“I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana,” the distinctive voice on the tape growls. “I mean, one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”
It was May 1971, and Richard Nixon was fuming over a review included in his morning news summary of the book “Marihuana Reconsidered,” in which 42-year-old Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon savaged the US government’s case for keeping cannabis illegal.
The book was immediately popular — The New York Times called it “The best dope on pot so far” — and the author’s Ivy League pedigree made it hard to dismiss as a hippie screed. But it also raised hackles at Harvard (more on that in a moment) and, plainly, in the White House.
“Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish,” Nixon ranted in a conversation captured by the Oval Office recording system. “What the Christ is the matter with the Jews? . . . I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists.”
Nixon had circled Grinspoon’s name on the review, writing, “this clown is far on the left.”
Now 89, Grinspoon hadn’t known of the Nixon barb until recently.
“Imagine that,” he said, laughing uproariously. “I got the attention of one of the world’s biggest [jerks]. It’s a red badge of courage.”
A psychiatrist, Vietnam War opponent, and son of a Russian Jew, Grinspoon made a rich target for Nixon. But the book also earned him critics at Harvard Medical School, where colleagues greeted the pro-pot tome skeptically. Though more muted than Nixon’s ravings, their disapproval ultimately had more influence on his career.
Grinspoon says he was twice denied a promotion to full professor, once in 1975 and again in 1997, despite a career that included pioneering research on schizophrenia, dozens of books and papers, and leadership roles at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center and other prestigious institutions. He retired in 2000 as an associate professor.