At Long Last, Divestment


THE BATTLE IS OVER. Harvard has divested.

Not so fast, SASC; sorry, Conservative Club: South Africa and the Soviet Union are unaffected. The latest victim of Harvard's ideological financial transactions is Laurence O. McKinney '66. Citing ethical considerations, the University has refused ownership of stock in the Cannabis Corporation, pledged as a gift by McKinney, its founder.

By its own admission, Harvard very rarely chooses its investments on moral bases. The University has, on such grounds, sold its stock in only three companies, all South Africa-related. But Harvard officials found the issues in this latest case so clear and the ethical argument for divestment so compelling, that they deemed quick and decisive action imperative. Apartheid may be a subject for equivocation, but surely the University must not condone the legal use of THC by chemotherapy patients to curb nausea.

Apparently, Harvard has two reasons for disposing of the 180 shares in the Cannabis Corporation. First, according to one University official who asked to remain anonymous, McKinney had used Harvard's name to promote his business activities without permission. While McKinney denies this allegation, it remains unclear why rejection of the stock offer is an appropriate response to the alleged misdeed. By itself, it hardly seems an offense sufficient to warrant looking a potential gift horse in the mouth.

The second reason--the ethical grounds--is probably the more operative. According to the same official, Harvard did not want to be "associated with a pot company." Well that certainly sounds reasonable, one must admit, picturing the images conjured up by such a phrase. Of course, just as Harvard would not hold stock in a company whose agents sell loose joints to unsuspecting children, the University does not want any connection to a firm that claims--and trumpets--its links to the substance with which loose joints are made. And how do we know that McKinney won't diversify? One can only imagine the possibilities. The relatively simple matter of whether to accept the pot stock certainly posed a serious enough question for Harvard's ethical supervisors.


THE FACTS ARE THAT McKinney has patented a process of extracting THC--pot's active agent--from the marijuana plant; that the Food and Drug Administration has determined that THC can be sold to chemotherapy patients as an anti-nausea drug; and that McKinney subsequently established the Cannabis Corporation to extract and market the THC. All legal. All moral. All seemingly beneficial. Cannabis should be no more contemptuously labelled "a pot company" than should the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture synthetic THC.

If Harvard officials recognize the truth that the Cannabis Corporation is engaged in no mischievous or unethical undertaking, then they lose the force of any moral argument for disposal of its stock. Even if they stubbornly assert that the potential for abuse is too great, or that somehow the marijuana might end up in the wrong hands or be used for sinister purposes, tactical considerations still suggest against rejecting a 15 percent interest in the firm. After all, presumably Harvard can better influence use of the THC from within the industry than as an outsider.

In either event, there are other good reasons for accepting the stock. First and foremost, McKinney's ulterior motives notwithstanding, the offer was made in good faith by a loyal alumnus. Secondly, it would not have cost Harvard a dime. Lastly, by McKinney's admittedly wishful projection, the stock would have net Harvard half-a-million dollars annually by 1990. Whatever the exact figures, if Cannabis gets off the ground, it is bound to be a strong competitor in a $50 million market.

What emerges most clearly from the Cannabis affair is the need for Harvard to develop a more coherent overall investment policy. The questions to be resolved include the criteria by which alumni gifts are to be accepted or rejected, as well as the respective weight to be given ethical and pragmatic concerns. No doubt wide latitude must remain for case-by-case analysis, but stricter guidelines will help to eliminate unfair and contradictory investment decisions. In the absence of such a policy, the University does McKinney an injustice and the endowment a disservice by refusing stock in an healthful and profitable new industry.