In honor of the late President John F. Kennedy’s birthday May 29, we’re bringing you the following conversation between Lesley Morrissey and an unnamed individual who said he was JFK’s weed dealer, first published in the Fall, 1974 issue of High Times.
The man who claimed to know the Kennedys leaned over his pâté and confided to me.
“Before I contacted you, I investigated a bit to see if High Times was legitimate.”
Across his suite, he assayed the departing waitress from room service.
“Yes, we had you checked out, too,” I said. I told him how I’d been making discreet inquiries for a week to determine if he did indeed move in the Kennedy circles and had only then confirmed the interview. We agreed to meet at his suite at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. I was met by a dapper, politely tanned man in his mid-forties. He greeted me unhurriedly and began what was a fluent, one-sided conversation.
“You see, I feel that what I know about Jack, Bobby, and Ted is in no way harmful to their reputations. In fact, I’m willing to wager that, had Jack lived into a second term or Bobby been elected president, the marijuana laws would have been stricken.”
He paused, reached inside his corduroy sport jacket, produced a tortoise shell cigarette case and flipped it open.
“Like to turn on?” he asked, smiling.
“Sure,” I said.
I asked him to give me some background: how he had come into the Kennedy circle and how he related to their lifestyle. He stared down at his cuff and then looked up.
“Well, I can’t really be considered part of the inner circle. You know about people like Kenny O’Donnell, Paul Fay, Dave Powers, Joey Gargan and the rest who were always by the Kennedys. That’s not my people. My background is like a lot of those fellows, but it’s taken me a long way from the power plays and inner workings of the family. I graduated from Harvard in 1954.”
“Did you turn on at Harvard?”
“No, not at Harvard. Somewhere along the line I decided that I wanted to be a writer, and after graduation I took a job with a major news magazine. By 1957, I had gotten myself assigned to Havana. That’s where I first turned on. Batista’s regime was at its rottenest, but the place was rife with dope, gambling and colorful characters. In fact, it was going to Cuba that brought me into contact with the Kennedys again.”
“What was Cuba like in those days?”
“If you remember, the late ’50s saw Fidel Castro’s star rise. We all felt sympathetic toward Castro—it was the romantic thing to feel in those days—but we never dreamed he’d get in. As it happened, I was among the first to be booted out.”
“But I had made the right contacts in Cuba, especially in the black market and government—there was little difference—so when I returned to the States, I was considered something of an authority on Caribbean affairs. At this time I was thirty years old, smoking a lot of excellent grass, dealing a little to my less well-connected friends, and becoming a surprising success. And I made sure to maintain all my contacts, too.”
“But how does this bring you to the Kennedys?”
“At Harvard I knew Ted Kennedy; we ran in the same circles, were both rather jockish as undergraduates and our fraternities mingled at parties and things. I remember I supported Jack’s candidacy for the Senate in 1952 and worked the campus trying to drum up votes.” He laughed ruefully. “I would run into Ted around the commons doing the same thing. Hell, I even remember the flap when Ted was caught cheating in a Spanish final.”
“So I wasn’t really surprised when, several months after I returned from Cuba and Jack was president, I was contacted by a friend of Ted’s at the White House and asked to submit a report on my work down there and any recommendations I had. I knew the President had a love for fine Cuban cigars, so I took down a beautiful handmade humidor full of a custom blend of Cuban tobacco, hand-rolled in Jamaica. It turned out the meeting wasn’t private but a debriefing of four journalists who had covered the Cuban revolution. After the meeting, I handed him the cigars and he thanked me. Then he took a good look at the cigars and when he did, he invited me to stay and smoke one with him.”
He sucked on his Scotch and leaned back.
“You know, Jack’s back was always giving him trouble. He had been seeing a doctor who was later written up in New York magazine as “Dr. Feelgood”, getting shots that were a combination of speed, vitamins, cocaine and cortisone. His back was bothering him the day we met and I suggested he try something to ease his pain that wouldn’t dull or agitate him like the drugs he was taking. I gave him a quick rundown on marijuana: its effects, its history, my experiences with it and the archaic laws surrounding its use. He was genuinely curious. It was something to which he had never given much thought, even during his investigative days in the Senate.”
“Do you mean that he was completely ignorant about pot?”
“Oh, of course not. You couldn’t possibly party with the show business types and international celebrities that the Kennedys favored and not know something about grass. And, of course, he was always sharp as hell and wasn’t easily buffaloed by anti-pot propaganda. The late fifties saw a lot of drastic changes in lifestyles… beatniks, avant-gardists, abstractionists and movie stars like Brando and Dean who cashed in on rebellion. Jack was a consummate politician; he was aware of all these changes in taste. He’d just never tried pot until I turned him on. At least as far as I know.”
