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Award-winning investigative journalist (and dad) Peter Gorman has spent more than 20 years tracking down stories from the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Bombay. Specializing in Drug War issues, he is credited as a primary journalist in the medical marijuana and hemp movements, as well as in property forfeiture reform. His work has appeared in over 100 national and international magazines and newspapers.

Peter Gorman's love affair with the Amazon jungle is well-known to people in the field. Since 1984 Mr. Gorman has spent a minimum of three months annually there generally using Iquitos
Peru as his base. During that time he has studied ayahuasca the visionary healing vine of the jungle with his friend the curandero Julio Jerena. He has collected artifacts for the American Museum of Natural History botanical specimens for Shaman Pharmaceuticals and herpetological specimens for the FIDIA Research Institute of the University of Rome. His description of the indiginous Matses Indians’ use of the secretions of the phyllomedusa bicolor frog has opened an entire field devoted to the use of amphibian peptides as potential medicines in Western medicine.

Drug War Follies - Skunk Magazine Issue #10
The Doctor Is In the House

by Peter Gorman

Before most of us were born or, at best, were little kids, Dr. Tod Mikuriya was fighting to get the word out on medical marijuana. He’s been in the shit for it for the past several years. Stand up and salute him, muthafukas!

Since my last article, I flew to Peru to slog through the Amazon for a couple of weeks and drink ayahuasca, climbed in the Andes where I drank San Pedro, ate ‘shrooms several times, utilized the Matses Indians’ sacred medicines sapo and nu-nu, drank a little cane liquor, and smoked a little weed. Then I took off to La Paz to see how the Bolivian public is dealing with the recent election of Evo Morales to president of that beautiful land. Now I’m back and it seems very little has gone down regarding the War on Drugs during my absence

There have been snips, though: Ukiah, CA, has declared that because of non-pot-growing-neighbors’ complaints, all medical marijuana must be grown indoors from now on, rather than in backyards; New Mexico has placed a slew of bills related to drugs on the ballot, including one related to medical marijuana; Alaska’s senate, with the criminal blessing of its rat-bastard governor Frank Murkowski, tacked a provision on an anti-meth bill that would recriminalize the up-to-four-ounces of pot that adult Alaskans have been permitted to legally have in their homes since 1975.

But that’s not a lot of action, fellas. Tell you the truth: I’m disappointed in y’all. You ain’t done shit, frankly. Fuck, long-time activist and medical marijuana patient Steve Kubby, rotting in a jail in Placer County, CA, since January 27, 2006 (he has a 120-day sentence on a 2000 drug conviction for possession of mescaline and psilocybin), is making more waves than all of you!

He made news in early February when he filed a motion to have cannabis-laced food delivered to the jail. Jailhouse docs administered Marinol instead and that stabilized him enough to withdraw his ganja-goodies request. Kubby’s wife Michele, speaking to reporters on February 3 outside the jail, said he looked thin but was in good spirits. She noted that: “It is cruel and unusual punishment for a family to have the father die over a minute, innocent crime.”

Kubby currently faces charges of violating his probation by going to Canada.

Not making news at all but at the heart of the medical-marijuana legal morass is Dr. Tod Mikuriya (the Berkeley psychiatrist who got Kubby his Marinol in jail), perhaps the most
active of California’s physicians with regard to med-pot. Dr. Tod has been working at legalizing the herb as a medicine, for both physical and psychiatric illnesses, for 40 years. More than that he’s a class act and co-author of Prop 215, the California Medical Marijuana law. As a result of his work, he’s been taking huge hits from the establishment and nearly nobody is noticing.

His problems started less than two months after Prop 215 passed in November 1996. At a hastily called press conference held by the Feds on December 30, 1996, then-U.S. Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey (whose only knowledge of drugs was his possible involvement in the movement of Khun Sa’s heroin via Air America during the Vietnam war) trotted out a flip chart titled “Dr. Mikuriya’s Medicine.” Written down was a long list of things McCaffrey claimed Dr. Tod said cannabis-as-medicine was good for. Along with “glaucoma,” “cancer,” and “AIDS,” were some outright lies: “writer’s cramp,” for example, and “recovering forgotten memories,” neither of which were ever noted by Dr. Tod to be curable via smoking weed.

