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Marijuana Reconsidered: An Interview with Dr. Lester Grinspoon

 
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Marijuana Reconsidered: An Interview with Dr. Lester Grinspoon
Marijuana Reconsidered: An Interview with Dr. Lester Grinspoon

December 20, 2017 By davidjones

By PATRICK DEWALS

Dr Lester Grinspoon is associate professor emeritus of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. He researched the medicinal legitimacy of marijuana prohibition 45 years ago and discovered that an immense chain of lies served as a base for sending millions of people to jail. Since then he’s became an advocate for telling the truth about marijuana.

PATRICK DEWALS (PD): Can you tell me how you became interested in marijuana?

LESTER GRINSPOON (LG): Well it began in 1966. During my anti-Vietnam activism I met Carl Sagan and we became very good friends. When I met Carl Sagan I was convinced cannabis was a very harmful drug. Going to his house one day I discovered that he smoked cannabis and so did many of his friends. Now these were not unsophisticated people and I tried to tell Carl that marijuana was harmful, but he joyfully responded that it wasn’t harmful at all.

With this experience came the idea of writing a paper that summarised the medical scientific basis for marijuana prohibition. At that time [in the USA] marijuana prohibition was leading to the arrest of 300,000 people a year, mainly young people, 89% for simple possession. For me it became important this prohibition was justified. It was in the library of the Medical School I found out that I was completely wrong about the harmfulness of marijuana. Not only was it not harmful, it was remarkably nontoxic, and the drug itself was not causing harm to the user, unlike the policy of arresting people. Some went to prison for possessing it and others saw their career goals compromised.

I wrote an article about the subject and it was published in the International Journal of Psychiatry. One of the few people who read it was the editor of Scientific American. He asked me to reduce the article so it would fit in his magazine, to be published as the lead article in a coming issue. When my article was published in November 1969, it caused a huge tsunami so to speak that resulted in proposals from three different publishing companies for me to write a book about marijuana. Eventually I wrote my book, Marihuana Reconsidered, which came out in 1971, through Harvard University Press.

Doing the research for my book, I discovered marijuana was not harmful and I started to understand why people used it, what the attraction was. And I decided, at the age of 42, that I was going to use it as well. It was just too interesting an experience to let go. But I also knew that if the book was successful there would be a good chance I’d be asked to testify before a congressional session or senate committee. Because I didn’t want my own experiences with marijuana to make my testimony less objective, in the view of others, I decided to use marijuana two years after publishing my book.

And, indeed, I ended up testifying before a senate committee. I remember a big tall senator, who was rather doubtful about all I said, asking me, “Doctor did you ever use marijuana?” and I answered, “Senator, I would be glad to answer that question if you could tell me that if I gave you an affirmative answer would it make you more sympathetic to my answer or less?” He stared at me, “You sir, are being impertinent,” and he walked out the backdoor. Later that day, when I drove home, I said to my wife Betsy, “The time has come,” and sometime that week I experienced marijuana for the first time.

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