Another Groundhog’s Day has come and gone. This is a special time of year for me. The dates–February 1 and 2–have special significance. It was forty years (!) ago yesterday (Feb. 1) that Robert and I began living together. In 1974 we had already known one another for eight years. We became good friends long before we became “a couple.” That friendship was the dearest thing of my life. When we became lovers it was a natural extension of the bond between us, a bond that grew and grew. He was the love of my life.
Groundhog’s Day? Well, anyone who knew us in the 80s and 90s is aware that Groundhog’s Day was Robert’s favorite holiday. Each year he would memorialize the event by mailing Groundhog’s greetings to all our friends. Long before there was email there was snail mail. Robert would write the card–a rather esoteric report on the world at large– and I would edit it. Then it was off to the copy shop. One year we sent out close to 200 “Groundhog” cards. We would fold, stuff, lick and stamp the envelopes. I suppose we were able to produce a mailing list somehow. I think back to those days of eight inch floppy discs that actually flopped and could hold next to nothing in terms of data but they were “State-of-the-art” to us and we somehow made them work.
Today, Groundhog’s Day, I heard from several old friends who remembered those oddly charming cards. They are missed, just as Robert is missed.
So, in honor of all that, I present a picture of Franklin Fred. He showed himself back in November and I can’t recall if there was a shadow or not, just an anxious dog who wanted to chase that groundhog in the worst way. Groundhog’s Day was Robert’s favorite holiday because in February 1978 we were visited by two young folks from Arkansas, pot farmers visiting the nation’s capital. It was a bleak period in our lives. After fifteen months of legal access to federal marijuana the feds had managed to lure away Robert’s doctor and close down the program that provided him marijuana. The young couple had read about Robert’s dilemma and arrived in Washington with a substantial amount of prime Arkansas marijuana. In exchange for a place to stay Robert received a gift of medical marijuana that would carry him through the next couple of months–until his lawyers were able to re-instate Robert’s prescriptive access.
Those were incredible days. We were blessed with the gift that keeps on giving, the love of good friends. And that is what Groundhog’s Day means to me. Thank you all. ❧
That’s my friend Mary Lynn Mathre with my buddy Tango. We visited MaryLynn, or ML, and her husband Al in North Florida last March. This picture was taken on their property near Carrabelle, Florida. I’ve posted her picture today because tomorrow, September 13, ML and I will be co-presenters at a seminar in Lansing, Michigan. The seminar is entitled, “Cannabis & The Endocannabinoid System: What Nurses & Medical Marijuana Professionals Need to Know.”
Collectively ML and I have more than a half century of experience in the medical marijuana issue. We hope that this might be the first of many presentations we give together. Nurses are the frontline personnel in healthcare environment and marijuana’s medical use is a hot topic these days, with 20 states authorizing the legal use of the drug. Michigan is one of those states and has more than 100,000 certified patients who can use marijuana legally! Yet nurses and other healthcare professionals have no training programs or classes.
ML and Al began an organization in the 1990s called Patients Out of Time, a non-profit group dedicated to education. Every two years they have organized an international conference on cannabis research and have brought together the world’s finest researchers who present fascinating papers on the emergining science of the endocannabinoid system. Mainstream America is finally awakening to science that is being conducted in places other than the U.S.A. Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently reversed his position on medical marijuana. In throwing his support behind this issue he issued an apology, explaining that he ” didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”
Just a few weeks ago marked the 38th anniversary of an arrest in Washington, D.C. that started the medical marijuana movement in America. It was 1975 and not very many people knew about marijuana’s beneficial properties. But a young college professor with glaucoma had realized that marijuana was saving his sight and he began growing marijuana to help keep his supplies steady. When he and his mate were arrested they realized they had two options: 1) pay the fine and be more careful in the future, hoping not to get caught again, or 2) fight the charges and at least create a record that marijuana was helping. They chose the latter and went on to make history.
That glaucoma patient was my late husband, Robert Randall, the acknowledged founder of the medical marijuana movement in America.☙
Last week was something special for me. In Lansing, Michigan they dedicated the R.C. Randall Memorial Wellness Center, named in honor of my late husband. It was a joyous event and both the ribbon-cutting and dinner were well attended. I traveled to Lansing and was the keynote speaker at the dinner. For weeks before I wondered what I had gotten myself into and now I have the answer — something good.
The R.C. Randall Memorial Wellness Center helps patients with a medical need for marijuana to be certified by the State of Michigan. This certification allows the patient two options: 1) grow their own marijuana (up to 12 plants), or 2) be paired with a “Caregiver” who will provide the patient with marijuana which he or she grows specifically for patients. Michigan, along with numerous other States, has been forced to craft a solution to the medical marijuana problem because the federal government steadfastly refuses to “man up” and re-schedule marijuana. Under federal law marijuana is still classified as having “no accepted medical use in treatment” despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Robert C. Randall died in 2001. He was still receiving marijuana from the federal government and still had his eyesight. And he still had the desire to see others obtain marijuana for medical use. In his final days he tried to dictate an article about marijuana’s beneficial effects for people with AIDS, especially in Africa where he envisioned AIDS clinics easily growing marijuana in their backyards. “How easy it could be,” he said.
But nothing was ever easy with medical marijuana and two decades of being on the “front line” had taken its toll on me. With Robert’s death I felt the time had come to “bow out” of the movement. Like any woman grieving the loss of her husband, I went through a period of uncertainty. The only certain thing I knew was that the road Robert and I traveled together had stopped. I knew I had to find my own path.
