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Bob Randall: A Life to Celebrate and Emulate 

Posted by Gary Storck on June 28, 2001
Source: Drug Policy Forum of Pennsylvania: DPFPANEWS Newsletter 
Date: June 28, 2001
by Kevin B. Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy 

This Saturday, June 23, 2001, in Sarasota, Florida I joined approximately 70 people in a celebration of Robert Randall's life. Since that time my thoughts have kept returning to Bob and what his life taught others and me. I thought sharing these thoughts might help all of us be better reformers.

I drove to the celebration of Bob's life from Tampa, Florida with Elvy Musikka. Bob was the first legal medical marijuana patient, Elvy the third. The second legal patient, Irvin Rosenfeld was also at the celebration. After Elvy and I updated each other on our lives and work we were drawn to a focus on Bob. We each recognized how he had touched our lives, improved our activism and made us better people.

Elvy noted that when her vision was weakening she came across an article from the late 1970s about Bob - a glaucoma patient, like her, who was preserving his sight by using medical marijuana. She saved the article for years. In 1988 she was arrested for growing marijuana and she received a call from Bob Randall. She had never met him or talked with him prior to that moment. It was typical of Bob, and Alice O'Leary his partner for 27 years, to reach out to seriously ill people in their time of greatest need, help them to find a way through the thicket of problems they faced and provide them with the assistance they needed to succeed.

I worked with Bob on Elvy's case and it was classic Randall - he thought through the legal strategy, media strategy and education strategy as if it were a chess game. He was several moves ahead of the prosecutors and he brought me and Norman Kent, the Ft. Lauderdale lawyer who handled the case, along with him. In the end, Elvy won and established the medical necessity defense in Florida.

Irvin's relationship with Bob was similar. Irvin suffers from a painful bone disease and discovered that marijuana was beneficial in treating the condition. Bob guided Irvin through a bureaucratic maze of three federal agencies and in 1982 Irvin successfully acquired his much-needed medicine. Over the next two decades Bob provided Irvin with advice and Irvin learned to always ask - before he acted - how would Bob handle the situation?

At the celebration Alice displayed few examples of the correspondence she had received in reaction to Bob's death. The materials included notes and letters from people who had never met Bob but who had been touched by his efforts.

Bob's life showed the truth in Robert F. Kennedy's quotation about the impact of standing up against injustice: "Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope; and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression." Bob, first through the actions he took when he was prosecuted and then in the actions he took to help others, sent out many ripples that created the current of medical marijuana reform. Many tens of thousands of people have been swept into that current - only a few have been lucky enough to know Bob - but the medical marijuana movement built by Bob and Alice is now a tremendously popular political issue with a wide and deep breadth of support.

In the late 1970s, when I first got involved in marijuana law reform, Mark Heutlinger, the Business Manager of NORML, told me early on that there was one rule when it came to medical marijuana - do what Bob Randall tells you to do. I followed that rule and over the years I learned a great deal from Bob. The key lessons Bob taught me were:

- Truth and justice do not succeed without an able advocate. Being right and just is only part of the battle; acting sensibly and advocating effectively are essential to justice winning out. - Think before you act. Robert would work through the strategy and tactics of a situation carefully before he acted. He knew that good intentions are not enough, often those intending to do good end up hurting the cause if they do not think first. - Put forth the human face. People need to see how policy affects real people. These people need to be put forward in non-threatening ways, so can relate to victims of bad policy. - Be thorough, factual and accurate with the facts. Speak softly but speak accurately. Know the facts, don't overstate them and draw people to you by being credible.

Most of all, Bob approached reform with a foundation of love. My friend, Wendy Anderson of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women ends each email with a quotation from Che Guevera that says: "Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." Bob lived that life.

Perhaps the best news, for all of us, is that if we give love, we will get love. Five years before his passing Bob had faced death because he was gravely ill. He recovered and with Alice wrote "Marijuana Rx: The Patients Fight for Medicinal Pot." In the book he noted that when he was born he "arrived in Eden, had loving parents and a grand passage from infancy to literacy." Further, upon a reflection he realized that "In the whole of my life I have never been unloved."

Perhaps if we emulate Bob we will all be so blessed and leave a roaring current of hope against injustice.


From Marijuana Rx: The Patients' Fight for Medicinal Pot 
By Robert C. Randall and Alice M. O'Leary

Chapter 38 - A Passing Shadow

My mind - unhinged from any future - began an archival dump by retrieving and reviewing a maze of memories. How had life been this time around? Not bad. Born in the heartland of a powerful empire, I had never been ill-housed, ill-clothed or ill-fed. I arrived into Eden, had loving parents and a grand passage from infancy to literacy. Well-educated, I never pursued a precise ambition, but instead followed as fate led me down an improbable path few others have traveled.

I had lived the life of a democratic man, successfully defending my rights against a hostile and brutish state. I have made legal and medical history, enacted laws, aided the afflicted and altered global perceptions. Along the way we have encountered an endless cast of players; worked with dying people and rising politicians, met medical mandarins and toiled with some of the nation's finest young attorneys. It seemed, upon reflection, that the whole of my adult life had challenged other men to make difficult decisions involving ethics and self-interest.

Good guys. Bad guys. Lots to learn. Law. Medicine. Politics. Media manipulation. In this life I have learned how to cast my voice across continents. Delighted by rhetoric, I have practiced ancient arts with powerful tools. An intensely private man, I have played upon a grand stage.

Beyond art and artifice were the people who have populated my path. Lynn, Mona, Steve, Kenny and Barbra. Who guided whom? Great allies in a grand adventure. For every name I know there have been thousands of unnamed others who have benefited from our drama. Our exploits had been well compensated. I still had my sight. It has not been an uninteresting life.

The mind is on rewind. Lots of memories are being remembered for the last time. What a time! Alive and young I personally witnessed the most important event in human history when, on a December morning in 1968, I watched a Saturn 5 rocket lift three mortals to the Moon. "To see," as Archibald MacLeish would later write, "the Earth as it truly is; small, and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats." Alice was with me even then. In the whole of my life I have never been unloved. We have been well mated; constant and tolerant. It has been a better journey shared. A lovely life. But it was time to leave. In a metaphorical dream I see myself staring into a mirror framed in lights, looking intently at my reflection as I wiped the grease and paint from my face. As cold cream rips away the mask of my illusions I am anxious to walk into the cool, dark night beyond the stage door. My play is over.

. . .

A plane flew high above my bed. I heard the drone and thought I will never fly anywhere again. No matter. I have seen much in many places. As death approaches there is less fear than fascination. The mystery of tides, a setting sun, a rising moon, a heaven pock-marked by planets and stars mesmerized my apprehensions. The circle of my life was closing as, dying, I wandered into the wonder of unworded beginnings.


Last modified Thursday, June 28, 2001 02:20:36 PM CT



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