At the end of his little dog and pony show, McCaffrey turned to the television cameras and said, “This isn’t medicine. This is Cheech and Chong medicine!”

Dr. Tod probably howled at the stupidity of it all then went about his business of implementing the new law. The Feds, meanwhile, were verklempt over Prop 215 and threatened to revoke the prescribing licenses of any doctor who recommended medical-pot in California—a threat that fizzled when a group of docs sued and the Feds lost. But while the Feds were reduced to raiding cannabis clubs, California’s then-Attorney General, Dan Lungren, remained intent on nailing Dr. Tod (215’s most outspoken medical backer) and came up with a scheme to nail him that was as clever as it was evil. In 1997 Lungren had his office send out a notice to all law enforcement personnel and county district attorneys in the state that said, “If your jurisdiction has received recommendations signed by . . . Dr. Tod Mikuriya [sic], please notify John Gordnier.” Gordnier was Lungren’s senior assistant DA.

Dr. Tod, who was signing recommendations at the rate of about 1,000 a year and has made about 6,000 altogether, was unaware he was the target of such judicial malice until 2002, when complaints were filed against him with the Medical Board of California. Normally, those complaints come from unhappy patients; in this case they came from local police in rural parts of California who were complaining that they’d found Dr. Tod’s recommendations on people they’d busted with marijuana. Those complaints led to an illegal search of Dr. Tod’s patient records, where it was discovered that the doctor didn’t always give his patients a full physical before recommending medical pot. “Why would I?” he said at the time. “I’m a psychiatrist. A patient comes in complaining of depression and I know cannabis will help him [or her]. I give him [or her] the recommendation. Why on earth would I give that patient a physical?”

Despite Dr. Tod’s common sense approach, the Medical Board, in April 2004, placed him on medical probation. Among other things, he was fined $75,000 to pay the cost of his persecution . . . er, prosecution, was no longer able to see patients in his home, had to let the California Medical Board spot-check his records, and had to agree to pay a second doctor to review his patients’ records.

As we went to press, Dr. Tod was readying an appeal to the probation. Asked how he feels he said, “Where I am is like Joan of Arc mounting the platform with the king ready to light the faggots at the bottom of the stake. And the various reform organizations are taking no notice, because I am no longer on the preferred list. The case has been going on for so long that it no longer has sex appeal.”

To date, Dr. Tod is in the hole for $250,000 just in legal fees, and he is getting angry about the inactivity of the reform groups in relation to his case. “I have problems with people going on to greener fields and new initiatives instead of making sure that the laws that have already been passed, like 215, are enforced.”

At the heart of the issue of medical marijuana, he believes, is the power of the pharmaceutical industry. “The pharmaceutical companies have hooked up with their buddies in the criminal justice system to protect their market share. We have a populist medicine versus a state-mandated medicine, and they are fighting for a market share. These are insidious characters attempting to control the market with criminal justice policy. And the subtext, of course, is who can make the most money.”

As to his chances of winning on appeal he notes: “It’s like going to a casino: Who knows? When one moves into certain areas of reality one is in mortal danger. One of the things that really pisses me off about the legal reality is that lawyers will agree not to discuss certain things, and so that narrows the field of conversation. Like the Feds prohibiting California caregivers from discussing medical marijuana in court. And these are legitimate legal tools. One can really get shafted if one doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Let’s hope Dr. Tod Mikuriya doesn’t get shafted. He doesn’t deserve to. He’s worked a lifetime to get the word out on medical marijuana and is one of the people responsible for SKUNK readers knowing about it. Good luck, Doc.

It would all be funny if people weren’t dying and the prisons weren’t full.