I had visions of handsome John Kennedy toking away behind his captain’s desk, easing his back pain, while a dour Lyndon Johnson is kept cooling his heels with Mrs. Lincoln in the antechamber.
“Of course, I didn’t turn on with him. I just arranged to have the weed delivered to him,” he added.
“How much did you give him?”
“At the time I had old friends from my Caribbean days sending me a few pounds a week, in fact, they still do! I’d joined the international bureau of a large weekly news magazine and in those days a package from Mexico City or Bogata wasn’t cause for undue suspicion….”
“Early one evening I received a phone call at my apartment in Georgetown. It was one of Jack’s most trusted press liaisons, who informed me the President was planning a short vacation. He was taking his boat out with family and friends, and I was asked if I could provide him with the memos I had drawn up in accordance with our conversation two weeks earlier. Could I have everything ready by ten o’clock that night? I knew exactly what was meant by the call, because the President hadn’t asked me to draw up any memos. By ten I had prepared a manila folder full of blank paper. Inside was an ounce of fresh Panamanian from a shipment I’d received the day before. At ten on the dot I answered the door to find a familiar press officer who took my ‘notes.’ You know, Red Fay wrote about Jack’s habit of taking late night rides through Washington. I think he overlooked one very important ride, because I swear Jack was inside the black limousine parked at my curb.”
“Did the President ever contact you again?”
The gentleman’s face sagged slightly. “No, not exactly. I received a letter shortly after that night, thanking me for my cooperation and expressing hope that we might meet again for an informal chat. The limousine came several more times, but I’m not really sure who was getting the stuff. His stay was so short you know, one thousand days they say, that many of us caught only the quickest glimpse of the real John Kennedy… the Kennedy who was so open to life that he was willing to expose himself to a virtual stranger and try something he knew the public might find horrifying.”
“Would you know if Jackie turns on?”
“I can’t really say for sure that Jack smoked the dope, though I assume he did, considering my later contacts with Bob and Ted. I’ve never met Jackie, but you know I’ve heard talk that Onassis made some of his fortune smuggling cocaine and heroin after the war.” A pâté finished, he was now drawing heavily on his second Scotch. “Of course, you can hear anything down in the islands.”
“You just mentioned your later contacts with Bobby and Ted. Could you tell us about them?”
“Do you remember Allen Ginsberg’s account of his talk with Bobby in 1968, where he asks Bobby if he had ever smoked pot and Bobby refuses to answer him directly, but keeps evading the question?” he asked.
“The interview when Ginsberg chanted the Hare Krishna chant in Bobby’s office?”
“Correct. Well, Allen thought Bobby was being insensitive by not giving a direct answer. He didn’t understand Bobby’s style, the intensity at which Bobby worked. By 1968, I think Bobby had decided the pot laws should be changed, but he wanted to approach the issue when it could be won and he was storing up all the impact of his decision for the right moment.”
“I first met Bobby in Los Angeles at the 1964 Democratic Convention. Earlier in the year I had lost my job—drinking—and I had driven down to the Convention, knowing I could get freelance assignments. Like many others, I expected Bobby to be chosen as Vice-Presidential candidate. And I was absolutely awestruck by his reaction to the crowd. Understand, the public impression of Bobby had always been one of ruthlessness—the little fellow who tore after the Teamsters, miffed Lyndon Johnson, and shoved civil rights down the racist throats of America. But there he was, absolutely vulnerable and in tears at the accolade.”
“Later, at a cocktail reception, I spoke with him for about two minutes. I told him if I could be any help in the future, to let me know. What was unnerving was his spontaneous recognition of me. When I approached him, I expected that Kennedy coolness, especially to someone on the fringes. I didn’t cruise the same circles as, say, Arthur Schlesinger, Joseph Kraft, Murray Kempton or the others who were coming on board for his New York Senate campaign. We were introduced, I think by Pete Edelman, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t know who I was. He said he’d be glad to have my help.”
“Did you speak about grass?”
“No, but I suspect part of his interest in me was a result of my contact with his brother. He seemed overeager to meet me, if you know what I mean. It wasn’t until 1966, when I moved to New York that I saw him again. That was at another party; all the society mavens were there: Truman Capote, George Plimpton, Pete Hamill, that type, and I didn’t get to speak to him. However, Ted was there and we had a dandy conversation about the days at Harvard. Around that time Ted had just returned from a trip to Vietnam and we talked about that a bit and made some conversation about his bad back and his marriage, which always seemed a bit haunted. He invited me up to Squaw Island for a few days and I told him I’d try to make it some time. He promised we’d go sailing; I remembered Jack’s vacation “sailing” trip, but all I did was joke that I hoped his sailing was better than his flying.”
