“You will be blind in five years,” this was the poignant conclusion of an ophthalmologist to Robert Randall after his eye check-up in 1972.
Randall must have received the diagnosis with shock and sadness. After all he was a young 24-year old American who have life ahead of him. Although the early symptoms of glaucoma troubled him during his early adolescence, the Randalls dismissed his eye trouble as mere by-product of Robert’s bookish nature. The ophthalmologist further advised Randall to start learning Braille.
Even with his eye condition, he worked as Red Top cab driver in D.C..At the very least, Randall used a prescribed eye drops to ease his pain but the medication was almost useless. His teary eyes were often in pain.
His eye condition qualified him for state disability payments. To his ophthalmologists’ merit, he tried every available medication to ease the pressure in Randall’s eyes. However, the glaucoma continued to damage his field of vision despite of the medications. The fear of blindness engulfed him. At the rate his eyes were hurting, Randall estimated that he would go completely blind by 30. His doctor was right after all.
He discovered the curing capability of marijuana by accident. One evening he looked out his window and saw haloes around the streetlights. It was a panicky telltale sign: the glaucoma were already adding more pressure to his elevated eye. To drive away his worry, Randall smoked pot. He got stoned. He listened to music. He was happy. Then something happened when he peered out his window: the haloes were gone.
“It was a singular moment. I immediately drew the connection between the use of marijuana and the now absent haloes.” Randall recalled. “Indeed, parts of my brain absorbed the connection so quickly and so assuredly that I was certain I must be stoned, which of course I was. I tried to follow the exploding synaptic spasm but was quickly left behind. …Marijuana beneficial? A delicious thought perhaps, but nothing to hang your sight on.”
Excited over his ‘medical discovery’, Randall phoned Alice O’Leary, her long-time friend who later became his partner. Although she was initially skeptical, O’Leary supported Randall’s personal medical experiment with marijuana as a curative drug for his glaucoma. After all, Randall was on the verge of blindness and the ophthalmologist have exhausted all conventional means to stop the glaucoma.
In the course of their relationship, it became more evident that smoking pot helped Randall ease his pain. The couple found ways to maintain a regular supply of marijuana from various sources. Life rolled by with a semblance of normalcy as Randall got a teaching job in a college in D.C. and as a review writer for a weekly. O’Leary was also employed with a career of her own. They planned to buy to a property, renovate it and enjoy their new-found life in Washington.
Then, serendipity came in. Randal and O’Leary found a marijuana seed sprouting in a lonely flower pot on their sundeck. Foreseeing that Randall would need it in the future, the couple nurtured the marijuana plant, planted more seeds and started cultivating their little pot garden. They need their own marijuana during the so-called ‘dry spells’ or days when it was hard to score some pot.
All seemed well until one August afternoon when they found their house ransacked. A police search warrant was served on the kitchen table. The Washington D.C. police had busted their mini-marijuana garden and instructed them to turn themselves in.
Randall was livid, angry at the police for taking away his medicine. He did not waste time to seek help and prove that he needed marijuana for grave medical reasons. Randall’s first refuge was The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORNL), a non-profit organization working to change public opinion in favor of legalizing marijuana and helping busted pot users.
Randall related his story to Keith Stroup, NORML’s executive director. Stroup supplied him with documents related to medical use of marijuana and contacted people who were in the position to help him in plight.
One of the most helpful resources they received was a copy of Marijuana & Health: Report to Congress. A section entitle “Therapeutic Aspects” gave an introduction on the history of marijuana medical use and a list of investigation being done to assess medical properties of cannabis.
The articles was a spark in the dark. Randall read that a certain Dr. Robert Hepler had been running a program for treating people with glaucoma by using unconventional protocols since 1971. The government was not only aware that research on medical marijuana was already being undertaken – they were even funding it. Stunned, Randall saw a dent in the legal case against him for growing and possessing marijuana for medical use.
Randall was determined to pursue his purpose. With relentless effort, he contacted US-based researchers who were involved in marijuana research and elevated eye pressures. He ended up in California under Dr. Hepler of UCLA, the physician he read about in the article.
For ten days, Dr. Hepler performed exhaustive medical test on Randall. Dr. Hepler gave him a series of conventional glaucoma medications but none were effective to reduce Randall’s intraocular eye pressures to a normal range. Even oral THC could not do anything to alleviate Randall’s eye pressure.
It was only after giving Randall inhaled marijuana when positive results started to show. Randall had consistent dose-related response to inhaled marijuana treatment. Dr. Hepler’s medical treatment and experiment showed that marijuana could effectively lower the IOP.
In her article, O’Leary recounts:
Bob returned from California feeling jubilant and victorious. Our lawyer, upon reading the letter which Dr. Hepler sent to Bob confirming the importance of marijuana for the maintenance of his sight, looked at Bob and declared, “This is history!”
After much discussion and legal considerations, Randall and his lawyers agreed that getting a ‘not guilty’ verdict is not enough. They were on the verge of a legal milestone, a cultural revolution that can overturn the biased perceptions on marijuana. Dr. Kepler’s findings were conclusive and they have to decide the outcome they want to attain.
Will they fight for judicial exception to cultivate marijuana? Will they approach the Supreme Court or the congress to be granted special exemption?
In the midst of their discussion, O’Leary darted back with this suggestion, “Why not ask the government for their marijuana?”
The suggestion struck everyone. Although Randall and the lawyers rejected the idea at first, the group soon realized the profundity of O’Leary’s proposal. Let the government who outlawed marijuana be the one to supply it for medical purposes. The concept was a trailblazer.
O’Leary termed their strategy as a ‘two-pronged attack’: the criminal defense and a petition to acquire federal supplies of marijuana. And so, Randall’s lawyers filed with DEA and DHEW in 1976 a request for legal access to government stocks of marijuana for treatment of glaucoma. They also invoked the Common Law tenet of “necessity”: a citizen must break the law to because obeying the law would bring greater harm.
On November 24, 1976, the federal court ruled that Randall’s use of marijuana was a medical necessity and was declared “guilty”. After Judge James Washington dismissed the criminal case against Randall, the court granted the petition filed by Randall to receive a regular supply of medical marijuana for the treatment of his glaucoma. O’Leary’s two-pronged attack resulted into a two-front victory.
Randall’s historic milestone as the first American to be supplied with medical marijuana had a profound impact on the legal history of marijuana. The legal victory paved the way for the creation of the Federal Government’ IND Compassionate Use Program, a state-run initiative that supplies patients with marijuana for medical use.
Five years later in 1981, Randall and O’Leary established an organization called the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics or ACT. The purpose of ACT was to guide and help patients and their doctors how to file Compassionate Care Protocols.
Robert Randall discovered medical marijuana in his desire not to go blind. In his effort to find cure for his impending blindness, he opened the eyes of government and cast the legal blindness that prevented them from providing medical marijuana to patients suffering from chronic pain.
It would be quite impossible to quantify the totality of Randall’s impact in the legal history of marijuana and in the lives of the people whose pain was alleviated due to medical marijuana. Rightly so, he was recognized as the “father of medical marijuana”.
Robert Randal, the marijuana warrior died on June 2, 2001 at the age of 53.