Concerned and health-conscious consumers across the country celebrated this last March with the defeat of the DARK Act, which would have made the labeling of GMO, i.e. genetically modified foods, voluntary. DARK stands for Deny Americans the Right to Know and is the nickname for the controversial bill.Read more »
“Cancer patients don’t have a coordinated community. AIDS patients, on the other hand, tend to be young, aggressive and tend to have cohesive communities, especially the gay community. I think they will demand what works.” ~Robert Randall, “Father of the Medical Marijuana Movement”, circa 1990
In 1996 California made history by becoming the first state to defy federal law and allow for safe access to medical cannabis; this happened in no small part thanks to the ability of the LGBT community to stand loud, proud, and steadfast for what they knew to be true, just and dignified. So when you, like everyone else in the Bay Area, and many people around the country, are celebrating Pride this weekend, please take a moment to remember those leaders, patients, caregivers, friends, and family members who flew into battle with truth and righteousness as their shields and swords to establish safe, continuous access to a very necessary plant.
Robert Randall was a young educator who grew cannabis – which he used to combat the perils of glaucoma – on his deck in Washington DC. After he was arrested in the early 70’s for growing the herb that allowed him to live his life without the inevitable blindness that his doctor warned would befall him, he successfully sued the government for access to medical marijuana and established the Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) program for the plant. From 1976 thru 1991, 13 more doctor-patient teams managed to perfectly fill out a tediously long application and secure access to federal medical marijuana joints. These would be freeze dried, fully ground (with seeds & stems), and rolled in a retired Pall Mall machine. Yet, they saved Robert Randall’s sight and that of Elvy Musika, one of the four federal patients who are still alive today. Randall’s passion for justice was furiously ignited by the healing that he both experienced and saw in others, the criminal injustice of the illegality of this healing herb, and the dire need of dying patients.
In 1989 Randall and his wife Alice O’Leary assisted an AIDS patient from Texas by the name of Steve Loup. Loup had been arrested for possession and wanted to fight those charges and attain legal access to federal cannabis. Steve was the first AIDS patient to receive a federal supply of cannabis for treatment of AIDS related symptoms. Unfortunately, he died in February 1990, shortly after receiving his first supply of federal marijuana, but Randall later wrote about his experience helping Loup, and the article appeared in High Times magazine. The article would later influence Kenny Jenks, an HIV positive hemophiliac with strong Christian values and very little formal education. A simple well-meaning man who had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion and inadvertently infected his wife, Barbra. He was arrested in Florida for growing marijuana.
O’Leary recalls, “Immediately after their arrest, Kenny bought a High Times magazine looking for help and there was the article about Steve (Loup). Kenny called (my husband) Bob.
We helped the Jenks with their trial (eventually found not guilty on appeal by reason of medical necessity), with gaining publicity for their case, and in drafting the IND request to the federal government for legal supplies of cannabis. That request was delayed for months but eventually prevailed in February 1991. While preparing the IND request for Barbra and Kenny, we realized that the use of marijuana by AIDS patients was relatively a straightforward thing. They used the drug for appetite stimulation and treatment of nausea and vomiting. This allowed us to significantly simplify the IND process and we created an easy-to-complete packet for doctors and physicians. The time needed to complete the federal paperwork dropped from hours to minutes. A physician and patient could complete the packet in about 20 minutes. Realizing that hundreds of AIDS patients would request the packet, we created a new project called the Marijuana AIDS Research Service (MARS) and had a press conference in Chicago announcing MARS (Feb 25, 1991) and its purpose. Hundreds of patients contacted us and we immediately gave permission to AIDS organizations to duplicate the packet and distribute to anyone who asked. We distributed 800 packets and we have no idea how many were distributed by groups such as ACT-UP.
Later that year the Bush administration started to close the Compassionate IND program. This was in direct response to the large number of AIDS patients applying for permission to use federal cannabis. The head of the Public Health Service, James O. Mason, was a homophobic Mormon who would go on to serve at Evergreen International, the notorious organization that claimed it could cure homosexuality.”
The fight gathered strength out west where cancer research was cutting edge and the LGBT community was already battling the devastating impact of AIDS. “Brownie Mary” Jane Rathbun and Dennis Peron had been unapologetically perpetuating safe access to cannabis to patients dying of cancer and HIV/AIDS in San Francisco since the 1970’s, and San Francisco has been known as the mecca of love and respectful acceptance for at least longer than that. When the Compassionate Investigational New Drug protocol was federally abandoned, California medical cannabis patients, advocates, patient advocates, caregivers, and the general public were free (well, some of them went to jail and prison) to move forward in the pursuit of safe access, just as the LGBT community had pursued love and acceptance a generation before them.
The medical cannabis movement in California began in cancer wards and hospital rooms and the living room of Denis Peron, an openly gay man caring for his lover and the extended family that only hardship can create. Today, many LGBT medical cannabis patients find it difficult to find a dispensary where they feel safe and comfortable, as asserted by Chris Roberts in his SF Weekly Article “During Pride Week Thank the Gay People Who Made Pot Legal”. But members of Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, CA might beg to differ.
Magnolia Wellness runs a food pantry and a compassion program that serves pre-registered patients battling HIV/AIDS, cancer, and/or Crohn’s Disease. A transgendered patient recently reflected to a transgendered budtender at Magnolia that it was “the only dispensary where she felt wholly safe and fully accepted”. Executive Director, Debby Goldsberry aims to continue to cultivate this sense of care and community by more fully developing both the compassion and the food bank programs, and by offering classes that help low income patients and persons most fully affected by the drug war, by engaging in and becoming enriched by the medical cannabis industry.
Chief Operations Officer, Amber Senter, is Co-founder of Supernova, an incubator of Women of Color owned cannabusinesses, and a strenuous supporter of LGBT equality. Together, they work with a team of hardworking individuals to create a caring community where each patient feels welcome, well received and empowered to get the medicine that will enable them to live fuller healthier happier lives.
The medical cannabis movement and the LGBT movement have grown together, nurtured by compassion and basic human rights, fed by our knowledge that neither our love or our right to heal makes us a criminal. Rather each of us, every human being, is entitled to love and acceptance and the inalienable right to heal. Happy Pride Parade Weekend from all of us at United Patients Group!