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More About 420 Gold Kush Winner Len Richmond

“I think it's actually gentler on your system,” Len Richmond said, when I asked him why medical marijuana patients so often prefer the whole cannabis plant over pure prescription THC; “Do you want a cup of caffeine, or a cup of coffee?” he added, and typing on this misty Old Town morning over a steaming brew of Turkish coffee, it's hard not to see his point.

Richmond, who wrote the stage play, Risky Kisses, and spent two decades working as a successful sitcom writer, both in the United States, as well as abroad in England, started his career as a very ambitious seven-year-old with an 8 mm camera.

“It's in my genes,” he said, referring to his refreshingly frank gay lifestyle; “When I was seven, I wanted to go to Hollywood.” Now that he's retired from comedy writing, Richmond has turned to film making. His most recent documentary, “What if Cannabis Cured Cancer?” has already been given to one hundred members of congress, and is making it's way far and wide around the globe, from Africa, to the Dutch parliament.

The United States has a lurid history of imprisoning its truly ill and forcing examples of medical marijuana users, as in the 1999 trial of Todd McCormick, and Peter McWilliams. Both men were charged with illegal marijuana cultivation and banned from using medical necessity as a defense. McCormick, who suffered nine recurrences of bone marrow cancer before the age of ten, served half a decade in prison. As a child, McCormick's mother gave him baked goods laced with cannabis, which he attributes to saving his life.

Peter McWilliams was a bestselling writer who suffered from AIDS and lymphoma. He never made it to trial. McWilliams choked to death on his own vomit once banned from using cannabis for its anti-nausea properties. NORML quoted him before the trials as having said, “I now face ten mandatory years in federal prison. I will die there. My life is over because I tried to save my life doing something my doctor recommended in a state where it is legal.”

Where do we draw the lines of morality and compassion? What would you do to ease the suffering of someone you loved? Is it forgivable for governments to imprison good people who have already suffered too much? Richmond's documentary brings these questions to mind, while taking a hard look at the medical science behind cannabis use.

Marijuana has been called many things, among them: mary jane, pot, grass, the gateway drug. Early propaganda claimed that weed would make you go mad. But whatever your stance on dope, it can't be patented, or controlled, and so remains a potential threat to big money pharmaceutical giants, just as hemp may some day challenge the cotton or timber industries as a more sustainable, low-impact alternative. “You can't make that kind of exploitative profit on marijuana,” Richmond explained, “because you can grow it on your own windowsill.”

There are four hundred and twenty-one chemical compounds in cannabis, sixty of these are cannabinoids, some of which exist within our own bodies, yet are found within no other known plant life in nature, making cannabis a surprising and unique botanical. More specifically, our bodies contain receptor sites for the cannabinoids hidden in marijuana. Cannabinoids have an array of functions within our bodies, from mood regulation, to anti-inflammatory effects.

When they're blocked in mice, tumors develop. Many of the compounds have been bred out of marijuana in favor of THC, so seeds from earlier decades remain in demand for research. Traditionally THC has been the most infamous of the cannabinoids, as it produces the high associated with potheads, lava lamps, and Cheech and Chong movies.

Professor Kanat Sarsenbaev at the Institute of Botany believes that cannabis evolved with THC as a form of resistance to ultraviolet light, but there are other humbler cannabinoids, and research suggests many of them have anti-tumor properties.

Jeffery Hergenrather, MD, said, “There's a wealth of laboratory evidence that these anti-tumor properties kill cancer cells in a variety of ways. There are multiple mechanisms of action identified by which cannabis kills cancer cells.” Yet, the United States government is resistant to medical marijuana research, and lags behind European nations.

Richmond himself was a skeptic when he first began investigations for his documentary: “I wanted to be convinced. This was like a journey for me, too. I didn't know where the film would go.” He revealed that his own mother had been diagnosed with cancer, but refused chemotherapy, or medical treatment; despite heated warnings from several medical specialists, she chose to adopt a holistic lifestyle, instead, following a raw vegan diet, and using medicinal herbs, not including cannabis. Richmond was convinced she was going to kill herself.

However, for four years the tumor didn't grow or diminish, then it began to shrink, demonstrating what other brave, or hard-headed individuals before her have, that the body maintains an intelligence of its own design, and is constantly seeking homeostasis, a state of balance, that there are older paths to healing, and better living is not always found through pharmacology.

Richmond lives in Los Angeles with his boyfriend of ten years. Although he's working on a new documentary, “Marijuana and the Mind,” regarding artists exploring the creative process, and says he may enjoy writing a play, he's learning to relax. In reference to his boyfriend: “He's a very mellow guy, so I'm trying to take a page out of his book.”

Richmond promises he's trying hard to make long afternoons at the beach a priority, as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but I, for one, hope he gets back to work soon.

                                                            — Piper Tyler