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Obituaries

Lester Grinspoon: psychiatrist who laid the intellectual foundation for marijuana reform

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2750 (Published 09 July 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m2750
  1. Bob Roehr
  1. Washington, DC, USA
  1. bobroehr{at}aol.com

<graphic>grinspoon080720.f1</graphic>Photo caption: Lester Grinspoon (R) as best man at Carl Sagan’s (L) 1981 wedding to Ann Druyan

Credit: Peter Grinspoon

Even though it was the swinging ’60s, Lester Grinspoon was a bit taken aback when his good friend and fellow Harvard assistant professor Carl Sagan offered him a joint. “You’ll love it,” said the astrophysicist. But Grinspoon demurred, arguing the establishment line that it was bad for your health.

That encounter set Grinspoon off on a journey to prove his point. His rigorous research rediscovered the history of marijuana’s use as medicine over thousands of years, but little evidence that it was harmful, certainly not when compared with popular drugs such as tobacco and alcohol.

“The greatest potential for social harm lies in the scarring of so many young people and the reactive, institutional damages that are direct products of present marijuana laws,” Grinspoon wrote in Marihuana Reconsidered, published in 1971.

One reviewer wrote, “I can only express my admiration for the manner in which Grinspoon has extracted, analysed, and synthesised the most relevant literature to present the reader with a coherent, logical case.” Those words came from a pillar of the establishment, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), James L Goddard, who was writing in the New York Times. The headline said of the article was “The best dope so far.”1

Hippies and more straitlaced proponents of marijuana embraced the book as an intellectual cornerstone for the decades-long movement to decriminalise its use and document its benefits as both medicine and recreation.

The US president at the time, Richard Nixon, was not a fan. “Every one of the bastards that are out for legalising marijuana is Jewish, this clown is far on the left,” he told the White House staff in secret recordings later made …

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