Tod H. Mikuriya, MD, known as the grandfather of the medical marijuana movement and architect of Proposition 215, died May 20, 2007, at age 73.1 Proposition 215 legalized doctor recommendations of marijuana to patients in California in 1996.
Dr. Mikuriya was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on September 20, 1933. His parents were Anna Schwenk, a German immigrant and special education teacher, and Tadafumi Mikuriya, the descendant of a Japanese samurai family and a civil engineer. Dr. Mikuriya received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Reed College in Oregon in 1956 and then served as a medic in the United States Army for 2 years.
Dr. Mikuriya earned his MD from Temple University in 1962, where he first came across reports of the medicinal use of marijuana. He then began conducting his own research, cataloging the symptoms that marijuana supposedly relieved such as nausea and insomnia.
He spent a year directing the drug addiction treatment center of the New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute in Princeton, then became a consulting research psychiatrist at the Center for Narcotics and Drug Abuse Studies of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 1967, where he headed marijuana research.
His work at the NIMH was brief. He left after only a few months due to disagreement on the agency’s tendency to highlight only the negative effects of marijuana. Dr. Mikuriya developed a private practice in Berkley, California, where he saw many patients diagnosed with cancer and AIDS.
Though his medical philosophy was regarded by some notable politicians as “the Cheech and Chong show”—a reference to a comedy duo that tended towards pro-drug culture humor—Dr. Mikuriya pursued his practice and research, eventually founding the California Cannabis Research Medical Group in 1999. His work was almost put to a standstill when the Medical Board of California accused him of gross negligence, unprofessional conduct, and incompetence for failing to properly examine patients before giving them recommendations for marijuana in 2000. In 2004 the Board gave him a $75,000 fine and 5 years probation. He appealed the ruling and was allowed to continue his practice under the supervision of a state-appointed supervisor.
“It never ceases to amaze me the broad range of ailments that are helped by cannabis—chronic conditions, physical or psychological,” Dr. Mikuriya told The East Bay Express, a Northern California newspaper in 2004.2 In the same article he said that clinicians have been prescribing cannabis for 100 years, and it wasn’t until the Reefer Madness era of the late 1930s that medical marijuana got such a bad rap. (Reefer Madness is a 1930s propaganda film that perpetuated sensationally inaccurate myths about marijuana smoking.) “I’m fighting to restore cannabis,” he said.2
Dr. Mikuriya is survived by two sisters, Mary Jane Mikuriya and Beverly Mikuriya; a son, Sean; and a daughter, Hero. His family told California news organizations that he died from complications of cancer.1
- Fox M. Tod H. Mikuriya, 73, dies; backed medical marijuana. New York Times. May 29, 2007:A17
- Gammon R. Witch-hunt victim or shoddy doc? East Bay Express. October 20, 2004. Available at: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/200410-20/news/witch-hunt-victim-or-shoddy-doc/1. Accessed June 25, 2007.