In Memoriam: Robert Randall


The drug reform movement lost one of its heroes last weekend 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 marijuana movement.

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 US Food and Drug Administration for permission to legally use it. In November, 1976, Randall became the first person in modern US history to obtain legal, medical access to marijuana. 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 US 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 (, 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 US 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 O'Leary.

Robert Randall was dedicated, compassionate, charming, and a fighter. He will be missed. A public memorial service will be held on June 23rd in Sarasota, Florida. Call (941) 922-4381 for further information.

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