Cannabis Heroes of History: How Robert Randall Beat the U.S.

When we think of the legalization of cannabis, it is not a short, concise, or simple story. And each step forward has been the result of some kind of governmental policy change due to changing opinions, or legal consequences as the result of a person’s actions. In this article we’re going back to the re-introduction of medical cannabis in America, which all started in the 70’s with Robert Randall, when he beat the U.S. in court.

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Who is this guy?

There really wasn’t anything terribly special about Robert Randall for the first part of his life.  He was born in 1948 in Sarasota Florida, and attended the University of South Florida as a political science major starting at age 19, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in speech and a master’s degree in rhetoric. During this time he started to realize issues with his vision. He would see halos with different colors around lights, his vision would get fuzzy, and he experienced white-blindness – or achromatopsia, a form of color blindness that makes it difficult to distinguish any colors at all. Randall did go to the doctor to investigate these vision issues, but due to his age, he was told it was a result of stress.

After he graduated from university, Randall moved to Washington, DC where he took up as a cab driver. Around 1972, he realized that if he closed his left eye, he was no longer able to read out of his right eye. It didn’t matter if the writing was close up to his face, or several inches away. This time when he went to an ophthalmologist, he was finally given the diagnosis of glaucoma.

There is no cure for glaucoma today, which means there sure wasn’t any back then. Not only was Randall given this diagnosis, but he was told he would go fully blind in three to five years. As with most conditions with no real workable treatment, glaucoma sufferers are generally put on medications to try to preserve eyesight for as long as possible. Then and now, such medications are associated with pain, chronic fatigue, kidney issues, and more. Randall was thoroughly unhappy with the situation.

What is glaucoma?


Before getting farther into Randall’s story, let’s take a look at his affliction to get a better idea of what he was suffering from. Glaucoma is the name given to a number of eye conditions that specifically target and damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve sits in the back of the eye and is responsible for the transfer of visual information from the retina of the eye, to the vision center of the brain, which is does through electrical impulses. The optic nerve itself does not make sense of the information coming in, but rather acts as a vital link in the chain, passing on information to the brain where it can be deciphered.

It’s like a waiter writing down your order at a restaurant and then taking it back to the kitchen where the chef can decode it to prepare the meal. Imagine what would happen if the waiter hurt his leg and could only limp back and forth. Or if he disappeared altogether. There would be no way to get the information from the eaters, all the way to the chefs. It suffices to say that a well-functioning optic nerve is necessary for good vision.

One of the ways glaucoma damages the optic nerve, is with abnormally high pressure. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in those 60 years of age and older, and while it does usually target older generations, it can occur at any age.

I can actually account for this myself, having had high eye pressures nearly my entire life (also affected by the thickness of the cornea, or in my case, the thinness of the cornea). My grandfather was nearly completely blind when he died with glaucoma a couple years ago, my uncle was just as lucky as Robert Randall, being diagnosed in his college years, and my mother actually required holes drilled in her corneas to relieve the pressure. It does say quite a bit for modern medicine that my mother and her brother have not lost their vision…yet. Loss of vision from glaucoma cannot be recovered. Most people with this affliction lose their vision gradually, and often problems aren’t realized until way too late.

There are two types of glaucoma, they are defined by the angle created by the iris (the part of the eye with color) and the cornea, which is the outer layer that covers the eye. Open-angle glaucoma refers to when the iris is in the right place, but fluid is kept from appropriately exiting, creating a build-up of pressure. Kind of like having a clogged drain. In closed-angle glaucoma, the iris itself is usually misshapen or damaged, causing it to be squeezed against the cornea. This also blocks the ability for moisture to leave, allowing for a build-up of pressure. Open-angle is substantially more common.

If you are concerned you might have an eye issue like glaucoma, please consult your family physician or a specialist. Some basic warning signs to be aware of:

Open-angle – patchy blind spots in central or peripheral vision, in one or both eyes. Tunnel vision when advanced stages are reached.

Closed-angle (narrow-angle, acute-angle) – intense headaches, eye pain, blurry vision, halos around lights, eye redness, nausea and vomiting.

glaucoma and cannabis

And now back to Robert Randall

Robert Randall had smoked marijuana before, and remembered that it had helped with eye strain previously. Around 1973 he realized that smoking cannabis did, indeed, help his eyesight. In fact, remember those halos he was seeing around lights? He found that smoking cannabis helped eliminate them. He found such relief from cannabis that he eventually started growing it himself to cut down on costs. In early 1975, marijuana plants were found on his back porch, and in August of that year, he was busted for simple possession of cannabis. At this time, cannabis was 100% illegal for recreational or medical use in the U.S., and not one state had a medical marijuana policy. The use of cannabis had been outlawed since the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act.

