Dr. Floyd Huen, doctor and activist, talks to Resonate about the medical benefits of marijuana and his decision to get involved in the cannabis industry .
In this 3-part series, we talk to three Asian American parents who are leading the cannabis revolution in medicine, art, and entrepreneurship.
Over the past 40 years, the movement to legalize cannabis (also known as marijuana) and the increasing availability of medical cannabis research have created growing acceptance for the psychedelic plant. However, the Asian American community still holds strong anti-drug sentiments. In a poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times in 2016, Asian Americans were the least likely to support cannabis legalization.
This is even more true for the older generations. However, despite the perception that most Asian American parents or elders don’t “get it,” there are a few who have stepped forward to voice their truth about cannabis.
Part I: The Doctor, Age 70.
The history of cannabis starts in China. In 6000 BC, cannabis seeds were a part of the Chinese diet, and 2727 BC marks the first record of cannabis used as medicine in Chinese pharmacopeia.
Although the Chinese in America seem to have forgotten that this plant was once part of their heritage, Dr. Floyd Huen, a 70-year-old physician and father of two kids, has not. In the fall of 2016, he wrote a letter to the Dean of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine to advise that cannabis become incorporated into the curriculum, explaining that the plant has been used by doctors in China for thousands of years for all kinds of conditions.
“The Dean said, ‘I’m not sure that that’s true.’ I said, ‘I’m sure that it is true,’” he says with a laugh.
An activist at heart, in the 1960s, he was part of the student-led Third World Liberation Front movement to establish an Asian American Studies department on campus at UC Berkeley. He decided to go to medical school because he believed that everyone should have access to universal healthcare. Back then, marijuana was very associated with the white hippie movement, so I ask him if Asian American radicals were influenced by that movement as well.
“Of course,” he says. “But the leadership in the Third World movement were not big pot smokers. Some individuals got into it, but I think apathy comes from abusing it. People were really careful it. When you want to be a political activist and you see your friends becoming potheads, that leads you away from it. I don’t know any major Asian American leaders that became potheads.”
In 1996, medical cannabis was legalized in California. By that point, he and his wife (former Mayor of Oakland Jean Quan) had already had multiple conversations with their kids about marijuana. “It was a pretty easy discussion because at that time it wasn’t legal, and neither I nor my wife used it. We explained what drugs are about, but I always made it clear that marijuana was the least harmful of all of them, so if they were to do that, they should wait until they were 18 to do it.”
In 2002, he began prescribing medical cannabis to patients over 60 for chronic pain. He didn’t have many Chinese patients, but when he recommended the plant to them, they declined out of fear of addiction.
Dr. Huen believes that the fear is due to China’s Cultural Revolution. One of the principles of Maoism is avoiding anything that would make the body impure. These anti-drug sentiments arose in response to the devastation of the Opium War when the British forced the Qing dynasty to allow opium to be sold in China. The coercion of the British led to widespread addiction and death in China.
As a doctor, Dr. Huen feels that the recent passage of California’s Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, is a good thing, because it will help correct misinformation about marijuana, and help people get the medicine they need. He emphasizes that there are many medical cannabis products that aren’t psychoactive. For example, his wife occasionally uses a cream for back pain.
Last November, Dr. Huen attended a conference sponsored by progressive acupuncturists in San Francisco where people learned about the medicinal effects of the cannabis plant. As this ancient knowledge start spreading throughout the acupuncture community here, he believes that the cannabis revolution will spread to China as well.
“We have the most Chinese of any state [in California]. The experience of people here is bound to have an effect and influence on people in China, just like how the food we eat and the things we celebrate here, are due to the influence of China. There’s no reason to believe that that won’t happen with medical cannabis.” He adds, “I think they will rediscover this connection [of the marijuana plant] to our heritage.”
Dr. Huen’s next project is to start a medical cannabis dispensary in the Sunset District of California. The planning hearing is coming up in May. If approved, he and his wife would be the first Chinese-American owners of a dispensary in San Francisco.
He anticipates serious battle — Chinese families and homeowners living in the district have always been the most resistant to the idea of having a marijuana facility in their neighborhood. However, Dr. Huen is optimistic that science will win.
“At the end of the day, science is science. And if starting a dispensary is what it takes to make the point, let’s do it.”