Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a leading advocate for marijuana research long before it became mainstream, died in June, just one day after his 92nd birthday. He had spent the last five decades as a tireless advocate for marijuana law reform and for research into the uses of cannabis.
Grinspoon, a psychiatrist and Harvard professor, also wrote 12 books. Interestingly, he first took an interest in cannabis to classify the dangers it posed. But after research, he turned into a cannabis advocate.
One of the people who influenced Grinspoon to have an open mind about cannabis was the late Carl Sagan, who himself had become a fan of cannabis.
His son, Dr. Peter Grinspoon, announced his father’s death on Twitter. He said his father died peacefully at home with Betty, his wife of 66 years, by this side. In an item about Grinspoon’s death on their website, the leaders of NORML wrote that Grinspoon’s “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.”
Grinspoon Originally Believed In The Dangers of Marijuana
Believing cannabis to present a danger to the public, Grinspoon started reviewing all the research available in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He reached the opinion that authorities should not treat cannabis use as a crime. Like Sagan, he also learned that under the right circumstances, cannabis use could enrich a person’s life.
The two ended up smoking weed together often. In a 2013 interview with Vice, Grinspoon said that at Harvard in the 1960s, he had concerns about Sagan and others smoking marijuana. However, he said that when he said as much to Sagan, “He’d wave the joint in front of me, and reply, “Oh Lester, have a puff, it’s not going to hurt you a bit and you’ll love it.”
He later saw firsthand how cannabis could help a person deal with cancer treatment. His son, Danny, died from cancer while still a teenager. But he benefited from using cannabis to relieve pain and nausea in the last year of his life, according to NORML.
A Voice No One Could Ignore
Grinspoon’s credentials made it impossible for people to ignore his advocacy for marijuana and marijuana legalization.
In his book, “Marijuana Reconsidered,” Grinspoon argued that cannabis use should not be a crime. Because of his position on the Harvard faculty, political leaders and researchers took him seriously. The tide seemed to start turning on drug reform. By the late 1970s, he felt as if it was only a matter of time before marijuana was sold as a legal drug.
However, the renewed emphasis on the War on Drugs during the Reagan Era of the 1980s pushed that back by decades, but Grinspoon did live to see cannabis become legal in many states.
Grinspoon ended up joining NORML. He served for many years on the NORML Board of Directors. In 1999, NORML created the Lester Grinspoon Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Marijuana Law Reform, the organization’s highest honor.