Book Review: Medical Marijuana in America – Memoir of a Pioneer by Alice O’Leary-Randall

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Although many people may think that the medical marijuana movement started with Proposition 215, the voter-approved initiative that passed in California in 1996, the movement began back in the 1970s. After Robert Randall sued the federal government for the medicine that alleviated his glaucoma symptoms, a series of medical marijuana research programs were established nationally and in various states.

Now Randall’s widow, Alice O’Leary-Randall — who has often been called the First Lady of Medical Marijuana — has published a newly-edited edition of the book that tells the story of the Randalls and the rollicking ride that the couple took through the early days of the movement that has now spawned an industry.

With a highly-readable and entertaining narrative style, the book recounts how Robert was able to become “the only legal pot smoker in America” through a federal Investigational New Drug  (IND) program. Subsequently, hundreds of people throughout the nation approached him for help entering the program. One example is Lynn Pierson, a testicular cancer patient and veteran who was shocked when his oncologist recommended cannabis for his chemotherapy-induced nausea in 1977. Randall successfully enlisted him to push for a medical marijuana research bill in New Mexico.

Anyone dealing with multiple layers of government bureaucracy and the vicissitudes of the court system will be enlightened and informed by this comprehensive yet light-hearted history of the medical cannabis industry’s roots, told through Alice’s perceptive eyes and peppered with stories of the early heroes of the movement.

The crescendo of the book is a description of medical marijuana in the late 1980s, after the Randalls began reaching out to AIDS patients, assisting them in applying for the IND Program. Two key spokespeople were Barbara and Kenny Jenks, the AIDS patients who broke onto the national spotlight when they were interviewed for CBS’s “60 Minutes.” The couple won a court case in Florida on the medical necessity of their cannabis use in 1991, just days before a court of appeals in the District of Columbia ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration to reconsider their 1989 decision stating that marijuana had no medical value – a battle advocates are still fighting today.

In those heady days before that “60 Minutes” interview would air, the Food and Drug Administration suddenly halted shipments of cannabis to the Jenkses and all other IND patients, except for Randall. After an attorney tracked down the public officials responsible for this abrupt policy change to the fancy Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Bob acted on a hunch: he called the hotel and asked for the representative from Unimed pharmaceuticals.

“Which one?” the desk clerk replied.

Unimed, the manufacturer of Marinol (a brand of synthetic THC), was apparently courting the officials, plotting to release Marinol and appease AIDS patients while denying them their supply of whole-plant cannabis. With the help of calls from Morley Safer to the bureaucrats responsible, the Jenkses had their cannabis returned. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Public Health Service ended the Compassionate IND program, but continued to supply the patients already enrolled, denying hundreds of AIDS patients and others.

The tale has lessons for today, as U.S. government-patented CBD and pharmaceutical companies vie for the medical cannabis market. Regulators and public officials are often more comfortable with standardized dosages and methods of ingestion other than inhaling.

Now is a good time to have Alice O’Leary-Randall back in the movement with her latest offering, so that perhaps we can learn from our past instead of being doomed to repeat its mistakes.

Alice O'Leary Randall, 2014
               Alice O’Leary-Randall, 2014

Click here to purchase Medical Marijuana in America: Memoir of a Pioneer.

Originally published in issue 17 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE.

Ellen Komp is a longtime hemp/marijuana activist and author. Currently the deputy director of California NORML, for the past 12 years she has gathered information about prominent cannabis connoisseurs at her website, VeryImportantPotheads.com and now blogs at TokinWoman.blogspot.com. She has contributed articles and op-eds to various publications such as Cannabis Now Magazine, High Times, In These Times, Alternet and Cannabis Culture and is the author of Tokin’ Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.

1 Comment

  1. dan broderick

    January 25, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    what is happening in maryland? the law was passed but there no distribution rules so i cn’t get an RX.

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