NORML 2020 Conference Honors The Late Dr. Lester Grinspoon

Dr. Lester Grinspoon posthumously received the Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award this month.
NORML 2020 Conference Honors The Late Dr. Lester Grinspoon
High Times Archive

An important goal of the annual conference held by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is to recognize cannabis legalization advocates, scientists, and grassroots organizations and provide an opportunity for them to connect. 

Among the awards presented at NORML’S 2020 conference, held virtually Oct. 22-23, was the Michael J. Kennedy Social Justice Award, the prestige of which was elevated when it was announced that it would be given posthumously to Dr. Lester Grinspoon, who died at 92 on June 25, 2020. 

Shortly after Grinspoon’s death, Eleanora Kennedy put forward the suggestion that Dr. Grinspoon should be chosen as the next recipient of the award set up in her husband’s name.  

“I called Keith to suggest Dr. Grinspoon and he heartily agreed,” Kennedy told HIGH TIMES, referring to NORML’s founder Keith Stroup. “There’s no doubt that my husband would be proud of this year’s recipient.”

The award, now in its 4th year, was established by NORML with the participation of Kennedy following her husband’s death in January 2016. 

A legendary civil rights and criminal defense attorney, Kennedy also served as general counsel to HIGH TIMES from its founding in 1974 until his death. 

“Like Dr. Grinspoon, my husband Michael was a trailblazer along with Keith [Stroup] and NORML for the past 45 years. Their commitment to legalization of medical and recreational cannabis never wavered,” Eleanora Kennedy said.

Though Dr. Grinspoon needed very little introduction at NORML’s National Conference, nor here for that matter, it’s worth repeating that the venerable scientist, author, cannabis advocate and Harvard psychiatry professor was among the earliest and leading proponents of legalizing cannabis. Grinspoon discovered, through his assiduous research, that cannabis was less toxic and less addictive than alcohol or tobacco. 

The arrest of tens of thousands, young and old, for consuming an inoffensive plant irked Dr. Grinspoon.

“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 marihuana laws,” Grinspoon wrote in his book, “Marihuana Reconsidered,” originally published in 1971. “If we are to avoid having this harm reach the proportions of a real national disaster within the next decade, we must move to make the social use of marihuana legal.”

A Well-Deserved Honor

The Michael Kennedy Social Justice Award, according to Grinspoon’s two sons, was aptly named and well-deserved by their father.

The Grinspoons were moved and inspired, they told hundreds of conference attendees, that their father was being remembered not only for his scientific research of cannabis but his passion for social justice.

“It is appropriate that my father should receive an award that focuses on social justice because, ultimately, that was his concern,” said David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute

“In fact, my father was involved with cannabis because of social justice,” he added.

Peter Grinspoon, M.D. said that NORML’s advocacy for legalization and social justice was a sentiment consistently promoted by his father, who also served as NORML’s chairman of the board in the mid 1990s. 

“If we take a close look at the progress that cannabis legalization has made, we have NORML to thank,” said Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and board member of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation

Former HIGH TIMES associate publisher and NORML board member, Rick Cusick agreed. 

Speaking at the presentation of the social justice award, Cusick took conference attendees back five decades to 1970 when only 12% of Americans favored legalization of marijuana and when NORML was founded by Keith Stroup. By 1979, that percentage had more than doubled.

“When Reagan’s War on Drugs ramped up in the 1980s and cannabis was in the crosshairs, NORMLs mandate changed from reforming marijuana laws to hanging on for dear life,” Cusick said. “NORML kept the ball rolling against all odds while the rest of us were trying desperately to stay out of jail.”

A short film made by Kennedy’s son, Scott, gave conference attendees a glimpse of the attorney’s passion for human rights as well as HIGH TIMES’ and NORML’S enduring struggle to legalize cannabis.

  1. Big shout-out to Dr. Grinspoon and NORML’s Keith Stroup! These activists, and many others, were instrumental in creating a national movement for legalization. Many folks were hiding in the shadows because of the draconian punishments for using cannabis. The activists had the courage to lead the way.

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