He continued. “Also at the party were Steve Smith and Peter Lawford, who were both married to Kennedy women. Now I’d met Lawford at parties before and he really believes in high living. Steven Smith, on the other hand, is a real tight ass, Mr. Park Avenue Associates. I noticed them looking very friendly, very stoned in fact, and I excused myself from Ted, who was wandering in the direction of Joan. I wanted to talk to Peter and Steve. I was surprised to find them talking about dope and both seemed to agree that Bob should make a motion to decriminalize marijuana. I was especially shocked at Steve, who was touted as the no-nonsense moneyman of the Kennedy clan. Then I realized that first impressions do count. They were both, ah, stoned. I felt surrounded by history’s hidden heads; Ted and his sailing trip, Peter and Steve with their talk of decriminalization. All this at a party for Bobby, the Senator from New York.” We both paused to take quick bites at the last of our hors-d’oeuvres.
“I met that crowd several times after that night and got high with them, so I wasn’t surprised when they wondered aloud if I was able to obtain some good weed. I still had my connections in South America, and I was dealing a little of my best to friends. Soon after that I began receiving calls from people I knew were close to Bob and Ted asking if I could perform small favors. This was about the time Bob was being challenged by Eugene McCarthy for the right to topple LBJ in 1968. McCarthy’s appeal was to the leftish upper-middle class, mobile American student pot-head. Bob probably felt the need to commit himself to try what his brother had tried. To Bobby, you had to feel deeply toward a topic to support it. When he decided to soften on marijuana, as everyone in the press was aware, it wasn’t an intellectual exercise like Jack tried. I think it was because he had tried it and liked it, and believed it was not harmful.” Sitting back in his chair, he sipped the last of his Scotch. We poured another round and I sensed that time was getting short. He had glanced at his watch several times.
“And you think it was grass that began the changes in Bobby Kennedy?”
“Could be. I find it more than a coincidence that shortly after I sold some exceptional grass to Bobby’s acquaintances, Arthur Schlesinger was pushed into the pool at Hickory Hill (the Kennedy home in Virginia), that Bobby decided to enter the primaries, and that later, he decided to hire prankster Dick Tuck as an aide.”
“Did many of the people around Bobby get high?”
“Ask Frank Mankiewicz, Jimmy Breslin, or Andy Williams on that question. They would be better able to answer it than me.”
“But you’re certain that Bobby turned on?”
“Definitely. It’s just that with so many kids of his own he wasn’t going to force the legalization issue and exhaust it before he became President. It is ironic that he was killed by a Palestinian.”
“Did any of your friends deal with the Kennedys?”
“Well, most of us who worked the South American or Middle Eastern regions for the government or press in the early ’60s were continually turned on to excellent grass and hash. Some of us have made some profit from our experience. I know many of these people were in a position to deal with Kennedy people.”
“Have you ever dealt to Ted Kennedy?”
“Funny enough, not as closely as one would assume from our early acquaintance. I’ve followed his rise, though. He’s quite a go-getter—loves to party—and generally I admire his politics, but we’ve never gotten together and been high. However, I did hear an interesting story from a reliable dealer friend of mine who works at the Agriculture Department.” He cleared his throat.
“Ted has always been pretty free with his good times. His best ability has always been to pull together when he had let go too much. But I suppose the Chappaquiddick incident at the Dike Bridge was the first time his ability, and his integrity, were ever really tested.
“From what I was told, and despite what Paul Markham and Joey Gargan say, Ted was thoroughly wasted on something the night of the incident. It was a bad habit he’d had since Bob’s assassination, when his back began hurting him and the pressure of being the last male Kennedy became too heavy to handle. This friend of mine swears Ted was dosed with some of his sunshine in Edgartown before the party at Lawrence Cabin. It was his first trip, and they figured the cabin was the best place for it.”
“The party was perfectly innocent, just old friends getting high and trying to loosen up after a hard year. But Mary Jo got unhinged and Ted offered her a ride back to town with him; he, too, was several sheets to the wind and was getting claustrophobia. After the accident, Ted tried repeatedly to save the girl, but there was no way. The reason he didn’t go straight to the authorities was because it took several hours for him to come down.”
My host suddenly stood up, and I asked one more question.
“As far as heads go, some of the Kennedy children seem the genuine article. What do you think?”
“All I can tell you is that they are beautiful, independent children who love to get high in as many ways as there are kids. But keep an eye on John Jr.; with his taste for rock, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out to be a bigger head than Bobby’s two oldest sons. I just hope that all of the kids live to fulfill the potential of their fathers, who were great heads in more ways than one.”
It was obvious that our chat was at an end. We shook hands and I thanked him for the story—which amounted to a beguiling explanation of over a decade of American history. If true.
“Listen,” I said, “you’ve given me a great story, if it checks out.” Maybe we could get together some time again, and talk things over, in general, you know.” He smiled.
Well, I’ll say one thing for him. His dope was indeed Commander-in-Chief in quality.
The 1964 Democratic convention was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey not in Los Angeles. That sadly was 1968.