Randall decided to fight back. He went in front of the court and presented a medical defense that even his lawyer was not behind, stating that smoking marijuana helped to minimize his suffering from glaucoma. This was a completely novel claim at the time. But Randall persevered, finding research conducted through UCLA that supported his claim, and going through a litany of tests to prove his point.

The United States vs Randall

There are plenty of landmark cases in U.S. legal history, and this case is certainly one of them. In 1976, Robert Randall went up against the US federal government using a medical necessity defense for his use of marijuana. Through the case it was found that according to the original diagnosing doctor, Doctor Fine, that the drugs being used to treat his glaucoma were completely ineffective by 1974 due to increased resistance.

Once on trial, he became a participant in experimental programs led by Dr. Hepler who worked for the US government. Dr. Hepler testified in court that Randall was not being helped by the medications, and that surgery was a dangerous idea as it could result in immediate blindness. In fact, the main result of the medical tests was that marijuana smoke did reduce his visual problems, and had a beneficial effect on his overall condition.

The court ruled in Randall’s favor as it found he met all the requirements for a necessity defense, and that he had not caused his own blindness. Judge James A. Washington of the D.C. Superior Court stated when Randall beat the U.S. “…the evil he sought to avert, blindness, is greater than that he performed.” When Robert Randall beat the U.S., he became the first person in the U.S. since 1937 who could legally smoke marijuana. And not just smoke it, but have it provided to him by the U.S. government. Something that continued until his death on June 2nd 2001 due to AIDS complications.

Around the same time that Randall beat the U.S. in court and the charges were dismissed, Randall’s attorneys were successful in petitioning the FDA to have him participate in a research program that would allot him 10 joints a day. This was fine, though Randall often complained about the quality of the government marijuana, claiming it tasted metallic and that street cannabis was better. Then in 1978, his eye doctor moved states and Randall was abruptly dropped from the program. So, what did he do? In 1978 Randall successfully sued the U.S. government to be included in the program once more! Yes, Randall beat the U.S. government again. In fact, this means Randall beat the U.S. government twice. First defensively, and then offensively.

Since then…

marijuana activists

Randall wasn’t just out for himself, he became one of the leading cannabis activists of the time. He travelled around lecturing – even risking his own ability to access cannabis, as well as pushing for legal change. Between 1978-1980, he was an instrumental aide in enacting 30 different laws throughout the States that recognized the medical benefits of cannabis, and also helped establish programs to provide medical cannabis access to patients. Most were never actually active though as the federal government fought hard to close them.

In 1981 he founded the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, a non-profit which pushed for greater legal freedoms when it comes to medical marijuana. He even drafted legislation for the 97th congress for the fair and compassionate use of medical marijuana. Hearings were never heard on it, but it did attract 110 co-sponsors including a young Newt Gingrich.

In the 1990’s he began focusing more on AIDS, likely because of his own situation of being diagnosed with AIDS in 1994. He established MARS – the Marijuana AIDS Research Service to help those with AIDS obtain cannabis for medicine. Hundreds of patients went to access this service, and though it was initially approved by the government, it was abruptly closed, even though requests had been given the okay. This left a lot of sick people with no means for legal, useful, cannabis medication, and public outrage over it led to different states eventually offering up ballot measures. It’s what helped drive California to pass Proposition 215 in 1996, becoming the first state to have an instituted medical marijuana program (which came well after Virginia allowed medical use in a drug bill, but never put it into action).

Randall also authored six books, one of which was about his plight. Co-authored with his partner Alice O’Leary, the book is entitled Marijuana RX: the Patients Fight for Medical Pot. He died in 2001 in the same city he was born, Sarasota, Florida. He was 53 years old.


Robert Randall’s name is not one of the more well-known when it comes to legal antics or cannabis, yet he proved himself to be one of the most important figures in the re-establishment of medical marijuana. As medical legalization policies sprout up all over the world, and as medical cannabis was just rescheduled according to the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Substances, perhaps we should take a minute to give a little thankful appreciation to one of the heroes that helped make it happen. So thank you Robert Randall, for having the intelligence, motivation, and drive to beat the U.S. in court, and for fighting to help those in need.

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Why is using THC good for the eyes

These days the list of illnesses that cannabis medicines can be used for grows every day, with research studies being done left and right to test its efficacy against different symptoms and disorders. Most attention is focused on CBD because of its lack of psychoactive effects, while THC is often left out. However, it was found early on that THC is good for the eyes, and has been used to treat conditions like glaucoma for decades.

