An incredibly insightful and brilliant Harvard Medical School graduate and retired psychiatrist, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, is still waiting to see at the age of 89 if Harvard is willing to admit it was wrong about snubbing him in the 1970’s over his advocacy of cannabis. After becoming close friends with marijuana proponent and consumer Carl Sagan, the man that would later host the famous scientific based show The Cosmos, Dr. Grinspoon began to question the federal stance and the prohibition of marijuana which eventually led to him publishing ‘Marihuana Reconsidered’ in 1971. The book was critically acclaimed in the 1970’s, but Harvard was embarrassed by the book and President Nixon even commented on it at the time.
“Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish,” Nixon ranted in a conversation captured by the Oval Office recording system. “What the Christ is the matter with the Jews? . . . I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists.”
‘Marijuana Reconsidered’ questioned the unsupported prejudice towards cannabis throughout the country and the logic behind the the federal prohibition of marijuana. Dr. Grinspoon had not actually consumed any marijuana at the time of the publication, but based off of his research he gave it to his son years later while battling cancer at the time and ended up trying it for the first time himself, well after he saw Carl Sagan smoking marijuana.
“When I saw him smoking for the first time, I said, ‘Carl, you musn’t do that! That’s a very dangerous drug,’ ” Grinspoon recalled. “He took another puff and said, ‘Here, Lester, have some, you’ll love it and it’s harmless.’ I was absolutely astonished.”
“I have concluded,” Grinspoon would later write, “that marijuana is a relatively safe intoxicant which is not addicting, does not in and of itself lead to the use of harder drugs, is not criminogenic, and does not lead to sexual excess.” The real harm, he added, was “the way we as a society were dealing with people who use it,” referring to the incarceration of marijuana users.
“I have and I do smoke marijuana,” Grinspoon said during an appearance on the “Today Show” in 1973, a moment he said was “jaw-dropping” for host Barbara Walters.
All of these years later, marijuana is now legal in Massachusetts and commercial sale of recreational marijuana begins this July. Despite the marijuana legalization movement and the acceptance that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol consumption and has medicinal properties acknowledged by the World Health Organization, Harvard is still snubbing Dr. Grinspoon of an honorary professorship he could have been granted 40 years ago. While they acknowledge the publication of ‘Marihuana Reconsidered’ may have influenced their decision all of those years ago, they suggest his work did not merit full professorship and still does not.
“He bore the academic torch through the dark years of the drug war when it was heresy to speak the truth about marijuana,” said attorney Dick Evans, a cannabis advocate who has worked with Grinspoon since the early 1980s.
Recognizing Grinspoon now, Evans added, “would not only be an act of supreme decency, but also an act of institutional humility — and I think Harvard’s capable of both.”
“He’s one of the most important people in the history of marijuana reform,” said Rick Cusack, a former associate publisher of High Times, who was the first to link Nixon’s recorded rant with the publication of “Marihuana Reconsidered.” “His book started the movement.”
Unfortunately the prejudice towards marijuana is still very present here in the United States and even the elevated minds of possibly the most famous school in the world are not humble enough to acknowledge they were wrong. Marijuana is a plant that has existed right underneath academics’ noses for centuries as they worked to understand the complexities of life, yet they have missed possibly one of the most complex plants on the planet that may end up having more medicinal properties than even the strongest advocates ever imagined.