Marijuana Legalization Legend Dr. Lester Grinspoon Passes Away

Dr. Lester Grinspoon (photo courtesy of NORML)

One day after celebrating his 92nd birthday, marijuana legalization pioneer Dr. Lester Grinspoon passed away on June 25.

Grinspoon's breakthrough 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered, written while he worked at Harvard, opened the door to a discussion about the plant's benefits during a time when it had already been prohibited for 34 years.

Grinspoon called for legalization in the book:

“We must consider the enormous harm, both obvious and subtle, short range and long‐term, inflicted on the people, particularly the young, who constitute or will soon constitute the formative and critical members of our society by the present punitive, repressive approach to the use of marijuana. And we must consider the damage inflicted on legal and other institutions when young people react to what they see as a confirmation of their view that those institutions are hypocritical and inequitable. Indeed 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. If we are to avoid having this harm reach the proportion of a national disaster with in the next decade, we must move to make the social use of marijuana legal.”

Born on June 24, 1928 in Newtown, MA, Grinspoon attended Tufts University and Harvard Medical School. He eventually worked at Harvard Medical School in the psychiatry department and at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center.

When he started researching cannabis, Grinspoon considered it a harmful drug. But eventually his opinion changed. 

Carl Sagan on pot in 1971: "The illegality of cannabis is outrageous."

Carl Sagan as Mr. X

Many years after the publication of Marihuana ReconsideredGrinspoon revealed that the chapter written by "Mr. X" was actually famed astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who passed away in 1996.  

Sagan concluded in the book:

"The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world."

Read Carl Sagan: From Cannabis to "Cosmos" 

Defending Lennon

At the 2011 NORML Conference, Grinspoon discussed his relationship with John Lennon:

"I met John Lennon after Attorney General John Mitchell, under Nixon, wanted to get Lennon out of the country because he was effectively protesting the Vietnam War. They started an exportation proceeeding on the basis of hash being found by a Scotland Yard policeman who was determined to get the Beatles. John said it was planted. He was convicted."

Grinspoon testified at Lennon's exportation trial in 1973 as a marijuana expert. Asked if hash and marijuana were the same thing, he said that was incorrect. "I wasn't going to do their work," Grinspoon noted. "They're going to have to fish for it." The government dropped the case when it couldn't prove hash was the same as marijuana. 

Dr. Lester Grinspoon in 1971: "We must move to make the social use of marijuana legal." (photo by Malcolm MacKinnon)

Later in His Career

Grinspoon's marijuana activism stunted his career at Harvard where he was never given a full professor position despite his accomplishments. He believed "an undercurrent of unscientific prejudice against cannabis among [Harvard] faculty and school leaders doomed his chances."

In 1994, Grinspoon was tapped to head NORML's Board of Directors. The organization's founder Keith Stroup recently wrote that Grinspoon was "the intellectual leader of the marijuana legalization movement and a major player within NORML," adding: "He 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."

Grinspoon is survived by his wife Betsy (they were married for 66 years) and three children. One of his sons Danny died of cancer. Please check out the website Marijuana Uses.



Grinspoon wrote (with his co-author James B. Bakalar) the following books:

• Marihuana Reconsidered (1971)

• Speed Culture: Amphetamine Use and Abuse in America (1975, written with Peter Hedblom)

• Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution (1976)

• Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered (1979)

• Psychedelic Reflections (1983)

• Drug Control in a Free Society (1985)

• The Long Darkness: Psychological and Moral Perspectives on Nuclear Winter (1986, written with the American Psychiatric Association)

• Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine (1997)

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.