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Medical cannabis back in the day

Before getting into the restart of medical cannabis in more recent decades, let’s go over some facts about the use of cannabis in medicine. Essentially, it’s been used in medicine for thousands of years, long before it was co-opted by Western medicine in the 1800’s, and then re-introduced once again after a period of enforced illegalization. It’s a part of two of the oldest medicinal traditions, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, both of which have multiple applications for the use of cannabis to treat tons of different ailments. It has been used in many other lesser-known medical traditions as well.

Prior to it being scheduled as a narcotic by the Single Convention on Narcotic Substances which forced a global illegalization, cannabis was being used in all types of Western medicine applications. In fact, it was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia for the first time in 1850, but dropped from there in 1937 following the Marijuana Tax act. Before the laws changed, it could be found in tons of products, for almost anything. Most people, of course, had no real understanding of this, but it does show that cannabis was being used very heavily in the world of medicine. Considering how many countries were forced into illegalizing the plant, this was not confined to just the US.

marijuana for the eyes

Cannabis has existed medicinally in essentially three stages. The first was everything up until the 1800’s when it was used in natural medicine traditions. The second stage was the original co-opting of the drug into Western medicine, and the third is the reintroduction back into Western medicine more recently.

It entered Western medicine for the first time in around 1842 when the Irish researcher Dr. William O’Shaughnessy published Bengal Dispensatory and Pharmacopoeia which included an entire 25 pages devoted to cannabis use in medicine. He started studying it back in 1933, when a part of the British East India Company, and saw it as beneficial for use with digestive issues, acute rheumatism, in dealing with pain, and for sedation, among other applications.

The restart of medical cannabis

Over in Israel, Raphael Mechoulam was doing his own thing in the mid-1900’s, publishing a paper on the isolation of THC in 1964, and investigating it for use with a number of illnesses. Research that essentially got pushed underground for decades. There was also Roger Adams, the guy who isolated CBD in 1940, the compound that helped bolster medical cannabis in general by offering a non-psychoactive compound to treat illnesses. Basically, all those things cannabis had already been used for, prior to illegalization, began to be tested through more modern means of medical research. Most of this didn’t make any waves for a long time, until California made the topic an international story.

In the US in 1979, Virginia passed a drug bill to overhaul its system, and this bill allowed for cannabis medications to be prescribed to people with glaucoma and cancer. This was the first modern medical legalization in the US. California pushed harder with a bill solely for cannabis use in medicine in 1996, setting off a flurry of changing regulation in the States with its Proposition 215.

THC is good for the eyes, especially glaucoma

THC and glaucoma

It might not be considered one of its more prevalent uses now, but cannabis use to treat glaucoma was one of the first reasons for its reintroduction into Western medicine. And this because THC has been shown to be good for the eyes. Research into cannabis use for the eyes has been out since the 1970’s, when it was determined that marijuana, and specifically THC, can decrease intraocular pressure, one of the main reasons for glaucoma.

There is more than one type of glaucoma, but the majority of sufferers have POAG – or, primary open-angle glaucoma. It might not be mentioned as much as other disorders, but glaucoma is very widespread, affecting upwards of 60 million people worldwide. Other than age and race, intraocular pressure is the third risk factor for developing the disease, meaning keeping pressures under control is vital, especially as glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts.

The idea that THC can be used to treat glaucoma – AND medically in general! – came about in the mid 70’s when a 26-year-old guy named Robert Randall – who was experiencing advanced glaucoma, which wasn’t being adequately taken care of – noticed the disappearance of halos around lights (caused by his high eye pressures) after smoking marijuana. Randall ended up growing his own marijuana, for which he got caught and arrested, and subsequently faced federal charges.

In the 1976 landmark case The United States vs Randall, Randall successfully argued his case in front of the DC Superior Court, creating “The first successful articulation of the medical necessity defense in the history of the common law, and indeed, the first case to extend the necessity defense to the crimes of possession or cultivation of marijuana.” This made Randall the first legal medical cannabis user since 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act essentially ended cannabis use in medicine, and in general.

smoking cannabis

How else is THC good for the eyes?

Funny enough, THC has an application that we all technically know about already. And if not necessarily ‘good’, with possible medical purpose, at least. Everyone knows that cannabis dries out the eyes. I can personally attest to the fact that my contacts stick right to my eyes when using marijuana. This, in and of itself, isn’t a benefit, but in this study it was shown that THC is good for regulating the lacrimal gland, and this may have positive benefits for people with epiphora, a condition of over-tearing eyes.

