It's been 20 years since Irvin Rosenfeld made history, persuading the
federal government to make him the second person to receive
government-grown marijuana. The pot is still coming, in a tin container he
picks up from a hospital pharmacy. He must smoke a dozen fat, home-rolled
marijuana cigarettes a day to control the pain that has tortured him since
his childhood in Portsmouth.

A rare disease, multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis, causes tumors
on all the long bones of his body. A second disease, a variant of pseudo
pseudo hypoparathyroidism, makes it possible for any one of his 200 or so
tumors to turn malignant.

He tried to fight his agony with heavy narcotics. They left him groggy, but
they didn't dull the pain. He would wake up at night screaming and crawling
along the floor. He had to be homeschooled. He had to give up sports.

A friend in junior college got him to try marijuana to wean him from the
stronger drugs. The marijuana worked where 19 years of narcotics injections
had failed. He never got giddy, never experienced any high, he said.

He ran furniture businesses in Norfolk and Portsmouth, and when he moved to
Florida he became a stockbroker, dealing with millions of dollars in
clients' investments.

Once there were 13 medical marijuana recipients. Only seven are left.
Rosenfeld, 49, is the longest-living recipient, a responsibility he takes
seriously. Two prefer anonymity; the remaining five joke that they are in
an exclusive club. There are as many of them in America as there are living

In the two decades since Rosenfeld obtained his prescription for pot, he's
been hassled by authorities, had a gun put to his temple by police and been
arrested, always to be released. His smoking is perfectly legal. He keeps
several joints in a plastic baggie that has a prescription label on it,
similar to any found on plastic pill bottles. He calls his smoking "taking
my medicine."

He's in the middle of a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines after, he said,
they refused to let him fly with his prescription in March 2001.
Ironically, he was on his way to Washington from his home in Fort
Lauderdale at the invitation of the U.S. Supreme Court. He had filed a
friend-of-the-court brief advocating the medical use of marijuana and was
asked to come listen to the oral arguments in the case.

Delta, he said, demanded that he have approval from each of the states the
plane would fly over. That was impossible on short notice. Besides, he
argued, no such permission would be needed for insulin.

He found another carrier and managed to make it to the hearing. The
justices disappointed him, though. They eventually ruled against medical
marijuana, saying only those already grandfathered into research programs,
such as Rosenfeld, could legally use the drug.

When he travels, he carries an inch-thick envelope filled with press
clippings in which he has been quoted. He uses them, including a 1997
Newsweek with Paula Jones on the cover, to convince authorities that he has
not concocted his prescription story or fabricated the labels. He also
carries phone numbers to federal agencies that can prove his legitimacy.

Rosenfeld has been interviewed on national news networks, has befriended
people who run the medical marijuana clubs on the West Coast and has worked
wherever he goes to try to remove the stigma that has been cast around
marijuana. He has addressed the United Nations and the American Medical

Rosenfeld used to need surgery to remove the tumors -- more than 40 were
cut out of his body. He has used marijuana, legally and illegally, for 31
years and hasn't had to have a tumor excised in 26.

He was a 10-year-old in Little League when his disease was discovered. Now,
with the help of his marijuana, he's playing second base in a pickup
softball game every Sunday. If he's feeling good, he can bat and run to
first base, where a pinch runner takes over. On bad days, he takes his cuts
and lets a substitute handle all the running.

He also participates in a sailing program for the disabled and says his
friends joke that they always let him win so they can stay downwind of him
and his medicine.

Once every six months, his doctor must fill out a report on the effects of
the drug. His prescription was given as part of a research project looking
into whether the marijuana is an effective painkiller and muscle relaxant.

Last May, he and three others in the program were given a battery of tests
to see how the long-term use had affected them. His lungs and immune system
were normal, Rosenfeld said.

The doctors did notice a spot on an X-ray, but it turned out to be the
shadow of an old tumor on his ribs, not any lung cancer, he said.

He warns all of his clients that he smokes marijuana, Rosenfeld said. "I
don't want them to see me on TV and say, 'That's my stockbroker.' " Only a
couple have backed out in the 16 years he has been on the job, he said.

He campaigns for a compassionate-care program that would allow marijuana
use by those suffering from AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer and other
deadly diseases.

At one marijuana club in California, he met a 16-year-old boy smoking pot
before heading for his last chemotherapy treatment. The boy had spent three
years fighting cancer and was ready to die rather than deal with the nausea
when his mother brought him to the club.

"Somebody asked me, 'Isn't that kid going to be hooked on marijuana now?' "
Rosenfeld said. "I don't think so. If he's cured, when you show him a
marijuana cigarette, what's he going to think of? Chemotherapy treatment,
nausea, getting sick."

Without a federal program like his, desperate people will be forced to go
to street sources for marijuana or to avoid the drug. This country can do
better, Rosenfeld said. His motto: "Don't fight the war on drugs against
sick people."

Pubdate: Mon, 02 Dec 2002
Source: Virginian-Pilot (VA)
Copyright: 2002, The Virginian-Pilot