The cannabis community is mourning the loss of one of its greatest heroes, Harvard Medical School professor and longtime NORML board member Dr. Lester Grinspoon.
Grinspoon leaves shoes that will never be filled as he consistently supported cannabis reform efforts for decades right up until his passing this week at age 92. Nobody will again have the opportunity to do what Grinspoon did for cannabis because he helped move the chains this far.
The nation’s oldest cannabis reform organization, NORML, called Grinspoon’s 1971 book Marijuana Reconsidered the single most comprehensive and thoughtful and convincing explanation of the crucial need to end marijuana prohibition and establish a legal marijuana market.
NORML’s founder Keith Stroup and current executive director Erik Altieri both told L.A. Weekly of Grinspoon’s consistent and pioneering support, and what it meant to the movement over the years.
“While there have been other medical and public health experts who have taken an active role to advance full legalization of marijuana, it is Dr. Lester Grinspoon who first led the way to insist that our marijuana policies be based on legitimate science,” Stroup told us. “He has 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.”
Altieri followed up Stroup with his own take on the legacy Grinspoon leaves behind in cannabis.
“It would be hard to overstate the importance of Lester’s work to the fight for marijuana legalization,” Altieri told the Weekly in an email. “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.”
While Grinspoon’s accolades and leadership positions in medicine played a major role in how important his voice was to the cause, it was also the voice of a father who had deeply personal experiences with medical cannabis. As his son Danny battled terminal cancer, Grinspoon witnessed the benefits of medical cannabis to someone going through an aggressive chemotherapy regime.
Danny lost his life to leukemia, but the lessons his father learned in helping him live a better quality of life would go on to help millions. As cannabis rose to prominence in the last 20 years, it’s undeniable the tale of a Harvard Medical School professor and his son went a long way to calming nerves around was still a very illicit substance in the eyes of so many.
Ironically, despite being one of cannabis’s most famed medical minds Grinspoon originally wanted to take a look at it to better understand the health impacts it was having on the population as its use grew more popular. But thankfully one of the most famous astronomers in history set him straight. Longtime cannabis industry David Bienenstock profiled the relationship between Grinspoon and Carl Sagan years ago — who knows where the conversation around cannabis would be if Sagan hadn’t told Grinspoon to really take a look at the facts.
Just hours before a family memorial service, Lester’s son Peter Grinspoon took a moment to reflect on the outpouring of support his family has received in the recent days following his father’s passing.
“I knew about it all along. All the little details of his work. It’s just overwhelming to have everything in front of me at once,” Grinspoon told L.A. Weekly. “It’s so momentous when you read these articles that encapsulated his life.”
Grinspoon said he’s received thousands of messages from the people who had their lives impacted by his father’s efforts over the years. They ranged from the numerous other families he was able to help live a better quality of life, to former grad students he mentored as they began to dip their toes into the world of clinical psychiatry during his 40 years as senior psychiatrist at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston.
That deep background in psychiatry also made Grinspoom a key frontline defense for the movement when cannabis would come under attack by B.S. research with no real footing. Like in 2008, when a team of British researchers attempted to link cannabis and schizophrenia. Then 85 years old and as game as ever, Grinspoon said the “evidence” was produced by an exercise in statistics.
We asked the younger Grinspoon what it was like for his father to watch the cannabis debate mature in his twilight years. Lester was already nearly 70 by the time medical marijuana passed in California, and it must have been pretty wild at age 85 to see Sanjay Gupta go all-in on medical cannabis and CBD for CNN.
“It was so gratifying to him, it would have been more gratifying if hundreds of thousands weren’t still getting arrested for minor marijuana crimes, but look where he started. When he wrote Marijuana Reconsidered support was in the teens,” Grinspoon said
Now according to last year’s Pew Data, 91 percent say marijuana should be legal either for medical and recreational use in some shape or form. Dr. Lester Grinspoon played a huge role in making that happen.