Lester Grinspoon, M.D., the longtime Harvard professor, psychiatrist, and author of twelve books — including Marihuana Reconsidered, the single most comprehensive and thoughtful and convincing explanation of the crucial need to end marijuana prohibition and establish a legal marijuana market — passed away early this morning. He was 92 years old.
His extraordinary personal commitment to advancing both marijuana policy and the NORML organization demonstrated his deeply held belief that we all have an obligation to fight injustice whenever and wherever we find it.
For the last five decades, Dr. Grinspoon was the intellectual leader of the marijuana legalization movement. Like most of his generation, he began with an assumption that marijuana was a dangerous drug and should be prohibited. But those biases were initially challenged by Dr. Grinspoon’s close friend, (then) Harvard colleague astronomer Carl Sagan, who convinced him that his initial negative views about marijuana were likely mistaken, and that he might personally find the marijuana experience to be a positive one.
Once Dr. Grinspoon began his review of the available literature in the 1970s, he concluded that there was no reason to treat marijuana smokers as criminals; and even more importantly, he adopted his old friend’s perspective that in the right situation, marijuana smoking can be an enriching experience. He ended up being a recreational marijuana smoker for the balance of his life.
In addition, Dr. Grinspoon and his wife Betsy had the tragic experience of losing their son Danny to cancer when he was a young teenager. During Danny’s final year of treatment, they saw firsthand that marijuana was incredibly effective at helping him endure the ravaging side effects from the high doses of chemotherapy he was being given. This personal tragedy helped shape Grinspoon’s belief that marijuana was a valuable medicine. In 1993, he authored (with James B. Bakalar) the book Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine, which argued for the legalization of cannabis so that its full medicinal potential could be harnessed.
Lester’s scholarly credentials made it impossible to ignore his long advocacy for marijuana and marijuana legalization. He appeared as an expert witness before several committees of the U.S. Congress as well as many state legislative committees. In 1990 he received the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship and Writing from the Drug Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C. In 1999 the NORML board of directors established the Lester Grinspoon Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Marijuana Law Reform, our highest honor, and Grinspoon was appropriately the first recipient. Dr. Grinspoon was also a long-serving member of NORML’s Board of Directors, including many years as board chair. He served as a member of the NORML Advisory Board up until his death
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.