Last year, Cannabis Culture received copies of a document authored by Tom For?ade, the founder of Trans-High Corporation and High Times magazine. This 1974 document was designed to ensure that Trans-High Corporation remained an activist and essentially non-profit organization, as For?ade had envisioned it. For?ade stipulated that High Times was to be run as a public service by trustees and the Trans-High Corporation (THC), with half its profits going to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Several members of our staff were given information about this story; when we compared notes, we found corroborated allegations that THC may have diverted millions of dollars that should have gone to NORML.
Almost everyone connected with the THC-NORML story insisted on total anonymity. Sources alleged that THC put ghost employees on its payroll and engaged in other maneuvers designed to circumvent For?ade’s instructions.
Cannabis Culture repeatedly tried to get answers from Trans-High’s attorney, Michael Kennedy, but he never returned our phone calls. NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup assured us he would answer specific questions about the matter, but only after the NORML Board had a chance to examine the allegations.
Conflict and fallout
Last issue we ran a short story based on the trust document and reliable anonymous sources; we also put it on our website. I soon received angry emails from senior High Times staff, saying that we had printed “idiotic rumors” and a “bundle of lies”. I was accused of wanting to “bring High Times down.” Yet when I offered to print their letters and let them respond on the record, they stated that their comments were “not for print.” I was told that “at this time we do not wish to respond to any gossip.” It seemed strange that they would condemn our reporting yet refuse to publicly refute it.
Stroup sent out a vague press release, saying that NORML and High Times had “worked cooperatively over many years to oppose marijuana prohibition,” and that the NORML board had decided not to do anything about these “erroneous” reports. He explained that the NORML board was “aware of no factual evidence to support these allegations.”
Yet Dick Cowan, former Executive Director of NORML and a current NORML advisor, stated on his website that “NORML has received nothing from the trust,” and that “it is disturbing to me that during the 3 years that I was National Director of NORML and working regularly with HT [High Times] we were never even told of the existence of the trust, and HT has not been forthcoming in providing the information that could lay to rest any doubts about the matter.”
Cowan echoed underlying reasons that other sources had indicated was behind NORML’s decision not to sue THC: fear of THC and fear of a lengthy lawsuit. NORML had just endured a lengthy internal lawsuit relating to the takeover of the NORML Board of Directors by Dr Lester Grinspoon. Also, Cowan admitted, “it is foolish to get into fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
It’s not like Cowan and NORML couldn’t have used THC’s money. Before and during Cowan’s tenure as NORML Director in the early 1990’s, NORML almost went bankrupt!
We repeatedly asked Stroup to provide full disclosure about the Board’s investigation of the Trust and THC’s handling of the matter, but Stroup’s only response was his press release, and personal attacks against hemp attorney and NORML board member Don Wirtshafter, and Ed Rosenthal, who for 20 years has written the “Ask Ed” column for High Times. Calling the two men “fools who will fall of their own weight,” Stroup said Wirtshafter and Rosenthal were using the Trust fraud allegations for personal gain.
Ed Rosenthal’s response: “Stroup says nasty things about me, but the issue is not me, it’s whether Trans-High Corporation followed For?ade’s estate instructions. NORML should get neutral experts to examine the documents, check the accounting figures and paper trail, and see if NORML is owed money. If NORML is owed money, they should sue. They should also find out if people who diverted the money are guilty of crimes, and see that they are prosecuted. If Stroup says the charges are erroneous, he should fully explain how he came to that conclusion.”
Wirtshafter is a masterful attorney-businessman who started the Ohio Hempery, one of America’s first hemp companies, and is currently at the forefront of hemp-marijuana research and activism in North America and Europe. He said he had been accused of being a source for the original Cannabis Culture article, even though he was not quoted therein. He was frustrated that the NORML Board, of which he is a member, has refused to give him backing to examine the entire For?ade Trust file.
Wirtshafter denied that his interest in the For?ade Trust was motivated by personal gain. “We at NORML owe it to everyone who believes in NORML and has contributed to it, to find out if we are supposed to have received money from this estate,” he said.
“We don’t give a shit.”
Pete Brady was assigned to do research for a follow-up to our original article. Stroup refused to answer Brady’s email questions about the For?ade Trust, but Wirtshafter facilitated a January 11 conference call in which Brady questioned Stroup.
The tape recording of the call shows Stroup to be insulting and evasive.
“We don’t give a shit what your magazine says,” Stroup said, indicating that mainstream media reporters from the Wall Street Journal were also interested in NORML-related improprieties.
“We don’t consider your magazine to be a journalistic endeavor.”
Stroup said he had “no second thoughts” about calling Wirtshafter and Rosenthal fools, and repeated previous assertions that the two men had done great harm to the “marijuana movement” just by asking questions about the Trust.
Brady asked Stroup why NORML, which might have been robbed by THC, was the only organization publicly defending THC. He asked Stroup if THC had provided all documents requested by NORML. He asked Stroup if there was truth to what some sources had alleged: that Stroup had secret meetings with Michael Kennedy while the NORML Board was supposed to be investigating whether Kennedy and THC defrauded NORML.
Stroup stonewalled. The only topic Stroup seemed eager to talk about was whether Kennedy had ever admitted wrongdoing. Our original story included a quote from a source connected within NORML, who said “when we contacted Mr Kennedy, he basically pled guilty.”
Stroup passionately asserted that Kennedy “had never conceded any wrongdoing,” at any time, to anyone. He handled other questions by valiantly defending Kennedy’s honor, sarcastically attacking Brady and Cannabis Culture, and refusing to answer questions.
When Brady told Stroup that his attitude was troubling, Stroup replied: “You’re not a prosecutor and I’m not having my deposition taken.”
Back to normal
So the marijuana movement is left with a number of difficult questions, with no-one willing or able to answer them. I have seen the For?ade trust documents, and although I’m not a lawyer, they clearly indicate that THC was to give 50% of its profits to NORML.
Has For?ade’s commitment been kept? NORML says High Times has given NORML free ad and editorial pages, and has assisted in the production of the “Hempilation” CD’s. Does that add up to fifty percent?
And why were senior NORML officials apparently unaware of the For?ade trust until now? Why are Trans-High, High Times, Michael Kennedy and Keith Stroup so reluctant to answer questions about this issue, and so quick to attack those investigating this matter? Why has Don Wirstshafter been ostracized and attacked for saying that NORML owes it to all of us to find out the whole truth about the For?ade Trust, and to fully explain its decision?
The troubling conclusion is that police and prohibitionists aren’t the only people who resort to stonewalling, half-truths, and personal attacks when faced with questions about their conduct. The marijuana movement must be above reproach if it is to be credible and effective. Thomas For?ade must be spinning in his grave at the perversion of his vision and ideals.