Story and Photo by Ken Krayeske • 11:45 PM EST
The professor of pot, Lester Grinspoon, M.D. pauses to think in his basement office in Wellesley, Mass., when I interviewed him for the March 2002 High Times.
Dr. Lester Grinspoon started his journey by dropping out of high school his senior year in 1947. His younger brother Martin had just died. Lester lasted 14 months in the quasi-military Merchant Marine before attending college.
Tufts University bestowed Grinspoon with magna cum laude honors upon his 1951 graduation. After finishing medical school in 1955 with more Latin honors, he labored in futility for two years in Los Angeles looking to cure a type of cancer.
His return home in 1958 to the Massachusetts Mental Health Center established his legacy. Grinspoon prescribed lithium carbonate for bipolar disorder for the first time in America. European and Australian doctors used lithium for years before, Grinspoon says. Why?
"Lithium is a metal. It's in the periodic table. No patent, no money," he says, with a tangible disgust of the pharmaceutical industry's greed.
Upon learning of lithium's effectiveness, Grinspoon had the Kenmore Pharmacy package lithium carbonate in 400 mg pills. "I gave it to a patient with bipolar disorder and it was remarkable," he says. Years later, he won an Orphan Drug Award, which allowed Smith Klein and French to produce it exclusively at a profit.
Throughout the early 1960s, Grinspoon championed the rights of the mentally ill. Former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis knew Grinspoon and Betsy from her days at Swarthmore College.
Grinspoon loves to talk about how he once saw Dukakis, dressed to the nines, walking to work by the banks of the Charles River and picking up litter.
Dukakis - who says he is re-examining his views of the drug war after watching Steven Soderbergh's Traffic - remembers Grinspoon from public television's "The Advocate Show" in the early 1970s. Dukakis took note of Grinspoon's fight to keep mental hospitals open.
"Lester has been one of the great leaders in mental health in the state, particularly in children's services," the three-term Bay state governor says. "It distinguishes him in my mind."
Grinspoon's overriding concern for youth led him to marijuana. In 1967, he stumbled upon two months while waiting for his co-authors to finish a book on schizophrenia. Grinspoon seized the time to research hemp's hazards.
"I thought maybe some of those foolish young kids would listen to an objective assessment of what was known about this," Grinspoon says, "and stop using this terrible, dangerous drug. Can you imagine what I experienced as I read this stuff and then when I started to work for three years on Marihuana Reconsidered and began to appreciate how brainwashed I had been mainly by the U.S. government?"
As a physician, Grinspoon realized he unwittingly spread disinformation. "That was an extraordinary experience for me," he says. Confronted by this reality, Grinspoon let his conscience - shaped by his father - dictate his actions.
"My father was a lawyer who hated the chicanery of law," Grinspoon says. "He felt that you couldn't be an honest man at least in the way that he could practice law in Boston."
So Grinspoon's father took an honest job - police officer.