Robert C. Randall and Alice O'Leary-Randall Papers, 1965-2006


Robert Carl Randall was born on January 23, 1948 in Sarasota, Florida, to Carl and Thelma Randall. Randall received a B.A. in Speech in 1969 and a M.A. in Rhetoric and the Oral Interpretation of Literature in 1971 from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. In 1972, Randall moved to Washington, D.C. to find work as a speechwriter. Unable to find work in his field, he drove a taxi for the Red Top Cab Company. After suffering for years with “eyestrain,” Randall at 24 years old was diagnosed with glaucoma and told that he would be blind within five years. After the eye-drops made Randall almost blind and unable to drive, he went on disability and food stamps. In 1973, Randall first found that smoking marijuana helped his eyesight. In February of 1974, Randall and Alice O'Leary moved to a large apartment on Capitol Hill. Randall had found work as a speech teacher at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland, and wrote theater reviews for suburban weekly newspapers. While on vacation with O'Leary in 1975, marijuana plants were found on Randall's patio during a raid of a neighboring apartment. A search warrant for their apartment was left on the kitchen table along with a request from the D.C. police to turn themselves in.

Randall began his search for help to prove his medical need for the illegal drug by going to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), headquartered on M Street NW in Washington, D.C., and received a copy of the Director's file labeled “medical use” and the telephone numbers of several people in the government who had information. One sent Randall the most recent edition of “Marijuana & Health: Report to Congress” that gave an overview of the history of medical use and provided a list of ongoing investigations into marijuana's medical utility. To help his lawyer and the Court accept this idea, Randall found supporting research and went through a battery of tests run by a UCLA researcher to corroborate his claim. They presented the court with the innovative claim that his glaucoma was alleviated by smoking marijuana. In 1976, Randall opted for a non-jury trial and after deliberating four months, D.C. Superior Court Judge James Washington ruled that Randall had established his defense and found him not guilty of possession of marijuana by reason of medical necessity. Randall's attorneys successfully petitioned the FDA to include him in a research program that gave him ten marijuana cigarettes a day to treat his glaucoma. The federal marijuana was grown on a University of Mississippi farm, made into cigarettes at a facility in North Carolina and mailed to pharmacies near Randall enabling him to fill his prescription. This made Randall the first legal medical marijuana smoker in the United States since 1937. In 1978, when his eye doctor moved out of state, Randal successfully sued the federal government for dropping him from the FDA program using a pro-bono lawyer from Steptoe & Johnson. After winning the case, Randall was reinstated in the program in 1978. The case addressed two fundamental concerns: 1) it established a reasonable means of legally obtaining federal supplies of marijuana under a doctor's supervision; 2) it virtually guaranteed Randall the right to speak freely about marijuana's therapeutic utility.

In 1980, Randall and O'Leary, with the help of Steptoe, formed the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT). ACT was an organization that lobbied hard for federal legislation, drafted by Steptoe, to establish a program of federal access to marijuana for those with life- or sense-threatening diseases. The bill, H.R. 4498, was introduced in 1981 by four Republicans including a young Representative from the state of Georgia named Newt Gingrich. The bill would eventually have 110 co-sponsors. Hearings were not held because Committee Chairman Henry Waxman perceived the bill as a Republican effort and also worried that the bill would detract from his own interests in re-establishing heroin as a legitimate therapeutic agent. Late in the mid-1980s, Steptoe attorneys took over the long-languishing NORML effort to re-schedule marijuana. It was their commitment to the issue that allowed the hearing before DEA Administrative Law Judge Frances Young to become the single most comprehensive hearing on marijuana's therapeutic application since the India Commission of 1893.

Throughout the years, Randall wrote several articles and six books including Marijuana Rx: The Patient's Fight for Medicinal Pot, documenting his experience and co-written with his wife Alice O'Leary. In the 1990s Randall started the Marijuana AIDS Research Service (MARS), which helped AIDS patients apply for the FDA program providing marijuana for medical use. Despite initial approval for the program it was ultimately cut. Closing this program led activists to shift gears and sponsor various State ballot initiatives including California's Proposition 215, allowing for medical use of marijuana. In 2001, the United States Supreme Court ruled it was illegal under federal law to distribute marijuana regardless of medical necessity.

Robert Randall died of AIDS complications on June 2, 2001 in Sarasota, Florida. He was survived by a brother, Dick Randall; sister, Susan Randall; and his wife Alice O'Leary-Randall. The efforts of ACT are currently managed by Mary Lynn Mathre and Al Byrne who have taken a further step by organizing the scientists and members of the medical profession who are key in resolving the issue of medical marijuana and legitimizing this therapy by developing new delivery methods. In 2012, the Robert C. Randall Memorial Wellness Center opened in Lansing, Michigan. In 2014, Alice O'Leary completed the book, Medical Marijuana in America: Memoir of a Pioneer.