My Friend Liz & MS

Elizabeth Brice and Robert Randall in London, October 1994.

Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Wellcome Trust Library in London and review the archives of Elizabeth Brice and the UK chapter of the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT). A history student from Bristol University alerted me to the existence of these archives. He was writing his undergraduate dissertation on the role of patients in changing the attitudes toward medical cannabis in the United Kingdom so it is no surprise that he focused on Elizabeth. For much of the 1990s Liz was THE face of medical cannabis in Britain. She was a powerful voice for the issue and she was also an MS patient.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is quite prevalent in Britain. At one time there was a theory that MS tended to cluster in cold climates. Whether that is true or not I don’t know but it does seem to me that most MS patients I have had the pleasure to know have been from northern climes. Elizabeth read that cannabis could help her MS and after some careful trials she determined that it was, indeed, very helpful. She set out to help others and almost single-handedly turned the tide of public opinion. She also became friends with a fellow named Geoffrey Guy who would establish GW Pharmaceuticals in England.  Dr. Guy was determined to establish a cannabis-based medicine that would be available through the conventional channels of doctor-patient-pharmacist. He succeeded in developing Sativex. Liz was among the first to use the drug and found it quite helpful.

Sativex has been controversial but a recent study in Italy found it to be helpful for MS patients. Here is the link:  Liz would be happy to read this report. Unfortunately she died in 2011 at the age of 54, the same age as Robert was when he died (in 2001).  These heroic patients get too little credit for today’s booming green rush. I’ll be writing more about Elizabeth and the other brave souls who were the true pioneers of medical cannabis.

Alice in Wonderland Meets Rip Van Winkle

Two fictional characters from my youth are Alice in Wonderland and Rip Van Winkle.  Alice in Wonderland is still a popular story but I think old Rip has slipped in popularity. The classic Washington Irving short story, published in 1819, told the tale of an American colonist who encountered ghosts in the Catskill Mountains, falls under their spell and awakens twenty years later. It is a story that resonates with me today because after a thirteen-year hiatus I am re-entering the world of medical marijuana and like old Rip I am astonished at the new world I have found.

I should explain that my roots in the medical marijuana movement are deep. My late husband, Robert C. Randall, is the acknowledged father of the medical marijuana movement. In 1976 he became the first American to gain legal access to marijuana for medical purposes. We had been arrested in 1975 for growing four plants. At trial we were able to conclusively prove Robert’s need for the drug (he had glaucoma) and through a petition process he gained legal access to federal supplies. For more than a year he was the only person in the country with legal, medical access to marijuana.

For the next 25 years, until his death in 2001, we helped mold the medical marijuana movement and made tremendous progress. It was not exactly a conventional occupation and there were times I identified with the other character mentioned in this blog, Alice in Wonderland.  Drug issues attract some curious people but,  in all honesty,  the oddest parts of my experience in the medical marijuana world came from my dealings with federal bureaucrats.  It is easy to be compassionate towards these faceless men and women who maintain the ridiculous prohibition against marijuana’s use in medicine. After all, they are just doing their job.  But how they sleep at night I do not know.  Compassion can be easily trounced by raw anger at a bureaucracy that will subject thousands of individuals to years of needless suffering in order to maintain a bloated drug abuse industry.

But I digress.  After Robert’s death in 2001 I needed a break. I pursued a dream of being a hospice nurse and spent six years working for hospice in Sarasota, FL. I retired in 2012.

I never completely abandoned medical marijuana. I would speak at conferences from time-to-time and give media interviews. I began to truly re-engage after my retirement. I revised the 1998 book that Robert and I co-authored. (Marijuana Rx: The Patients’ Fight for Medicinal Pot is now out of print although copies can be found on Amazon.) My new book was published in April 2014. It is entitled Medical Marijuana in America: Memoir of a Pioneer and is available on Amazon in hard copy and Kindle.

My speaking engagements have increased and I will be traveling cross-country soon to speak at a conference in Oregon. I plan to use this opportunity to become acquainted with the new players in the medical marijuana issue and have been reading whatever I can find to increase my knowledge of this new world. It is, you will pardon the pun, a heady time for marijuana activists. There is a sense of victory and rightly so. But there are still some huge, make that HUGE, problems–principally the federal classification of marijuana in Schedule I. As long as that situation remains the states and the federal government can continue in their draconian and discriminatory application of the laws against marijuana use.

I’ll be writing about my adventures in this blog. Like old Rip Van Winkle I know that I am about to be astonished and I look forward to sharing that astonishment with you. ❖