In Memory: Robert Randall
Father of the Medical Marijuana Movement
|The drug reform movement lost
one of its heroes in June when Robert Randall succumbed to AIDS
at age 53 at his home in Sarasota, Florida. It can be said with
little exaggeration that Randall pioneered the contemporary medical
In 1976, Randall made legal and medical history when he persuaded
a federal court in Washington, DC, that his use of marijuana
to treat his glaucoma was a medical necessity. At the same time,
he petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission
to legally use it. In November, 1976, Randall became the first
person in modern U.S. history to obtain legal, medical access
Robert Randall and Alice O'Leary, co-founders
of ACT, Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, the first non-profit
organization dedicated to reforming the laws prohibiting medical
Randall's struggles launched the modern medical
marijuana movement in the US. The federal government attempted
to cut off Randall's supply in 1978, but he sued to be able to
continue to use marijuana for his glaucoma-and won again. His
victory compelled the federal government to establish a special
"Compassionate IND" program, under which he was able
to gain access to a non-approved drug. He continued to receive
U.S. government-supplied joints ever since.
But Randall didn't stop with his own case. The college professor
of gentle mien became a powerful, articulate advocate for those
whose ailments could be alleviated through the use of medical
marijuana. In the late 1970s, he helped push through laws in
more than 30 states that recognized marijuana's medical utility
and set up statewide research and access programs. But because
of unstinting opposition from the federal government, most of
those state programs remained dormant.
In 1981, Randall and his long-time partner Alice O'Leary founded
the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (www.marijuana-as-medicine.org/alliance.htm),
the first nonprofit organization focused on changing the federal
law prohibiting medical access to marijuana. He also drafted
legislation establishing a federal program of compassionate,
controlled access to the drug which was introduced in the 97th
Congress. The bill, unfortunately, was ahead of its time and
never got a hearing.
By the early 1990s, Randall was concentrating on the therapeutic
effects of marijuana on AIDS sufferers and had established the
Marijuana Aids Research Service (MARS) to help AIDS patients
gain access to medical marijuana under the FDA's Compassionate
IND program. Hundreds of AIDS patients filed under the program,
but the federal government abruptly shut it down, cutting off
the only legal means of access to medical marijuana. Only Randall
and seven other early patients were grandfathered in and continued
to be able to receive legal medical marijuana.
Outrage at the U.S. government action helped lay the groundwork
for the current round of successful medical marijuana initiatives,
beginning with California's Prop. 215 in 1996.
Robert Randall also told his story and the
stories of other medical marijuana patients in a series of books.
The most recent was an autobiography, Marijuana Rx: The Patients'
Fight for Medicinal Pot, which he wrote with his wife, Alice
Robert Randall was dedicated, compassionate, charming, and a
fighter. He will be missed.