Ronald Hadley Stark was perhaps the largest source of American LSD in the late 1960s after Owsley Stanley’s imprisonment in 1967.
Stark arrived in the spring of 1969 at the Laguna Beach, California home of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a biker collective and LSD dealership. Previously unknown to the Brotherhood, he was quickly welcomed when he proffered a kilogram of pure LSD (equivalent to 5 million 200-microgram doses), or so the story goes. What makes this particularly interesting is that there had never been that much LSD produced commercially (by Sandoz Laboratories, the only commercially manufacturer of the drug); there would be little reason for a legitimate laboratory to produce so much and less reason for an illegal operation to produce so much at once. If the story is true, it means that whoever produced the acid intended it for a large number of people and was unconcerned about prosecution. The standard operating procedure for any illegal drug lab is to produce only somewhat more than satisfies immediate demand, for obvious reasons.
The Brotherhood distributed a form of acid known as “Orange Sunshine,” which had a reputation of having more unpleasant side-effects than Owsley’s product had. Users had a greater incidence of symptoms akin to strychnine poisoning as well as more of a “speedy” feeling to their trips. In the words of Michael Hollinshead (the man who originally turned Leary on):
There was now (1968) little good acid around, and what there was – the so-called "street acid" - came mainly from California. There was something wrong with the synthesis; it was not pure. And you were never sure what it was exactly that you were taking, so I only dropped it on those rare occasions when someone gave me "Sandoz" or "crystal" acid...
My evaluation had nothing to do with the notion that a wholly synthetic drug produced a wholly synthetic experience - the intellectual response - but was based on direct, first-hand experience (about 30 trips with street acid in all). And in each session I felt that there was something it lacked - it was too "electric," too "speedy" and too "mind-shattering." The earlier clarity of "insight" which I had obtained via the Sandoz acid was replaced by confusion, brokenness, words and worlds thrown into absolute dismemberment, or even absolute chaos, though, I must add, often coupled with a feeling that I can only describe as "sublime inflation," a super abundance of emotive energy, but it could not signify more a passionate flame and less the life-giving sun.
Ronald Stark was also, allegedly, either a CIA agent or a free agent temporarily in the CIA’s employ. Evidence of this came to light when he was arrested in Bologna, Italy for drug trafficking in 1975. Magistrate Giorgio Floridia ordered that he be released on the grounds that he was a CIA agent (and had been since 1960). Floridia’s evidence was circumstantial, but nonetheless interesting. While imprisoned, Stark was frequently visited by Wendy M. Hansen, from the U.S. consulate in Florence. The police had seized letters to Stark addressed to one of his illegal laboratories in Brussels from Charles C. Adams at the U.S. Embassy in London. Floridia also claimed that Stark had done secret work for the U.S. Defense Department from 1960 to 1962, and that there had been “periodic payments to him from Fort Lee, known to be the site of a CIA office.” In 1984 a report was issued by an Italian parliamentary commission to study terrorism in Italy. The report concluded that Stark had been an adventurer who had been employed by the CIA, though it was not specified during what period.
Stark himself made several references to his association to the CIA, though nobody has quoted him as ever saying he worked for them directly. He claimed that he ended his relationship to the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and moved operations to Brussels thanks to a CIA tip. He also claimed to have plans to supply LSD to CIA-backed Tibetan guerrillas resisting the Chinese occupation.
There is clearly some possibility the CIA had reason to desire control of the LSD supply in California. Their MKULTRA program had been researching the possibilities of using the drug for mind control purposes since well before recreational use became popular, and had discussed the research potential of an entire community on acid (e.g. the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco). The evidence that they did in fact, conspire to distribute underground LSD, or that Ronald Stark was involved, is tenuous at best, but is certainly worth looking at. In the words of Carl Oglesby, former head of Students for a Democratic Society:
What we have to contemplate nevertheless is the possibility that the great American acid trip, no matter how distinctive of the rebellion of the 1960s it came to appear, was in fact the result of a despicable government conspiracy.... If U.S. intelligence bodies collaborated in an effort to drug an entire generation of Americans, then the reason they did so was to disorient it, sedate it and de-politicize it.