Drug Policy

General Consternation

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The Norman E. Zinberg Center for Addiction Studies at Harvard Medical School is named after a psychiatrist who rejected both the chemical-compulsion view of addiction and the criminal-justice approach to drug use. Each year the center chooses a drug policy scholar for its Zinberg Lecture Award; previous recipients include the psychiatrists Thomas Szasz, author of Our Right to Drugs, and Lester Grinspoon, co-author of Marihuana: Forbidden Medicine. Critics of the war on drugs were therefore dismayed by the center's choice for the 1997 Zinberg Lecture Award: Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Grinspoon, who resigned his faculty position with the center in protest, said he was not troubled simply by the fact that the drug czar would be a controversial speaker. In a letter to the director of Harvard's Division on Addictions, Grinspoon noted that McCaffrey "is not a scholar but a political appointee….If he is controversial, it is largely for two reasons: his rejection of medical marihuana, which he calls a 'hoax,' and his opposition to needle exchange programs….Furthermore, although I once had higher hopes for him, it is clear to me now that he is not even open to discussion of these issues; he refuses to talk to people who take different views. Norman Zinberg would not have wanted a prize named after him awarded to such a person." McCaffrey was scheduled to receive the award on March 7.