“Compassionate Investigational New Drug” Program Patient Speaks Out
The tin canister that Irvin Rosenfeld picks up every month, filled to the brim with 300 marijuana cigarettes, is not something he tries to hide. In fact, the 61-year-old Portsmouth native encourages a look, because he’s got papers. Rolling papers, sure, but legal ones, too. They show that the federal government not only approved his use of pot, but grows it for him at the University of Mississippi. The feds have been doing that for 32 years now, providing him 10 marijuana cigarettes a day to ease pain. For free.
Rosenfeld lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., now, but he was in Portsmouth this weekend to celebrate the 95th birthday of his father, Robert Rosenfeld, who lives in an apartment.
He took the opportunity to show off his legal stash and even light up during an interview.
In the 1980s, he was one of a small group of people in the “Compassionate Investigational New Drug” program. The project was launched after Robert Randall, a glaucoma patient, sued the government on the grounds of medical necessity, saying he needed marijuana to treat the eye condition that can lead to blindness.
In response to his legal win, the government set up the program in 1978 to supply him with marijuana and study its impact.
People are finally realizing it’s not the evil weed it’s been made out to be, taking a last draw on his hand-rolled joint. Used correctly, it can be a miraculous drug.
After a federal hearing to plead his case, Rosenfeld became the second person in the program in 1982. He says the marijuana relieves pain and inflammation from bone tumors he has endured since he was 10 years old. He says the marijuana also works as a muscle relaxant, keeping in check the dozens of tumors caused by multiple congenital cartilaginous exostoses.
Other people joined to get relief from chemotherapy-induced nausea and the pain and spasticity of multiple sclerosis. Dozens were waiting for approval when the program was shut down in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, likely prompted by a combination of the “war on drugs” and a rising tide of applications from HIV/AIDS patients seeking to counter the loss of appetite brought on by the debilitating immune disease.
The original 13 participants, though, were allowed to stay in the program. Randall died in 2001, and Rosenfeld said he and a woman with glaucoma from Oregon are the only two left. He sees the group’s efforts as part of a journey that has led to the medical use of marijuana in 23 states and Washington, D.C., along with the legalization of recreational use in Colorado and Washington state.
Marijuana is illegal in Virginia, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe expressed support in August for its medicinal use. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Norfolk physician, has also pledged to support legislation that would make marijuana oil more accessible for people with epilepsy.
Rosenfeld credits the marijuana with keeping him alive and giving him enough pain-free time to be a successful stockbroker in Fort Lauderdale. Without it, he says, he’d probably be doped up on the same painkilling narcotics that put him in a stupor for almost a decade before he turned to marijuana. He said he’s had one side effect, which he describes with a smile: “I’m very disliked in my office because I won’t share.”
Ironically, he was against marijuana in high school. He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High in 1971 but took most of his classes in homebound instruction because of his condition. After graduation, he went to a Miami college where classmates encouraged him to smoke pot. He was against the idea at first, but it didn’t take long to realize he could get by with less pain medication when he did.
Irvin Rosenfeld smokes a marijuana cigarette outside his father’s Portsmouth apartment on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. He says the drug relieves pain and inflammation from bone tumors he’s had since he was 10. (Steve Earley | The Virginian-Pilot)
He returned to Portsmouth after less than a year and worked with his father in their furniture business. He smoked marijuana regularly, buying it illegally for a decade. He jokes that he had to deal with the criminal element, but “some of them were my friends.”
He lobbied for a 1979 law in Virginia that allowed prescription and possession of marijuana for medical purposes. However, federal statutes restrict doctors from prescribing the drug, so it didn’t have much impact. After Rosenfeld got into the federal marijuana program, a Norfolk doctor issued the prescription for him. When he moved to Florida in his 30s, doctors there took over his case.
Rosenfeld smokes around 10 joints a day
From marijuana grown by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Mississippi. It’s freeze-dried and rolled in Raleigh before being shipped to a Florida pharmacy in tin cans.
He puts the marijuana in a plastic bag with some wet paper towels to humidify it and rolls it in his own papers because the government-issue paper doesn’t work very well. He also turns some of the marijuana into oil that he can use in a vaporizer pen. His wife of 41 years is allergic to smoke. He puffs on a couple of joints when he gets up and more on the way to and from work. He also takes breaks to go to his car for a smoke. He lights up in the evening as well.
Rosenfeld has had run-ins with police, who have smelled the smoke through his car windows, but he keeps his prescription and federal protocol papers with him at all times – and even newspaper articles to prove who he is. Once every six months, his doctor must fill out a report on the effects of the drug. But he said the government has never expressed much interest.
There are few studies of the long-term effects of marijuana use, though some have linked it to a higher risk of car accidents. There’s also been concern about the availability of stronger strains of marijuana and the possibility of children taking it accidently and teens becoming addicted to it.
Marijuana is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but the federal agency has approved some drugs made with cannabinoids, the active ingredient in marijuana, to treat medical conditions.
Rosenfeld says that he doesn’t experience the euphoric high associated with the drug and that it actually enhances his thinking.
He has testified before state and federal legislators across the country as an advocate for medical marijuana. He’s fighting for its use in Florida right now and has gone from speaking once a month on the issue to several times a week.
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October 5, 2014