Bob Randall at the Heart of the Issue

by Keith Stroup

Bob Randall was one of the more interesting people I have been privileged to know, and he had an enormous impact on public policy all across the country.

Bob first came to see me at NORML in 1976, and, as anyone would be, I was distressed by his story that he would go blind but for his use of marijuana. He had recently been busted for growing a couple of plants, and he wanted to raise a defense, based on his medical need.

It was impossible not to like the man, and to be impressed with his serious commitment. He was a man who was driven by the need to fight his impending blindness, and marijuana seemed the best hope he had.

I could not have know then that Bob Randall would eventually become the leading intellectual and political force working to legalize the medical use of marijuana in America. In fact, he and Alice, and the organization they created, Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT), led the legislative pushes to legalize medical use in several of the early states, including New Mexico, the first state to enact legislation in 1978. That was especially significant, as it also involved Lynn Pierson, a dying cancer patient who had become a good friend and close political ally of Randall. Randall testified effectively in most of the 33 states when the legislative proposals were being considered in committee.

Some individuals in the reform movement felt tension when dealing with Bob because he would vocalize his feelings about separating the recreational use issue from the medical use issue. Sometimes he seemed hostile towards recreational smokers.

I agreed with Bob’s basic premise, although I felt he could have been more sensitive in the way he addressed the issue. I always felt that those of us who smoke marijuana for the pleasure of it should not try to qualify as a medical user in those states that permit medical use, as it undermines the seriousness of the medical use issue, and it fails to win the political acknowledgement that smokers need -- that there is nothing wrong with the responsible us[e] of marijuana by adults. I do not want to ask a doctor if I can smoke marijuana unless I am using it as a medicine.

Additionally Bob should have been more appreciative of the fact that if marijuana is decriminalized or legalized for recreational use, that will surely include those who use it for medical purposes, or for any other reason. But he felt they could win the medical use issue easier and earlier than we could win the general recreational use issue. That was a reasonable assumption, although it has not proven to be true.

Bob might have been a bit more sympathetic towards social smokers, since he himself was once in that category. But his basic point was valid: the arguments for legalizing the medical use of marijuana are different from the basic arguments for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Those of us who are social smokers should not try to sneak in under the coattails of medical use.

Bob Randall was a fascinating, committed man who had enormous impact on the public policy debate over the medical use of marijuana in America. And he did it as a strong individual. I was privileged to know and work with Bob.

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