Tod H. Mikuriya, 73; psychiatrist who championed legal medical marijuana
May 24, 2007
Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles TimesDr. Tod H. Mikuriya, a psychiatrist who was a leading figure in California's medical marijuana movement, died from complications of cancer Sunday at his Berkeley home, his family said. He was 73. He helped draft Proposition 215, a state ballot measure that legalized marijuana for the seriously ill who have a doctor's recommendation. Since its passage in 1996, Mikuriya had written approvals for almost 9,000 patients, said his friend Fred Gardner.
Mikuriya had studied the drug's therapeutic potential since the 1960s and briefly directed marijuana research at the National Institute of Mental Health. He left when he realized the government only "wanted bad things found out about marijuana," he told the online newsmagazine AlterNet in 2004.
In 1999, Mikuriya founded the Society of Cannabis Clinicians to educate colleagues about the plant's medical uses. He wrote books on the subject and kept a list of medical conditions that had been eased by cannabis; among the 285 ailments were many cancers, insomnia and stuttering.
When then-White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey saw a version of the list at a 1996 press conference, it included "recovering forgotten memories" and "writer's cramp." It moved him to assail Mikuriya's brand of medicine as a "Cheech and Chong show."
"The very thing the drug czar ridiculed him for was Mikuriya's greatest insight — the idea that so many conditions could be treated by marijuana," Gardner, editor of the society's journal, told The Times this week.
With the criticism came increased scrutiny of Mikuriya and others among a group of about 15 physicians commonly called the "pot docs" who take credit for the majority of marijuana recommendations in the state. Many weathered investigations by the Medical Board of California.
In 2000, Mikuriya was accused of unprofessional conduct and incompetence in recommending marijuana to 16 patients for failing to conduct proper physical exams and keep adequate records, according to a 2004 Times story.
Placed on probation by the state in 2004, Mikuriya appealed and continued to practice under the supervision of a state monitor. He also stopped seeing patients at his home in the East Bay hills and moved to a small suite above a Trader Joe's market in El Cerrito, on the eastern edge of San Francisco Bay.
Mikuriya saw the charges as politically motivated and had planned to continue appealing them when his health failed, Gardner said.
Tod Hiro Mikuriya was born in 1933 in Bucks County, Pa., to the former Anna Schwenk, a German immigrant, and Tadafumi Mikuriya, a Japanese samurai. His mother taught special education and his father was a civil engineer who often designed bridges.
Growing up, he attended Quaker schools and paid his way through college by folk singing. He graduated from Reed College in Portland, Ore., in 1956 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and served as an Army medic before earning a medical degree from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1962.
While at Temple, he came across a reference to the medical use of marijuana in a pharmacological text, which triggered his lifelong interest, Gardner said.
Mikuriya specialized in psychiatry at Oregon State Hospital in Salem and completed his training at Mendocino State Hospital. By 1970, he had moved to Berkeley and entered private practice.
"He was eclectic and had an adventurer's spirit and was very, very curious," said his sister Mary Jane Mikuriya.
That spirit could extend to traveling, piloting his own plane, racing cars or experimenting with cooking. He once turned a meal blue with food coloring "just to see what it would be like psychologically," his sister said.
Dr. Tod, as his patients called him, had a gentle manner and wore a white lab coat with an embroidered logo that revealed his specialty. It showed the snake and staff of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, atop a marijuana leaf.
In addition to Mary Jane, Mikuriya is survived by another sister, Beverly, a doctor in Pennsylvania; a son, Tadafumi "Sean"; and a daughter, Hero.
A memorial service will be held at 4:30 p.m. today at Quaker Berkeley Friends Church, 1600 Sacramento St., Berkeley.
Memorial contributions may be made to Reed College, http://www.reed.edu .