In 1978, the federal government of the United States launched the Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) Program, an initiative intended to provide medical cannabis grown by the government to those with serious diseases and health issues — for life. The program, however, wasn’t launched as a result of a curiosity regarding the medicinal efficacy of cannabis on the part of the nation’s leaders. Rather, it was the culmination of two lawsuits by Robert Randall, a pioneering patient from Sarasota, Florida.
In 1976, Randall sued the government and won in a federal court the right to use medical cannabis to treat his glaucoma. A Federal District Court ruled that Randall’s use of marijuana was a necessity for his health. In fact, it was this case that established the precedent of medical necessity as a plausible legal defense for prosecuted patients. However, according to the New York Times:
“Two years later, the government cut off his access to the drug, but he sued for reinstatement and won.”
Randall’s second legal battle and victory resulted in the creation of the Compassionate IND Program, which — although it serves a very small number of patients — is still in effect today. Roughly 1,200 low-quality cannabis joints (cigarettes) are distributed to patients around the United States each month.
Although Randall died in June 2001, several other patients continue to each month receive large tins containing 300 low-grade pre-rolled joints from the federal government. The cannabis is grown on a farm at the University of Mississippi that has been managed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) since 1968. Unfortunately, the Bush administration closed enrollment to the IND Program in 1992. Existing participants, however, remain within the program until death and continue to receive their canisters of low-THC cannabis joints.
Many are shocked to learn of this 37-year-old program and its participants. Upon first gaining knowledge of the program, it is easy to dismiss the story as an urban legend or internet clickbait. What is most problematic, however, is the hypocrisy illustrated by this effort. While government officials can arguably defend themselves by noting that it was a court decision that forced them to begin producing and delivering cannabis medicine to a small group of patients, the fact that cannabis continues to be categorized as Schedule I by the federal government is a blatant example of illogical and hypocritical public policy.
The FDA doesn’t reveal the number of patients participating in the IND Program, but some believe that between two and four remain. Two of these patients reside in Florida, including Irvin Rosenfeld, a 61-year-old stockbroker who has a tumor disorder, and Elvy Musikka, a 72-year-old glaucoma sufferer and cannabis legalization activist.
Rosenfeld began receiving cannabis under the program in 1982 and has written a book about his experience entitled My Medicine, the cover of which features him holding a large tin of low-grade government joints from the Compassionate IND program (grown on the NIDA-managed farm). He is probably the most publicized and interviewed of the participants. Echoing the perception that the government’s actions are hypocritical, Rosenfeld said:
“The United States federal government has been supplying me 10 marijuana cigarettes per day for almost 33 years, and in the same vein arresting people for possessing marijuana they give me for medical use.”
Rosenfeld uses cannabis to treat a rare bone tumor disease and has calculated his consumption of legal government cannabis over more than three decades, estimating that he has smoked more than 120,000 joints provided by the government’s pot farm at the University of Mississippi. Mussika, who has been highly critical of the IND Program and prohibition overall, notes that many federal lawmakers are completely unaware of this program.
“They’re very surprised — [most] didn’t know the government ever supplied anybody,”
Irvin Rosenfeld smoking one of the cannabis joints provided to him by the U.S. Government.
Until the government allows robust clinical research and human trials into the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis, access to the drug for patients in states that have yet to legalize adult use will lag. It is currently the Schedule I status of cannabis that officially categorizes it as a highly addictive and dangerous drug with zero medical value (along with bath salts and heroin). Schedule II, a Controlled Substances Act category intended for less dangerous drugs, features methamphetamine and cocaine, both of which can be prescribed by a physician.
Because of its Schedule I status, doctors — even those in states with medical or adult use laws — cannot prescribe cannabis. Instead, they are limited to writing a recommendation. Many medical cannabis advocates are insisting on a Schedule III categorization, or lower, to ensure that ample research can be conducted that involves human trials and high-quality cannabis, such as that which can be purchased in states like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.
Eventually, attrition will dwindle the patient population of the Compassionate IND Program to nothing and it will cease to exist. Although this will reduce the government’s hypocrisy, it will do little to provide safe access to cannabis medicine for millions of sick patients like Rosenfeld and Mussika.
“If I didn’t have my medical marijuana, most likely I’d be dead. If I was still alive, I’d be on disability and homebound. Instead, I’m a stockbroker here in Fort Lauderdale.”
This post was originally published on February 22, 2016, it was updated on October 5, 2017.