The First Man to Break Through The Medical Cannabis Barrier
“Father of the Modern Medical Marijuana Movement.”
By David Bearman, MD for ABC-CLIO
Robert Randall is known as the “Father of the Modern Medical Marijuana Movement.” He was the subject of a 1978 Washington D.C. federal court ruling in which his use of marijuana was ruled a matter of medical necessity. In later years, he spoke out often on the medical benefits of cannabis. His efforts have helped to spark research, legislation, and access to medical marijuana for others.
In the late 1960s Robert Randall discovered he had glaucoma. He saw numerous physicians and received a wide variety of medications. None of them were of any benefit in controlling his condition. In 1972, at the age of 24, he had lost sight in his right eye, and was told that he had at most three to five years until he would go blind. As his eyesight worsened, he had to quit his job.
One of Randall's symptoms was seeing halos around lights. In 1973 a friend gave him a couple of marijuana cigarettes and as they were smoking, he noticed the halos had disappeared. He started using cannabis to treat his glaucoma. This immediately improved his vision. He got off welfare and went to work as part-time college speech professor. To save money and to ensure an adequate supply of his marijuana medicine, he started raising his own marijuana.
In 1975 when Randall was arrested for cannabis cultivation. He raised a necessity defense, contending that without the use of cannabis to lower his interocular pressure(the pressure inside his eye) he would go blind. This contention was confirmed in Dec. 1975 after a 13-day controlled study at UCLA Jules Stein Eye Center. They concluded that with conventional therapy, Randall would soon go blind or need risky surgery.
In 1976 with his medical necessity defense affirmed, all charges were dismissed. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agreed to provide Randall with cannabis. However in January 1978 the government stopped supplying cannabis to Robert Randal because he refused to stop speaking about the medicinal benefits of cannabis. In May of 1978 Randall filed suit against the government. Both sides reached an out of court settlement. This settlement resulted in the Compassionate Individual New Drug (IND) program.
In the early 1990s, Randall aggressively promoted the therapeutic effects of marijuana for AIDS patients. He and his wife Alice O’Leary, established the Marijuana Aids Research Service (MARS) to help AIDS patients gain access to medical marijuana under the FDA’s Compassionate IND program. In 1991 after Randall gave a well-attended talk in San Francisco, several hundred people sent in requests to the FDA to be on the IND program. Shortly after the IND program was abruptly terminated by the George H.W. Bush Administration.
Outrage at the US government’s closure of the Federal IND program to new patients motivated activists to support state medicinal marijuana ballot initiatives and legislation. This precipitous government action helped lay the groundwork for the success of the eight medical marijuana initiates that began with California’s Proposition 215 in 1996.
Currently eleven states allow patients to legally possess, and cultivate medical marijuana. The federal government still classifies medicinal marijuana as a Schedule I drug and actively opposes safe access for patients who have discovered its medical benefits, though it continues to provide marijuana free to the remaining IND patients.