter had a great and productive life. When and how he chose to end it, like Hemingway, was his choice. He lived fast and died that way instead of as a bedridden invalid, as most are condemned to leave this world. He will be remembered for his life, not pitied for the way he died.

  13. @thinmint – HST just isn’t as iconic in his native United States as you think he is.

    @Fat Freddy – Ditto about what I said to thinmint. Although I really don’t blame HST for ending his life early due to any chronic illnesses he may have had. If anything, HST’s life may be a testament to why medical marijuana can be so helpful to those with chronic and/or terminal illnesses.

    @Dave Evans – I totally understand where you are coming from. I’ll just leave it at that.

  14. I hate it when people try to run my life. It is no business of conservatives what I do or don’t do as long as I don’t hurt anyone else or trash our planet. HT is admired not only as a journalist, but as a person who lived his life this way. If we want to be free to use pot or anything else, we need to stop electing conservatives, our little dictators.

  15. Hello I was sorry to hear about Hunter S. Thompson; I thank Hunter for his help towards founding Norml and the Marijuana MMJ movement!
    I did further reading and read this article…
    “The first person I ever saw smoke marijuana,” Charlie Barnet wrote in his memoirs, “was Louis Armstrong…. During an intermission we all went over to hear Louis. He was down in the basement rolling the stuff and I know I had some that night.”

    Marijuana was still legal in most states when Armstrong started using it. Mezzrow remembered how the two of them would “roll our cigarettes right out in the open and light up like you would on a Camel or a Chesterfield…”

    After his bust on Nov. 14, 1930 Armstrong was accused of violating the California Poison Act, which banned marijuana possession. On Dec. 8 he was arraigned and pleaded not guilty. He changed his plea to guilty on March 10, 1931, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Teachout comments:

    California v. Louis Armstrong

    Armstrong recalled that he spent a total of nine days in jail before being released, though his account, taped nearly four decades later, incorrectly suggests that he served this time immediately after his arrest.
    In the name Hunter and Louie: LEGALIZE today!!

  16. Keith, do you know where the Rolling Stone article Tim wrote for our Gaithersburg conference? Wonder if Zinberg, and Sam are still around. I think Tim titled it “Fear and Loathing…
    Enjoyed the conference, what 1974 or so, and thanks for your hospitality at your brownstone, and for coming to Atlanta and hanging out.

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