35 states have laws recognizing marijuana's medical benefit, but 'federal laws supersede state laws,' a state senator says
Wednesday, December 8, 1999
By Lori Tighe
If it weren't for the medical use of marijuana, Robert Randall says he would have to introduce people to a seeing eye dog.
Randall has used marijuana legally for 20 years to treat glaucoma, a chronic eye disease. It would have blinded him, he said, if he hadn't discovered that marijuana reduced the disease's intense eye pressure.
Randall, 51, of Sarasota, Fla., a leading proponent of medical marijuana, spoke last night at a panel discussion "Should the Hawaii Legislature Legalize Marijuana for Medical Use?" sponsored by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, at McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Park.
"The issue can be boiled down into two sentences," Randall said. "Marijuana has medicinal value; it's a fact. And federal law prohibits marijuana for medical use."
State Sen. Matt Matsunaga and Dr. John McDonnell, elected physician of the year by the Hawaii Medical Association, joined him in the discussion.
"In the last few days I've talked to a number of legislators here. They seem supportive," Randall said. "I think there's a unique opportunity for Hawaii to set a pattern for other states to follow. Try to meet the needs of the patients now with state-sponsored cultivation of medical marijuana."
Matsunaga said four bills introduced last session on medical marijuana remain alive and will be revisited this upcoming session.
"We must realize the federal laws always supersede state laws," Matsunaga said. "Thirty-five states passed laws recognizing marijuana's medical benefit, but remain stymied by the federal government. It will take a lot of effort from different angles."
The federal government refuses to release to states marijuana for medical use, so patients must obtain the drug illegally, Randall said. Marijuana has been shown to reduce symptoms, including pain and nausea in patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and glaucoma, among other diseases, he said.
Randall documented his own plight in "Marijuana RX: The Patients' Fight for Medical Pot."
Diagnosed with glaucoma in 1972 at age 24, Randall discovered marijuana relieved the potentially blinding eye pressure.
"It was my only hope for prolonging my sight," he said.
His arrest for growing marijuana began his long legal battle. Using the "medical necessity defense," Randall made history in 1976 as the first American to gain legal access to marijuana for medical use.
Since then he has smoked marijuana, prescribed by his doctor and grown by the federal government in Mississippi. The marijuana is shipped to a pharmacy in Randall's town and issued in cigarette form. He smokes 10 a day.
"We're talking about people in dire medical need," Randall said. "The government has stonewalled us."