Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

March 17, 2010
Celebrity activist wages L.A. pot battles, seeks solitude in Sierra

Cheech Marin Cheryl Shuman Beverly Hills NORML90210.JPGIn Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, Cheryl Shuman was known as the optician to the stars - as the woman who got Tom Cruise to wear those dark sunglasses in "Risky Business." She also was a renowned marketing, public relations and product placement executive known for schmoozing with Jay Leno, Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts.

These days, Shuman lives two distinctly different lives. In Southern California, she is the executive director of the Beverly Hills chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws - and a raw-voiced speaker who railed against Los Angeles' crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries "as someone who is going to die."

In Northern California, where she is little known, Shuman is a cancer patient and medical cannabis user who finds her retreat from Los Angeles - and her activist life - on a Sierra foothills ranchette about 50 miles from Sacramento.

She fell in love with the region after a whitewater rafting trip on the south fork of the American River. She said she concluded: "If I were to die, this is as close to heaven as I can find."

But Schuman is repeatedly drawn back to her cause, she says, due to a disturbing discussion she had with a physician in Northern California. Shuman, who survived ovarian and cervical cancer in 2006, said she was diagnosed with new tumors in her liver a few months ago.

After she told her doctor she was a cannabis user, Shuman said the doctor replied: "That's a problem...We can't even get tests approved."

A Los Angeles television station aired a report on her illness and medical marijuana activism. And she delivered her stirring City Council testimony (see video below) about potentially being denied a liver transplant because she is a marijuana user.

Her insurer, Aetna, ultimately announced that Shuman's cancer treatments would be covered under company policy whether she is a medical pot user or not.

But Shuman continued setting out from her foothills oasis. She is a featured speaker at medical marijuana conventions as a cancer fighter advocating for patients while pondering how much time she has left. She says she was told she had terminal cancer four years ago but, "so far, I'm still alive."

Pictured: Back in L.A., Shuman hangs with actor Cheech Marin of "Cheech & Chong" fame. Courtesy Cheryl Shuman.

Video: Testifying before the Los Angeles City Council.

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About Weed Wars

Peter Hecht

From its pot fields to politics, California is the epicenter for America's marijuana discussion. This blog covers news, trends and people of the California marijuana story.

Contact reporter Peter Hecht at phecht@sacbee.com

» See the sacbee.com marijuana topics page

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