Story by Ken Krayeske • 11:00 PM EST
Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine, published in 1993 by Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar, widely considered to be the book that sparked the medical marijuana movement in California and across the country. Read testimonials similar to the book at Grinspoon's website RxMarihuana.org.
As a result of the well-researched Reconsidered in 1969, Grinspoon challenged policy before government committees. He remained a non-smoker to boost his appearance of objectivity.
By late 1972, Grinspoon understood elected officials sought to undermine his message by quizzing him on his smoking habits. An exchange on the U.S. Senate floor convinced Lester to light up. A hostile Senator inquired if he smoked, he replied:
"Senator, I will be glad to answer that question if you will first tell me whether if I answer your question affirmatively, you will consider me a more or less credible witness?" The Senator called Lester impertinent and left.
"That was the moment I decided the time had come," Grinspoon says. Within a week, he and Betsy tested a doober at a party. In retrospect, Grinspoon figures that first night he reached an anxiety high.
Two tries later, at age 44, he got stoned. He knew because Neopolitan cookies tasted better than ever, and because, he says, he grasped the Beatles' psychedelic masterpiece "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band."
"That was the first thing to let me know that I was there," Lester says. "It was an implosion." That, of course, reminds him how later in 1972, he helped John Lennon stay in the U.S.
Attorney General John Mitchell, either at Mitchell's wife Martha's behest or because of Lennon's politics, tried to extradite Lennon. Before the trial, Grinspoon dined with John and Yoko.
Conversation, of course, drifted to Grinspoon's first cannabis experience with "Sgt. Pepper's." Grinspoon took the stand on Lennon's behalf, and the Beatle was allowed to stay in the country.
Around this time, Harvard derailed Grinspoon's bid for professorship. He was nominated and rejected. Seemingly unaffected, Grinspoon used the formula of Marihuana Reconsidered to examine more illegal drugs. In 1975, he published LSD Reconsidered; in 1977, Cocaine Reconsidered.
While Harvard balked, Grinspoon's extracurriculars didn't phase his peers in the American Psychiatry Association, so long as the APA profited. In 1980, he struck gold. What if, he wondered, we collected the year's best psychological papers in one book? The APA sold the inaugural Annual Review for $40. It thrives 28 years later.
"Harvard hates this," Grinspoon says. "The APA made a lot of money on it. In fact, I got ten percent royalty which I turned over to the department of psychiatry at Harvard because I felt I did so much of this on Harvard time that I really didn't deserve it all."
After editing the Annual Review for the American Psychiatry Association four years, Dr. Lester Grinspoon's boycott of drug company perks forced him out of the APA. As chair of the program committee, Grinspoon arranged conferences for 12,000 doctors. He clashed with the APA's medical director over drug industry sponsorship of these conferences.
"The drug companies were constantly knocking at the door," Grinspoon says. A drug company that manufactures a drug to treat negative signs of schizophrenia would pay the APA to allow them to run a symposium on treating negative signs of schizophrenia.
"Usually, it's not that bald-faced," he says. He suggested that the APA raise dues to maintain its integrity. "That didn't fly," he says.
Admitting the brilliance of the Annual Review probably sickened his Harvard superiors. They congratulated him, only to dare him to duplicate the feat for them.
"I went home that night and I smoked," Grinspoon says. "I didn't smoke every night, but I did that night and I thought."
What about a publication? "See, there was already the Harvard Health letter. I thought 'What about a Harvard Mental Health letter?' It sounded good the next morning," Lester says.
Harvard went for it. "The Mental Health Letter has been earning a fair amount of money," Grinspoon says. He edited it for 16 years with James Bakalar, his co-author on 1993's Marihuana: the Forbidden Medicine.
Marihuana: the Forbidden Medicine evidences cannabis' medicinal efficacy through hundreds of testimonies written by patients with dozens of ailments. The book, in plain language, provokes intense feelings as the reader learns about people who suffer not only from awful diseases, but a callous government that punishes them for taking the best medicine.
"We used a calm tone," Bakalar says. "Several people who have read it said it made them angry. We figured it is better to present it in a not too polemical way, and to state the facts as calmly and objectively as you can."
In the partnership, Bakalar says he is the wordsmith and Grinspoon the idea man. The duo has co-written four books since 1973, co-edited another and published numerous articles.
"Sometimes we have slight differences of opinion," Bakalar says. "I found that working with him has been very smooth."
Bakalar, another non-practicing lawyer (he earned his juris doctor in 1967), never smokes, however, he defends the right of others to.
"I have always felt the same way about this issue," he says. "I think the policies are poor and they should be changed."
They continue the work of Forbidden Medicine through the website RxMarihuana.org. Structured like the book, patients use the site to describe how pot treats more than 100 illnesses.