Cannabis News


Medical Marijuana Pioneer Fears for Future

Source: Virginian-Pilot (VA)
Author: Tony Germanotta, The Virginian-Pilot
Published: December 2, 2002 
Copyright: 2002 The Virginian-Pilot
Contact: [email protected]

It's been 20 years since Irvin Rosenfeld made history, persuading the federal government to make him the second person to receive government-grown marijuana. 

The pot is still coming, in a tin container he picks up from a hospital pharmacy. He must smoke a dozen fat, home-rolled marijuana cigarettes a day to control the pain that has tortured him since his childhood in Portsmouth. 

A rare disease, multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis, causes tumors on all the long bones of his body. A second disease, a variant of pseudo pseudo hypo parathyroidism, makes it possible for any one of his 200 or so tumors to turn malignant. 

He tried to fight his agony with heavy narcotics. They left him groggy, but they didn't dull the pain. He would wake up at night screaming and crawling along the floor. He had to be home schooled. He had to give up sports. 

A friend in junior college got him to try marijuana to wean him from the stronger drugs. The marijuana worked where 19 years of narcotics injections had failed. He never got giddy, never experienced any high, he said. 

He ran furniture businesses in Norfolk and Portsmouth, and when he moved to Florida he became a stockbroker, dealing with millions of dollars in clients' investments. 

Once there were 13 medical marijuana recipients. Only seven are left. Rosenfeld, 49, is the longest-living recipient, a responsibility he takes seriously. Two prefer anonymity; the remaining five joke that they are in an exclusive club. There are as many of them in America as there are living ex-presidents. 

In the two decades since Rosenfeld obtained his prescription for pot, he's been hassled by authorities, had a gun put to his temple by police and been arrested, always to be released. His smoking is perfectly legal. He keeps several joints in a plastic baggie that has a prescription label on it, similar to any found on plastic pill bottles. He calls his smoking ``taking my medicine.'' 

He's in the middle of a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines after, he said, they refused to let him fly with his prescription in March 2001. Ironically, he was on his way to Washington from his home in Fort Lauderdale at the invitation of the U.S. Supreme Court. He had filed a friend-of-the-court brief advocating the medical use of marijuana and was asked to come listen to the oral arguments in the case. 

Delta, he said, demanded that he have approval from each of the states the plane would fly over. That was impossible on short notice. Besides, he argued, no such permission would be needed for insulin. 

He found another carrier and managed to make it to the hearing. The justices disappointed him, though. They eventually ruled against medical marijuana, saying only those already grand fathered into research programs, such as Rosenfeld, could legally use the drug. 

When he travels, he carries an inch-thick envelope filled with press clippings in which he has been quoted. He uses them, including a 1997 Newsweek with Paula Jones on the cover, to convince authorities that he has not concocted his prescription story or fabricated the labels. He also carries phone numbers to federal agencies that can prove his legitimacy. 

Rosenfeld has been interviewed on national news networks, has befriended people who run the medical marijuana clubs on the West Coast and has worked wherever he goes to try to remove the stigma that has been cast around marijuana. He has addressed the United Nations and the American Medical Association. 

Rosenfeld used to need surgery to remove the tumors -- more than 40 were cut out of his body. He has used marijuana, legally and illegally, for 31 years and hasn't had to have a tumor excised in 26. 

He was a 10-year-old in Little League when his disease was discovered. Now, with the help of his marijuana, he's playing second base in a pickup softball game every Sunday. If he's feeling good, he can bat and run to first base, where a pinch runner takes over. On bad days, he takes his cuts and lets a substitute handle all the running. 

He also participates in a sailing program for the disabled and says his friends joke that they always let him win so they can stay downwind of him and his medicine. 

Once every six months, his doctor must fill out a report on the effects of the drug. His prescription was given as part of a research project looking into whether the marijuana is an effective painkiller and muscle relaxant. 

Last May, he and three others in the program were given a battery of tests to see how the long-term use had affected them. His lungs and immune system were normal, Rosenfeld said. 

The doctors did notice a spot on an X-ray, but it turned out to be the shadow of an old tumor on his ribs, not any lung cancer, he said. 

He warns all of his clients that he smokes marijuana, Rosenfeld said. ``I don't want them to see me on TV and say, `That's my stockbroker.' '' Only a couple have backed out in the 16 years he has been on the job, he said. 

He campaigns for a compassionate-care program that would allow marijuana use by those suffering from AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer and other deadly diseases. 

At one marijuana club in California, he met a 16-year-old boy smoking pot before heading for his last chemotherapy treatment. The boy had spent three years fighting cancer and was ready to die rather than deal with the nausea when his mother brought him to the club. 

``Somebody asked me, `Isn't that kid going to be hooked on marijuana now?' '' Rosenfeld said. ``I don't think so. If he's cured, when you show him a marijuana cigarette, what's he going to think of? Chemotherapy treatment, nausea, getting sick.'' 

Without a federal program like his, desperate people will be forced to go to street sources for marijuana or to avoid the drug. This country can do better, Rosenfeld said. His motto: ``Don't fight the war on drugs against sick people.''

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