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JM grad bringing 'reefer gladness' to Rochester

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Payton Curry has been accused of being the black sheep of the family so often that he's embraced the term and flipped it around.

The '98 John Marshall graduate is one of the nation's foremost advocates of medicinal marijuana. Curryosity Consulting, a multi-million dollar company with 30-plus employees based in Arizona, routinely travels the country to educate legislators, medical personnel and curious citizens on the benefits of marijuana.

Curry's funding and expertise made Sensible Minnesota's Medical Cannabis Conference possible on Tuesday at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. It's the first such event ever held in Minnesota — and his parents plan to be sitting front row, despite their professional ties to traditional Western medicine at Olmsted Medical Center.

"My mom and step-dad told me I'm the black sheep of the family because of what I work with, but I told them I'm the green sheep," Curry said. "It's a stigma I deal with even in my own family."

Cynthia Branch, Curry's mother, recently retired after a 20-plus year career as a registered nurse. Charles Branch retired Friday as a general surgeon. They were skeptics when Curryosity Consulting was first created in 2008, but are now proud — and curious — as they've watched the business flourish from afar.

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"Growing up in a time when pot was a bad thing, we need to be re-educated on how it can help people," Cynthia said. "I find it interesting that we're OK giving people rat poison to thin their blood, but an organic plant like marijuana is frowned upon. There are ways this can be used medicinally, but we didn't grow up with that."

Curry says he first became aware of the medicinal benefits of marijuana when he began making edibles for athletes at Winona State around the turn of the century. After withdrawing from college to attend culinary school, and experimental stints in Singapore and California, he moved to Arizona to work with more legal freedoms.

As marijuana laws across the United States continue to evolve, he's become an award-winning cannabis cook who works in the cultural margins. For example, his company has a formal partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation of Arizona, but he also routinely works at events sponsored by "High Times" magazine.

Still, the biggest hurdle Curry's consulting company has faced is communication. His tinctures and other baked goods are aimed at aches and pains, but they're made without marijuana's psychosis agent.

Curry says that fact continues to escape many, including a disappointed Washington Post reporter who left a recent event without even writing a story.

"It's not just ripping bong hits or blunts," Curry said. "People often refer to reefer madness. With education, I call it reefer gladness."

"It's a big hurdle," added Branch. "The people making the (legislative) decisions have a certain point of view, but they aren't educated with (new information). It's not just a bunch of people getting stoned."

Maren Schroeder, co-founder of Sensible Minnesota, said that Curry reached out over the summer to coordinate the conference, even offering to "foot the bill." About 100 people are registered to attend Tuesday's event, which is free to the public, but there's space for 350.

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Registered parties aren't required to share professional connections, but Schroeder says that Mayo Clinic and Olmsted County Public Health will be represented.

"Our president is doing one of our sessions and he's perfectly credible, but he hasn't built the reputation within the industry like Payton," Schroeder said. "Payton gives us some pretty strong ground to stand on."

Still, Curry's extensive travels and advocacy has revealed the steep climb he's facing as critics continue to paint the industry with a broad, Grateful Dead-heavy brush. He expects much of the same next week in his hometown.

"I don't sit outside my front door and take bong rips, as people say," said Curry, who says he no longer drinks or smokes. "I have a family. I just want to share the knowledge I have with the community. That's the best part of coming back to Rochester."

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