|Florida-Based Advocate Presses Case Across U.S.|
Posted by CN Staff on November 30, 2010 at 06:17:21 PT|
By Barbara Peters Smith
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Florida -- Irvin Rosenfeld speaks fluidly and fast, breaking off a conversation to take another call and returning to the first one precisely in mid-sentence, juggling intricate idea strands like the stockbroker he is. You would never take him for a guy who smokes 10 to 12 joints of marijuana a day.
Rosenfeld is not anyone's idea of mellow and laid-back. Apart from his day job, he has just written a book, "My Medicine." It is the story of his lifelong endurance of a rare bone condition, his battle for the legal right to control it with marijuana, and his membership in an exclusive club -- with 13 people at its largest, and now four still alive -- of patients who receive regular monthly cannisters of relatively mild weed, grown, rolled and shipped courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Rosenfeld, 57, is also launching a consulting business, High Integrity Cannabis Solutions. And from his home base in Fort Lauderdale he travels the country on behalf of an organization, Patients Out of Time, that advocates the legalization of medical marijuana. It is a cause he believes should transcend politics.
"Cancer doesn't know if you're a Democrat or Republican," he said, "when you're throwing up and none of those drugs they give you work."
Rosenfeld rattles off his life story like a man who has told it hundreds of times, before legislative committees and medical conferences. And he is quick to credit a longtime Sarasota couple, Bob Randall and Alice O'Leary, for helping him challenge the federal government and inspiring him to keep hammering out the same talking points for more than three decades.
"The funny thing is, I'm really so sick of all this," he said. "So many times, we thought we'd won already."
Randall, who died at 53 in Sarasota in 2001, was in 1976 the first patient to win federal permission to treat a chronic illness with marijuana. Randall used the drug to combat severe glaucoma, and he and O'Leary -- who grew up and met in Sarasota -- had been arrested for growing four pot plants on their terrace in Washington, D.C.
"We could have paid the fine and gone on with our lives," O'Leary recalled. "But Bob got mad. He worked the phones and I worked the research angle. I went down to the Library of Congress and started poring through old books, and we slowly built this case on medical necessity. Fortunately, we had a judge who listened to all our arguments and agreed."
Without Randall and O'Leary, Rosenfeld said, he never would have been able to convince the Food and Drug Administration to let him join the federal government's little-known "compassionate use" program.
"She was brilliant herself," he said of O'Leary. "Bob might have been the face of the movement, but Alice was the main one behind it."
O'Leary, now 63 and a hospice nurse in Sarasota, said she became a pioneer in the medical marijuana movement for her husband's sake: "Whenever a loved one needs something, you become a champion of whatever that is." Then she kept at it to help others in the same predicament.
"I think that Bob and I were a very good team," she recalled. "Together we accomplished a great deal. When we started out, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone aware of marijuana's medical value."
Certainly Rosenfeld had grown up unaware. His disease, called multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis, causes tumors to bloom out of bones, pressing on muscle tissue and veins to create excruciating pain. As a boy in Virginia he was never able to sit still for long and was tutored at home. When he did attend school, he found a niche for himself as a speaker at student assemblies against drug abuse. He would hold up a bag of all his prescription medications and ask his peers, "Why would you choose to take drugs? Just be glad you're healthy."
As a freshman at the University of Miami at the start of the freewheeling 1970s, he staunchly resisted invitations to get high -- until he noticed he was not making any friends.
"I realized, I'm going to have to give in to peer pressure," he said. "I smoked it and it did nothing for me. About the 10th time I smoked, I was playing a game of chess. I hate chess. And it was the first time I had sat for more than 30 minutes in five years. And I said, 'I wonder if there's any medical benefit to this garbage.' That's how I thought of it, as garbage."
Returning to Virginia, Rosenfeld enlisted the support of people in his community, from his doctor to the chief of police. And he proceeded to experiment on himself with marijuana, wanting to rule out Miami's warm climate as a possible factor in his newfound freedom from pain. He was deep into writing his own medical protocol when he went to see Bob Randall give a speech at Old Dominion University.
With Randall's coaching and help from the University of Virginia law school, Rosenfeld pressed his case for the legal right to relieve his pain with marijuana. In 1982, after threatening to file suit, he was given a 15-minute hearing before an FDA panel of 20 doctors. He laid out all the medical evidence he had compiled over 10 years.
"Of course, you could see the committee had no intention of passing this," he said. "Then a guy in a white coat stood up in the audience." The man was an oncologist from Venezuela, visiting the United States to learn how to control cancer pain.
"He said, 'This man needs to be studied, with a regular supply of marijuana.' I said, 'Thank you very much; are there any more comments or questions?'"
With no further discussion, Rosenfeld recalled, the panel's chairman approved him for the federal research program.
Since that time, he said, "My disorder has been completely stagnant. I have not had a tumor growth since then." He has never had to increase the amount of marijuana he smokes, he said, and to this day, the drug has never made him the slightest bit high.
O'Leary remains proud of her husband's legacy, but does not believe his hopes for universal access to medical marijuana will be realized any time soon.
"The movement itself, I feel, has been co-opted by the culture wars," she said. "The efforts in California, however you want to characterize them, are suspect because they're coming out of California."
But this does not mean, she said, that full suppression of medical marijuana use will succeed.
"When the first Bush administration closed down the compassionate program" in 1992, she said, "that really set the stage for the buyers' clubs, the propositions, the state laws. The government thought they'd close it down -- but they keep underestimating what people are willing to do to preserve their health."
This story appeared in print on page A4
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
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