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.

About Comments

Reader comments on Sacbee.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the "report abuse" button below it. We will delete comments containing inappropriate links, obscenities, hate speech, and personal attacks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. See more about comments here.

What You Should Know About Comments on Sacbee.com

Sacbee.com is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "report abuse" button to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand. If you want to discuss an issue with a specific user, click on his profile name and send him a direct message.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "report abuse" button to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at feedback@sacbee.com. Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them, but you may ask our staff to retract one of your comments by sending an email to feedback@sacbee.com. Again, make sure you note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us your profile name.

hide comments

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.