by Mary Lou Smart www.medicalcannabisart.com
Fueled by mixed messages, the United States government’s marijuana prohibition creates the kind of numbers game that would make any sports writer ecstatic.
Attorney General Eric Holder announces the federal government will respect states’ rights; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raids on cannabis businesses immediately jump 80 percent.
The federal government that categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medical benefit holds patents raving about the neuroprotectant and antioxidant value of the same plant.
It busts growers and dispensaries running medical marijuana businesses in states with medical marijuana pro-grams, confiscating supposedly confidential records at the same time.
It courts tincture shops, extolling the virtues of “pharmaceutical-grade” weed. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), a federal agency, lines up with the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American Nurses Association in its recent recognition of cannabis as a Complementary Alternative Medicine. Its cousin, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cherry-picks respondents for bogus surveys and continues to insist that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no medical value.
Within the DEA, craziness trumps reason. In 1988, the DEA’s own Judge Francis L. Young finds, “The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people.” Much like rescheduling petitions galore, his judicial recommendation is ignored.
Every year brings fresh anniversaries.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) incorporated 40 years ago. Its founder, Keith Stroup, actual-ly got the ball rolling with a meeting in October 1970, not long after legis-lators signed off on the Controlled Substances Act, which categorized the weed that’s never killed anyone as more harmful than synthetic methamphetamines. NORML sub-mitted the first petition for reschedul-ing to be ignored when it applied in 1972 to move cannabis from Schedule I, based on medical use.
When they signed off on the Controlled Substances Act, legisla-tors were assured that the reschedul-ing would occur if a study, the National Report on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, was favorable. That 1972 study concluded that “neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety.” As that document, known as the Shafer Commission’s report, and NORML’s petition appli-cation approach their 40-year anniversaries, the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis (CRC) is ready to celebrate a10-year anniver-sary of its federal petition to resched-ule. No surprise, but no response from the feds on any of this stuff! Yet more milestones can be found in the realm of the patient movement, where those in need of therapeutic benefit have altered the playing field by raising awareness.
It’s been 10 years since the passing of Bob Randall, whose influence on the medical marijuana movement is significant.
Suffering from glaucoma, he realized in the 1970s that the plant he’d been using for recreation actually helped his condition by reducing ocular pres-sure. Told in his 20s that he’d be blind in two years, he became a strong advocate for medicinal marijuana and also retained his vision for the rest of his life. His anger over the denial of a simple medical solution, his compas-sion toward those in need, and his communication finesse made him an ideal advocate. With a master’s degree in rhetoric from the University of South Florida and his speaking acumen, Randall was well equipped for the battles to come.
He and Alice O’Leary, his wife, were arrested in 1975 for growing his med-ical marijuana on their balcony in Washington, D.C. Within days, Randall was conducting his own investigation. He was shocked to learn that individuals within the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) understood that marijuana could help individuals with glaucoma.
“That just made him madder than hell,” said O’Leary. “I don’t know of any other way to put it. It irritated him that we were arrested for some-thing that federal agents knew could be helpful. So we decided to fight the charges, which we did, and we won, and it was huge news.”
Concurrent with the legal fight, they’d petitioned the federal government through the FDA for legal access to federal supplies of marijuana for treatment of glaucoma, which he received in November 1976. Another anniversary: 35 years have passed since the first federal patient received his government-supplied weed. Randall was the first patient in the government’s Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) Program.
Over the years, Randall was encour-aged by the federal government to remain silent. His now-famous reply, “Having won, why go mum?” is the guiding principle that keeps patients above water. He clearly understood that without patient stories, the movement would slip back into the federal realm of myth and lies.
Wanting to help others, Randall creat-ed protocols for prospective patients for glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and AIDS. With his help, several patients were accepted into the program. Together, Randall and O’Leary founded the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics in 1981 (30 years!) to educate patients.
Despite the federal strategy of keeping a lid on positive news, word of the federal patients found its way into the mainstream. In 1990, at NORML’s annual convention, a panel discussion among five patients was filmed by C-Span. Randall moderated, and all five discussed their medical conditions and experiences with marijuana. The two-hour video, which included other speakers, was a hit among people who had no idea that cannabis could do more than get them high. NORML’s phones were ringing off the hook for quite some time. People wanted to know how to get into the program.