I had an interest in hospice work and began to chart my course towards working with the local organization, a goal I achieved four years after Robert’s death. It has been rewarding work. From time to time I have received calls about medical marijuana, asking for comments or seeking advice. I did what I could but I became more and more removed from the movement and that was fine by me. The medical marijuana movement had become huge and often chaotic. By failing to confront the medical marijuana issue honestly the federal government had created a nightmare of state laws, dispensaries, and uncontrolled use. Pandora’s box was open and, from my perspective, there seemed no rational way to proceed.
I promised myself that I would always speak out to preserve Robert’s memory and remind others of his legacy. This has served me well. About two years ago an activist called from Washington, D.C. and asked my permission to use Robert’s name on a clinic that they expected to open. I said it was “possible” and asked to be kept in the loop. I never heard from him again.
In the Spring of 2012 I had another request to use Robert’s name, this time from Michigan, and the requestor was a young woman, Becca Hollandsworth, who had been befriended by an ally from the “early days.” Roger Winthrop is the quintessential activist, a man who has devoted his life to various causes, one of which has been med-pot. He and Robert were great co-conspirators. They would talk for hours on the phone (before the age of “unlimited minutes”) and write long letters filled with tactics and strategies. I trusted Roger and he trusted Becca. Permission was granted.
Throughout the summer I would hear from Roger or Becca with updates. A “gala opening” was being planned and would I come? I agreed. I was never quite sure that either Roger or Becca heard my protests that I “was no longer involved in the movement.” I told them I would come to Lansing to help preserve the memory of Robert and his legacy. “Will you be available to lobby in the Capitol?” Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like “involvement.” But I pressed on.
Before I knew it the event had taken on a life of its own. On the RCR Memorial Wellness Center Facebook page the following was posted:
“GRASS ROOTS REUNION events in Lansing MI … once-in-lifetime opportunity to meet & speak with pioneers of medpot ‘movement’ …. they’ve not been together in decades, unlikely to ever do it again. Lansing’s Eastside is most unlikely place for such event ~ not envisioned, just came together w/ support of handful of Michiganders who recognize values & wish to ‘connect’ w/ authentic Tradition in name & honor of Bob & Alice. We are so fortunate to have earned this opportunity.”
So, on September 12 we “pioneers” got together and dedicated The Center which is, quite frankly, very handsome and much more than I ever expected. Robert would be very proud.
But he would be even more proud at the reception I received from Becca, Mark, Aaron, Jaisen, and others. In my role as a grief counselor at hospice I do a lot of “validation” — confirming that what the client says is right and true. In Lansing I was the one to receive validation. It was a sweet and singular time. Looking back at two decades of work and receiving the respect of those who are carrying on — I’m not sure it gets much better.
That night there was a dinner and I gave the keynote address. About 150 people were in attendance including several representatives from the nearby legislature. In between various technical snafus I managed to speak from the heart about the beginnings of the “movement” and how those years had been. Forced to “wing it” I’m not sure I ever got out the words that are most important to me. “Thank you, RC Randall Memorial Wellness Center.” You made this woman very proud. And Godspeed in your mission. One day, we hope, sanity will prevail but until that time remember that legal or illegal marijuana works. It can save sight, quell nausea, soothe spasms, control seizures, and a host of other disorders. It is a substance that was placed on this earth for a reason, a substance for which our DNA has a “receptor”. It will not be denied, only delayed. Keep on keepin’ on!
For more than two decades I worked with my husband, Robert Randall, to achieve the practical, but ever-elusive reality of prescription access to cannabis (marijuana) for those with life- or sense-threatening disease. He had glaucoma and discovered, quite by accident, that marijuana could help preserve his sight. He proved this fact to the Federal government in 1976 and received legal supplies of Federal marijuana until his death in 2001.
Robert’s death moved me in new directions and I was compelled to pursue my own calling — hospice work. Robert has been gone for eleven years and I am just starting my seventh year with Tidewell Hospice. It has been fascinating and rewarding work. But my involvement in the med pot issue was too deep and too long to simply drop it and walk away. Robert and I made friends — good friends — as we tried to change the laws that prohibit medical access. You cannot turn your back on good friends but relationships can change. After Robert died I had no interest in “stumping” for medical marijuana. My own spirit was calling to me and I am happy I pursued it. But what to do about med pot?
It was a seminar at a conference of grief counselors (my current profession) which gave me the answer. The speaker, Harold Ivan Smith, is renown for his ability to look at a political family which has experienced loss — think of the Lincolns, Roosevelts, and Kennedys — and convey to his audience the effects of grief on those grieving families and history. His most recent focus is Coretta Scott King, a truly amazing woman in her own right, who, after the death of her husband Martin, adopted the position that she would not seek leadership in the civil rights movement (which she easily could have done) but would do everything she could to preserve and protect her husband’s legacy. That rang like a clarion bell to me. I had already been doing that very thing but, just as in any grief situation, the validation of actions is enormous.
Robert C. Randall was not Martin Luther King, Jr. and I’m certainly not Coretta Scott King but like the Kings, Robert and I did have an impact. We forged new cultural territories, we changed many minds, and we helped a lot of good people through some bad times. The best I can do now is keep that memory alive. After all, those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it. ❧
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.