While probably everyone reading this article loves cannabis, few people have devoted their lives to advancing cannabis policy like Lester Grinspoon.
Over the course of his long career, Grinspoon wrote 12 books, including Marijuana Reconsidered, which NORML, the US’s oldest cannabis reform organization, called “the single most comprehensive and thoughtful and convincing explanation of the crucial need to end marijuana prohibition and establish a legal marijuana market.”
“It would be hard to overstate the importance of Lester’s work to the fight for marijuana legalization,” NORML’s executive director, Erik Altieri, told LA Weekly.
The Harvard professor, psychiatrist, and author passed away on June 25 at the age of 92.
“When the movement was still in its early days he lent an air of respectability, legitimacy and gravitas that was needed at that time. He dedicated much of his life to pushing against anti-marijuana propaganda and the stigma against consumers.”
“Lester will be greatly missed by all who knew him. Both NORML and the marijuana law reform movement as a whole owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
Dr. Grinspoon’s love affair with cannabis didn’t come as naturally as one might assume. Like many academics of his time, Dr. Grinspoon was at first skeptical about marijuana and believed it was a harmful drug responsible for many of the problems facing society.
Unlike most others, however, his view compelled him to study the cannabis plant to find evidence of the dangers of marijuana. Instead, through his research and with some help from his good friend Carl Sagan (you may have heard of him) he concluded that there was no reason to treat marijuana smokers as criminals — and that the plant could actually be greatly beneficial when used correctly.
By 1971, Grinspoon had penned Marihuana Reconsidered, in which he presented research and a strong case for the legalization of cannabis. “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 a reprint of the book.
The book turned Grinspoon into a minor celebrity in cannabis circles. The New York Times, in its review of his book, wrote that “hopefully many Americans will read Lester Grinspoon’s ‘Marihuana Reconsidered’ and utilize the information so well presented in reaching their own decision on ‘spot,’ to legalize or not.”
Grinspoon’s advocacy for cannabis came not only from the conclusions of his research but from deeply personal experiences with medical marijuana. Grinspoon and his family were first-hand witnesses to the benefits of medical marijuana when his son Danny battled terminal cancer and the effects of an aggressive chemotherapy regime.
Danny tragically lost his life to leukemia, but the lessons Dr. Grinspoon learned during this time would help millions of medical marijuana patients in the future.
He appeared as an expert witness before several committees of the US Congress and in 1990 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, the organization’s 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.
Grinspoon was already in his late 60s when medical marijuana was legalized in California and he was lucky enough to see 32 other states legalize it during his lifetime.
Now, according to last year’s Pew Data, 91 percent of Americans say that marijuana should be legal either for medical and recreational use.
If you live in a state where either medical or recreational cannabis is legal and you can enjoy a perfectly legal joint right now, you might want to thank Dr. Lester Grinspoon and his life’s work that helped make this possible.