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Cannabis Research Pioneer Ungerledier Dies at 85

Ungerledier Cannabis Now
Photo by Gracie Malley


Cannabis Research Pioneer Ungerledier Dies at 85

J. Thomas Ungerledier, a longtime psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, was one of the first researchers to show marijuana had medical benefits — a generation ago — and was a groundbreaking pioneer in the realm of drug policy reform.

He found out cannabis was good for patients with cancer or glaucoma as early as the 1970s, he was one of the first health professionals to say drug addiction was a disease, not a problem for police; and he tried to tell Richard Nixon that decriminalizing cannabis was the way to go — just a few years removed from the Controlled Substances Act’s passage.

He died on Sept. 19 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, the Los Angeles Times reported, and he is being mourned by drug war opponents as well as colleagues in medicine.

“Tom was the first member of the Marijuana Commission to begin work with NORML and played a key role in helping the committee agree to recommend decriminalization,” wrote Dale Gieringer, California NORML’s executive director. “He was delightful to work with, and an effective advocate at legislative hearings, where he would engage Republican opponents in ways that were difficult for them to ignore.”

Ungerleider was a member of the Shafer Commission, which Richard Nixon formed to try to prove that the just-passed Controlled Substances Act was a good idea. The commissioners suggested just the opposite, concluding after a year’s worth of research that marijuana was not particularly dangerous — and should be legal to use in homes.

The prosecution of the drug war so angered Ungerledier, a Republican for his first 40 years, that he started voting Democratic.

He found that marijuana soothed the ocular pressure that glaucoma patients suffer, and noticed that THC helped cancer patients survive chemotherapy and radiation. That led to the paper he published in 1999 — just three years after the passage of Prop. 215, when many still doubted medical marijuana as a concept — that stated cannabis has a “limited but definite role in medicine.”

He also had words for anyone who saw cannabis as a magic plant that would solve all of the world’s problems.

“We never seem able to grasp the fact that no drug is inherently good or evil,” he once wrote.

Meaning, it’s all how about how the drug is being used — or abused. In other words, he was a rational scholar throughout his career, which meant, in a time of irrational hysteria, he was a strong voice in favor of cannabis.

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