The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Lester Grinspoon Reconsidered: Celebrating a Pioneer of Drug Policy and a Legacy of Social Change

Lester Grinspoon Reconsidered: Celebrating a Pioneer of Drug Policy and a Legacy of Social Change, a symposium honoring the Harvard psychiatrist who became a celebrated advocate for reforming marijuana prohibition laws and for recognizing marijuana’s potential benefits both medicinal and recreational, will take place at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Friday, June 24, 2022. The Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives Research Center (SCUA) and the UMass Amherst Libraries are hosting the day-long event in the Campus Center, on what would have been Grinspoon’s 94th birthday. It will feature the renowned psychologist, neuroscientist, and author Carl Hart, who will give the keynote address. Registration is now open at the symposium website.

Planned with the Grinspoon family and longtime friend and activist Allen St. Pierre, UMass class of 1989, the symposium brings together some of the country’s most prominent experts and activists, many of whom knew Grinspoon, worked with him, or were inspired by his work, and includes those whose work takes a visionary approach to the role that marijuana and psychedelics can play in society. Three panels will explore where drug policy has been, including the journey to (more or less) cultural acceptance; where it is now and impacts on scientific research and business and industry; and what lies ahead for cannabis and psychedelics in medicine, policy, and the culture at large.

Starting things off in the morning, two of Grinspoon’s sons, astrobiologist David Grinspoon and physician Peter Grinspoon, will welcome attendees with a talk about their father; the afternoon will feature a multifaceted tribute to Grinspoon. Confirmed participants to date include NORML founder Keith Stroup, Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann, current DPA executive director Kassandra Frederique, physician Genester Wilson-King, Grinspoon’s collaborator James Bakalar, researcher and nurse Melanie Dreher, expert on youth and drugs Marsha Rosenbaum, activist and lawyer Richard M. Evans, and cannabis industry consultant Kris Krane, as well as the Grinspoons and former NORML executive director St. Pierre.

The symposium will culminate in a keynote address from Professor Hart, author of Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, followed by a reception.

The Grinspoon symposium is being held to celebrate Lester Grinspoon’s life and legacy, to raise awareness of the drug policy archives held in SCUA, and to foster the use of and scholarship in those collections, including Grinspoon’s own papers. The Lester Grinspoon Fund was established to support processing and digitizing his papers. 

For more information, including bios of the participants, and to register, please visit the symposium website

About Lester Grinspoon

Lester Grinspoon, M.D., (June 24, 1928 - June 25, 2020) was born in Newton, Mass., served in the Merchant Marines, and graduated from Tufts University and Harvard Medical School. He trained at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute but later turned away from psychoanalysis. He spent 40 years as a senior psychiatrist at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center and was an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, where he co-founded and edited the Harvard Mental Health Letter. In the mid-1960s, struck by the rising popularity of marijuana and its reputed dangers, Grinspoon began to examine the medical and scientific literature about marijuana usage. To his surprise, he found no evidence to support claims of marijuana’s harmful effects, and his resulting 1969 Scientific American article drew wide attention. His research ultimately convinced him of marijuana’s benefits, including enhanced creativity and medicinal uses; his interest took a deeply personal turn when his young son, undergoing treatment for the leukemia that eventually took his life, found that marijuana eased his severe nausea. 

Grinspoon served on the board of NORML; testified as an expert witness in some high-profile court cases; and published numerous influential articles and books including Marihuana Reconsidered (1971) and Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine (1993; with James B. Bakalar). He also wrote or cowrote books on schizophrenia—an early research interest—psychiatric drugs, cocaine, and amphetamines and was an early prescriber of lithium for bipolar disorder, and he was a dedicated antinuclear activist. More information on the Lester Grinspoon Papers, donated by Grinspoon in 2013, can be found on the SCUA website

SCUA’s collections on drug policy also include the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Records, the Marijuana Policy Project Records, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann) Records, and others, and they continue to grow. 

About Carl Hart

Carl Hart, Ph.D., is the Ziff Professor of Psychology in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Columbia University. Professor Hart earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wyoming and has published numerous scientific and popular articles on neuropsychopharmacology. His books include the textbook Drugs, Society and Human Behavior (with Charles Ksir); High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery that Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, which won the 2014 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award; and, most recently, the acclaimed Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear. Professor Hart has appeared on podcasts, radio, and television shows, and in documentary films including the award-winning The House I Live In. For more information, see his website.