Advocates Say Time Is Right For Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act
An unusual world record was set last month by 56-year-old Florida stockbroker Irvin Rosenfeld when he smoked his 115,000th joint of marijuana grown and supplied by the federal government.
He set the record on Nov. 20, which was the 27th anniversary of his first shipment of medical marijuana from the feds.
Rosenfeld is among a handful of federal medical marijuana users who receive prescription marijuana monthly under what is known as the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program, which came into existence in 1978 when glaucoma patient Robert Randall sued the government to allow him to use the only drug that relieved his glaucoma - marijuana.
Suffering from a congenital bone disease, Rosenfeld took all manner of prescription drugs to ease his pain, including the highly addictive legal opiate Dilaudid. The drugs came with side effects that prevented Rosenfeld from leading a normal life. Then he discovered that smoking marijuana eased the pain without the side effects.
Rosenfeld's doctor petitioned to have him admitted to the federal medical marijuana program, and on Nov. 20, 1982, his first tin of legal joints arrived.
Every month Rosenfeld receives nine ounces of federal pot grown at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. The harvested marijuana is sent to North Carolina, where it is rolled into joints. Rosenfeld's monthly allotment comes to 360 joints.
He smokes about a dozen joints a day, including in the designated smoking area of the office where he works in Fort Lauderdale. His employers are on record saying he is an excellent stockbroker and they don't mind the marijuana smoke wafting outside the building.
Rosenfeld's been off Dilaudid for almost two decades and has led an active life since. He plays softball and teaches sailing to the disabled. He also believes the marijuana use has inhibited the painful growth of benign tumors that grow on his bones as a result of his condition.
The Compassionate Investigational New Drug program - the very name of which implies the feds had planned to study the efficacy of medical marijuana - was rescinded by the George H.W. Bush administration in 1992, but those already admitted to the program were grandfathered in and continue to receive their pharmaceutical marijuana.
Today there are four remaining federal medical marijuana recipients. The other three are multiple sclerosis patient Barbara Douglass, George McMahon with Nail Patella Syndrome and glaucoma patient Elvy Musikka.
All four patients were tested in a 2001 study funded by a national medical marijuana advocacy group called Patients Out of Time ( medicalcannabis.com ). It's known as the Missoula Study. All physiological systems were examined by neutral investigators, something that had never occurred to the federal administrators of the medical marijuana program.
The tests concluded Rosenfeld was in excellent health for a man with multiple congenital cartilaginous exostoses.
The Food and Drug Administration, which administers the federal medical marijuana program, continues to support the Drug Enforcement Administration's Schedule I labeling of marijuana as a dangerous drug that has no accepted medical use. Federal law prohibits physicians from prescribing Schedule I drugs.
Yet the FDA provides medical marijuana to four patients, which begs the question, does marijuana deserve to be a Schedule I drug alongside heroin, or do deep pocket pharmaceutical companies who have everything to lose if marijuana is accepted for its medicinal properties really control the strings?
"I cannot fathom the reluctance of my federal government to allow the use of medical cannabis for the sick and dying of the U.S.," Rosenfeld said in a press release sent out to announce his world record. "My experience of use, the calming of my negative symptoms, that has allowed me to be a useful, contributing member of society must be extended to all the ill based on the judgment of medical professionals and not guided or restrained by the dictates of law enforcement who have no empathy for the ill nor the education to appropriately enter into doctor-patient relationships and treatment options."
Rosenfeld appeared before the Michigan legislature to testify on behalf of medical marijuana when lawmakers were deciding whether to send a medical marijuana initiative to the voters. The initiative passed in Nov. 2008, making Michigan the first Midwestern state and 13th state in the nation to allow medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana bills have been introduced regularly in Wisconsin since 2001, but each time have been strangled in committee.
When introduced in the fall of 2007, it was given the name Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, in honor of a wheelchair-bound Mondovi woman who has been a leading medical marijuana activist and is founder of the advocacy group Is My Medicine Legal YET? ( immly.org ).
Last month Rep. Mark Pocan ( D-Madison ) and Sen. Jon Erpenbach ( D-Waunakee ) reintroduced the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act ( Assembly Bill 554/Senate Bill 368 ).
Supporters say recent events bode well for the Act this time around, including the Obama Administration telling the DEA to stop hassling medical marijuana patients and suppliers in the 13 states where marijuana has been approved by voters as medicine, and the American Medical Association announcing in November a resolution urging "that marijuana's status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines."
The timing couldn't be better, said Gary Storck, communications director of Is My Medicine Legal YET?
"Not only has the Obama Administration's new policy of tolerance to state medical marijuana programs greatly improved the landscape politically, so has ( Gov. Jim ) Doyle's official pronouncements ( in support of medical marijuana )," Storck said. "His opinion is no surprise as he told me that if elected, he would sign the bill if it reached his desk in March 2002, and he repeated that pledge to me and others over the years. By saying he would sign it publicly, he has helped win it more support in the legislature."
And speaking of the legislature, Storck said with the new Democratic majority in the Assembly, "the abstract became a possibility."
The Act has already drawn support from a number of state groups, including the Wisconsin Nurses Association, AIDS Resource Center of WI, Epilepsy Foundation of Southern WI, Hospice Organizations and Palliative Experts ( HOPE ), and the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"It's the largest number so far," Storck said, adding that they also expect to hear from veterans groups.
"The Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act includes post traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition," he said. "I expect that we'll hear from a number of veterans, including Iraq/Afghani war vets with serious PTSD remedied with medical cannabis. The bill would also help vets on conventional opiate pain meds. Currently, in the 13 medical cannabis states, the VA will not cut off opiates to patients with a doctor's note. This happens frequently in Wisconsin, terrorizing vets who need both the opiates and cannabis to manage their pain.
"As Jacki has put it, 'This bill, this time'," Storck said. "I have never felt this level of support before. People are fed up with being forced to use toxic meds. A lot of folks have no insurance. We are tired of looking over our shoulders, and buying medicine from drug cartels instead of dispensaries or getting it from caregivers."
The next step for the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act ( AB 554/SB 368 ) is a combined public hearing of the Assembly and Senate Health committees at the state Capital 10 a.m. Dec. 15.
If you'd like to track or learn more about the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, check out http://jrmma.org/.
December 1, 2009