Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tod Mikuriya, R.I.P.

Tod Mikuriya, the Berkeley psychiatrist who may have done more than any other single medical person to restore to more general knowledge the medical uses of marijuana, or cannabis, died at his home Sunday of complications of cancer. He was 73. Anyone who has benefited from medicinal marijuana should be in mourning. Tod was an unrelenting advocate once he thought he had figured things out, and his eloquence and integrity made him the bane of narks everywhere.

I first heard of him when somebody gave me a copy sometime in the 1980s, of "Marijuana: Medical Papers," which Tod compiled way back in 1973. The 465-page book is a straight reprint, with some introductory commentary by Tod, of scientific articles in medical journals, beginning with W.B. O'Shaughnessy's pioneering 1839 paper written after he discovered cannabis being used medicinally while he was serving in India, through a paper in 1971 on the origins of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. The book was eye-opening; utterly respectable doctors and scientists for more than 100 years had documented therapeutic uses of marijuana, debated the best ways for it to be administered, etc., etc., and the history had pretty much gone down a black hole after marijuana prohibition.

Tod got his medical degree at Temple University, then specialized in psychiatry. In 1967 he became director of nonclassified marijuana research for the National Institute of Mental Health Center for Narcotics and Drug Abuse. He left shortly thereafter when "it became clear they only wanted research into demaging effects, not helpful ones."

I first met Tod Mikuriya when he testified as a court-certified expert witness in Marvin Chavez's case in Orange County. With his deep voice and confident air, along with his obvious deep knowledge, he made sure everybody in the courtroom knew there were validated medicinal uses for cannabis, and went into some detail about its ameliorative effects on Marvin's ankylosing spondylitis.

I later interviewed him in his home in Berkeley when I was doing research for my book, "Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana," and devoted the last chapter to him, Dennis Peron and Marvin Chavez. He was warm and welcoming, and profoundly informative. I wish now that I had known then of his interest in choral music and madrigals; it would have been one more thing we had in common.

I am profoundly sad Tod Mikuriya is gone, and sadder still that he did not live to see his enlightened views on cannabis universally accepted. I suspect I'll have to live a good deal longer to see that happen, but I don't intend to die before that.

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