Death of a Husband … Death of an Issue

Robert C. Randall in November 1976 with his first supplies of legal marijuana from the federal government. He would receive federal marijuana for more than 25 years to treat his glaucoma.

Eleven years ago today my husband died.  Robert C. Randall was 53 years-old.

He was a man of some notoriety.  Often described as “the father of medical marijuana,” Robert accomplished a great deal in his 53 years.  In 1976 he became the first American since 1937 to receive marijuana under a doctor’s prescription and was the first to have “Uncle Sam” as his pharmacy.  Until Robert’s victory the only access to federal supplies of marijuana was through research programs and most of those programs were searching for the “harm” that marijuana would theoretically inflict upon the “drug abusers” of the 1970s.

But Robert proved — conclusively — that marijuana was THE drug that could help stave off the blindness which his glaucoma was certain to cause.  He used it in conjunction with other glaucoma medications and that is important to note.  He didn’t choose to use marijuana (although he didn’t mind using it).  It was only through the addition of marijuana to his regular medication regimen that his ocular pressures were lowered enough to prevent damage.  Take away any of the three to four medications that he used, including marijuana, and his ocular pressures went out of control.

All of this is well documented in books, films and on the internet.  Before starting this essay I did a Bing search this morning and was pleased to find even more entries than I had on previous occasions including a new, biographical entry on Wikipedia.  Three years before his death we authored a book, Marijuana Rx: The Patients’ Fight for Medicinal Pot which is a complete record of our twenty-plus years in the medical marijuana movement.  His legacy seems assured and rightly so.

And the medical marijuana movement goes on without him.  There were many soldiers willing to seize the banner as it fell and lead the charge.  The problem, it seems to me, is most are unsure of the direction the charge is supposed to go.  As Robert wrote,  “Once a morality play of intimate dimensions, medical marijuana has become a didactic drama driven by drug war motifs.”  He wrote those words in 1998 and they have become the reality of today’s world.  The “drama” of medical marijuana has gone on for so long, in so many different directions, that the result is a confused public that hears repeatedly about another “medical marijuana first” but has no idea what the fight is about.  “Medical marijuana?” they say, “That’s legal, right?”

Marijuana dispensaries are popping up in most states.  Their legality is clearly questionable since marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  Enforcement of this federal law is erratic and obviously prejudicial, dependent it seems of the direction of the political winds.  Many patients are actually receiving regular supplies of decent marijuana but the hard arm of the law could swoop down at any time and disrupt their health and wellbeing.  And there is the matter of “necessity.”  Almost two decades ago an activist proclaimed “all marijuana use is medical” and the early dispensaries in California were notoriously lax in their definitions of  “qualified” patients.  This has further diluted the argument making it harder for those with legitimate needs to get the support, both medical and pharmaceutical, that they need.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are many good people out there still working for rationality and compassion for those who medically need marijuana.  It is very touching to me that several dispensary operators have sought my permission to name their facilities after Robert, most recently in Lansing, Michigan.  These dispensaries are being operated in a remarkably responsible fashion and offer an oasis in a desert of arid federal policy that has not moved one iota in twenty years (since Bush 41 shut down the Compassionate IND program) let alone the past 35 years since Robert received his federal supplies.

There is still a medical marijuana movement but the medical marijuana issue, it seems to me, died with Robert.  He was able to focus the blame where it rightly belongs — at the federal government which has maliciously thwarted every reasonable attempt to rationally resolve a true public health problem.  Until such time as the immoral acts of the federal government are once again in the public spotlight it will be a difficult time for those seriously ill individuals who truly need marijuana medically.

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