Robert Randall, who won a historic court case in 1976 that gave him access to federal supplies of marijuana to treat his glaucoma, has died. He was 53.
Randall died Saturday at his home in Sarasota, Fla., of complications from AIDS, which he had been fighting since 1994.
A native of Sarasota, Randall attended the University of South Florida, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in speech and rhetoric.
He developed glaucoma as a teenager but believed it was simple eyestrain. In the early 1970s, however, a doctor diagnosed the malady as glaucoma and predicted that Randall would go blind within five years unless drugs stemmed the degeneration of his eyesight.
Randall moved to Washington, D.C., and found work as a speech teacher at a community college. And although the doctor's prediction of complete blindness was off the mark, Randall's eyesight continued to degenerate. The only thing he found that provided relief from the elevated pressure in his eyes, which caused milky vision or halos around lights, was a marijuana cigarette that a friend had given him. He had tried conventional drug therapy, but it failed to provide anything like the same relief.
Not willing to pay the street price for marijuana, Randall started growing his own on the balcony of his apartment. But his small crop was discovered by authorities, and he was arrested. After undergoing exhaustive tests to prove that no other drug could lower the pressure in his eyes and halt the deterioration of his vision, he pleaded not guilty, using the previously untried defense of medical necessity.
In November 1976 the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ruled in his favor, and Randall became eligible for legal, medically supervised access to marijuana. He was also acquitted of the drug charge.
Two years later, the government tried to cut off Randall's access to the drug, but a court ruled that doing so would deny him his constitutional right to adequate health care.
Randall became an activist for the medical use of marijuana. In 1981, he founded the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, which tried to exert public pressure to reform marijuana laws. In the early 1990s, he formed the Marijuana AIDS Research Service to help people with AIDS get the drug.
Two years ago, Randall co-wrote a book, "Marijuana Rx: The Patient's Fight for Medicinal Pot," on his efforts to legalize marijuana for medical use.
Randall continued to get his marijuana with prescriptions written by his eye doctor in Washington. It was then shipped to his pharmacy in Sarasota, where he returned to live in 1995.
The prescription allowed for 10 marijuana cigarettes a day, seven days a week, which Randall continued to smoke until he grew too weak to do so before his death Saturday.