“This really was the first time that the patients had a chance to meet and bond, and for us to realize the power of the patient,” said Mary Lynn Mathre, cofounder of Patients Out of Time. “We knew that it was an historic moment.”
After the conference, the patients con-tinued their discussion in a private set-ting. The resulting video, Marijuana as Medicine, was released two years later and also created a media sensa-tion. Both can be viewed via www.medicalcannabis.com.
By 1992, faced with growing evidence that cannabis was helping an awful lot of folks and a surge in people applying to get into the IND, the first Bush Administration shut the pro-gram down. While the numbers vary, the federal government states that there were 15 patients in the program at that time. The government strategy has been to continue supplying the chosen few with a monthly supply of cannabis until they die.
“The federal government played its trump card, and they played it very well, when they shut down the com-passionate IND program, because, ultimately, what they did was they totally shut down research” said O’Leary. “They absolutely cut off at the knees any opportunity to use the federal government as a platform for moving medical marijuana forward.”
In 1995, after watching two of the federal patients die and alarmed by what they viewed as urgency on the medical front, Mathre and her hus-band, Al Byrne, left NORML, where they had been board members and held various other positions. They started Patients Out of Time along with several of the federal patients.
“Al and I were just looking at each
other and looking at the patients, and we were saying, ‘You know, the feder-al
government is just hoping that you guys will die and nobody knows their dirty
little secret, which is that they’re growing marijuana and giving it to you,
and nobody else is getting it because they want to continue claim-ing it has no
Carrying on the work begun by Randall and O’Leary’s Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, Patients Out of Time’s fresh focus has been to pull together doctors, nurses, and clini-cians, in addition to patients. Promoting the science of the plant has been a key motivator of Mathre dur-ing most of her career as a nurse. The emphasis on the science behind the medicine led to the organization’s professional conferences, which are approved by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Nurses Association (ANA) for contin-uing education credits.
“That’s where Mary Lynn and Al have been so effective and so impor-tant to this movement,” said O’Leary. “They’ve organized these conferences where clinicians come together. They have advanced the movement tremen-dously, and my hat is off to them.”
Irv Rosenfeld is a walking, talking federal cannabis patient who is not being studied in any in-depth scientif-ic fashion. Since 1983, he has benefit-ed from a can of 300 marijuana ciga-rettes every 25 days, care of the IND program. His rare bone condition, multiple congenital cartilaginous exostoses, is characterized by bony protrusions or tumors constantly popping up at the ends of long bones. Diagnosed when he was 10 years old, the condition prevented him from attending public school, left him in constant pain, and necessitated sever-al surgeries. During a late-night col-lege poker game in the 1970s, smok-ing on a rare occasion, he realized that cannabis alleviated his pain. Over time, cannabis use allowed him to wean himself off the addictive levels of prescription drugs, like Dilaudid, Quaaludes, and morphine, that he had been taking for years.
Randall guided him through the com-plicated process necessary to be accepted into the program. Rosenfeld, a Patients Out of Time board mem-ber, is one of four remaining patients in the federal program that refuses to test results or admit new patients.
Discouraged when Bush I shut the door on its compassionate care, he had high hopes that a Democrat in the White House would reopen the program to others in need.
“We did have assurances from the Clinton Administration that they were going to reopen the Compassionate Care protocols,” he said. “We were very disappointed when that didn’t happen.”
Follow the message of the media for a while and you’ll realize that the num-bers game and stories about busts and stoners are sound bites that keep the train wreck at dysfunction junction. For the comprehensive medical story, visit Patients Out of Time’s Web site, www.medicalcannabis.com, which is chock full of videos from its medical professionals.
“When we started Patients Out of Time, we decided that we should always stay focused on patients,” said Mathre. “Because we’re volunteers, we can always say that we’re doing it because we believe in it. Nobody can say that we’re doing it for the money.”
Randall, who contracted AIDS, con-tinued to advocate for patients until his death in 2001.
O’Leary faults the federal government for keeping medical marijuana out of reach of patients. “What the federal government is doing is morally wrong,” she said.
After her husband died, she decided to move on. A nurse, she specializes in hospice care and is a grief counselor. “I will be forever grateful for Robert that he did not extract from me a deathbed promise to carry on the good fight,” she said. “I did for 25 years.
What is happening throughout the United States is not the way to provide or receive medical care. It’s half-assed, and you can quote me on that. Cannabis is a gift, and we are not using it properly.”