June 25, 2020

RIP Dr. Lester Grinspoon: Intellectual Leader of Marijuana Legalization Movement Dies at 92

June 25, 2020
Dr. Lester Grinspoon

Dr. Lester Grinspoon celebrated his 92nd birthday on June 25 and passed away in the early morning of June 26, with his wife Betsy by his side.

An associate professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and senior psychiatrist at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Dr. Grinspoon was one of the earliest proponents of cannabis. He became interested in the late 1960s when he began research that formed the basis for his first book Marihuana Reconsidered, published in 1971.

“After three years of research on cannabis, I concluded that not only was it much less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, but also that no harm it might cause was nearly as serious as the damage attributable to the annual arrest of 400,000 mostly young people on marihuana charges,” Grinspoon wrote in the introduction of the 1994 reprint of his book. “I naively believed that once people understood that marihuana was much less harmful than drugs already legal, the laws against it would be repealed.”

Sadly, Grinspoon would not live to see that happen. But he never stopped trying.

In a 2018 article, The Boston Globe characterized Grinspoon as “no Timothy Leary” but rather an “earnest academic who wore a tie, and insisted he never promoted the use of marijuana, but rather the elimination of draconian prohibitions.”

From modest means, Grinspoon excelled at Harvard but never managed to be appointed a full professor at Harvard University, after having published Marihuana Reconsidered.

Despite an illustrious career that included pioneering research on schizophrenia, having published hundreds of papers in scientific journals and 12 books including Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine, and holding leadership positions at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center for 40 years, Grinspoon was consistently denied promotion to full professor at Harvard University. A university dean told him in confidence that the promotions committee “hated” Marihuana Reconsidered because it was “too controversial.”

Asked by a close friend about his career and how his support of cannabis had affected it, Dr. Grinspoon said he had no regrets.

“I asked him if it was worth it, having had his career limited by his involvement with cannabis,” Rick Cusick, author and former associate publisher of High Times magazine, told The Weed Blog.

“Lester said that if you judge a medical career by awards, accolades and earning lots of money, then no. But if you judge a successful career by how much you helped to mitigate people’s pain and suffering, then yes, my career was a success,” Cusick said.    

Dr. Grinspoon strain

Barney’s Farm in Amsterdam developed the Dr. Grinspoon strain, a pure sativa, which is said to provide a “long lasting, energetic and cerebral high, for connoisseurs and intellectuals,” just like the good doctor.

Seeds from the Dr. Grinspoon strain were brought back to the U.S. after having won a Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, Cusick recalled.

“We harvested them and I took some to Boston and smoked Dr. Grinspoon with Dr. Grinspoon.”

NORML’s legal counsel, Keith Stroup, says it all in his obit:

“In the end, Dr. Lester Grinspoon led the way to insist that our marijuana policies be based on legitimate science. He made it possible for us to have an informed public policy debate leading to the growing list of states legalizing the responsible use of marijuana.

May he rest in peace.”


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