In 2004, a study was published on the effects of cannabis on night vision. The study included very few subjects which means it requires more corroboration, however, it did show a positive outcome. In two double blind studies on subjects who smoked kif (here defined as “sifted cannabis sativa mixed with tobacco”), it was noted that night vision improved after smoking. The belief of the investigators is that this is based on dose, and that the effect is mediated at the retinal level. The study used Marinol as its form of THC, in doses of 0-20mg.

One of the issues with THC is that due to the general ban on it, not as much research has been done into it as could have been. Right now there isn’t much research regarding cannabis and cataracts, but there are some connections that might prove promising. For one thing, THC helps reduce inflammation, which is a major characteristic of cataracts, along with elevated blood pressure which cannabis can help to decrease as well.

Another major eye issue, especially among the aging, is macular degeneration. Cannabis can help treat symptoms in many ways. For one, much like with cataracts, it can help with inflammation. Second, it can also inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor, and without the harsh side effects of pharmaceutical medications for this purpose. Third, it lowers intraocular pressure – which is beneficial for glaucoma sufferers too. And fourth, when looking at the psychological factors of having such an eye condition, and the anxiety and depression that can go along with it, cannabis can be useful here as well, helping to ease these symptoms and relax the patient.


As with any other topic related to medical marijuana, there are plenty of articles shouting out about possible damage caused by using it. Anyone interested in using cannabis to treat their eye issues should speak to a professional of some kind, preferably one who understands cannabis medicine. However, that THC can be good for the eyes seems to have been understood for quite some time, though its actual application has been much slower with the pick-up. Perhaps in the future this will change.

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Q&A: NBA Player Al Harrington Passes the Joint

Al Harrington is no stranger to pain. After 16 seasons battling it out on the basketball court with some of the best professional athletes in the world, the former Indiana Pacer understands just how much the human body can withstand before it starts to break.

Throughout his career, Harrington endured a number of injuries, some of which threatened to bring his game to an end. But it was only after he discovered the healing benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) that his attitude toward recovery changed.

Harrington has since spun his appreciation for cannabis into an entrepreneurial slam dunk with his companies Viola Extracts and Harrington Wellness. These operations produce a variety of medical marijuana products, such as live resins and CBD cream, for both athletes and the average citizen living with chronic pain. Cannabis Now Magazine recently caught up with Harrington to discuss his dedication to the herb.

Cannabis Now Magazine: You didn’t use marijuana in your younger years. How did you get involved with the cannabis industry?

Al Harrington: I was in Colorado. Everybody was talking about the benefits of cannabis, the business of cannabis. How I got interested in it was through my grandmother. She had come to see me while I was playing for the Denver Nuggets and two days before I had been reading about how cannabis helped glaucoma. So while my grandmother was there she was telling me about how bad her eyes hurt and how she had glaucoma. So I just told her ignorantly, “I was just reading the other day that cannabis actually helps glaucoma.” And she’s like, “Boy, I’m not smoking no reefers. You better get out of my face.” So I said, “You’re taking all this medicine and you’re still in pain. At least give it a shot.” She was still like, “No!”

The next day, I had a game, and she’s sitting in my kitchen with her hands on her face. I said, “Grandma, are you sure you don’t want to give it a try? It will be between you and I. It’ll just be our secret.” So finally, I was able to convince her. We vaporized something called Vietnam Kush. I took her downstairs and I went and took my pregame nap. About hour and a half later, I went to check on her. I said, “Hey Grandma, you OK?” She was crying and she said, “I’m healed.” I mean, we were both stand in the doorway crying. At that point, I started reading up on it and seeing that it helps kids with epilepsy and even helps people that are terminally ill have a better quality of life. That how I got into cannabis.

al harrington viola wellness

PHOTO Viola Extracts

Now that you’re a part of the cannabis industry, you’ve probably sampled just about everything legal marijuana has to offer. What is your preferred method of consumption?

I’ve sampled a little bit of everything. I prefer to vape. I like vaping just because it doesn’t have that loud smell. I can actually vape right in front of the kids and not be a nuisance. From the point of maintaining my body with CBD, I like to use a lot of the creams.

If you were given five minutes alone with President Donald Trump, what would you say to inspire him to rethink his anti-pot position?

All I would talk about the entire time is research. That’s the issue. I just feel like everybody’s making comments and they have no factual information. I’ve heard so many stories from people, where I feel like cannabis has actually almost cured them. But we can’t make those types of statements. But the proof is in the pudding. The stories are real.

Do you think marijuana can benefit NBA players on the court?

I think so, man. I mean it’s not about on the court. Like I would not sit here and say that I think players should smoke weed before they go out and play in a professional basketball game. What we’re talking about is after the game. I use myself as an example. I’ve had a couple major injuries, but I’ve always had knick-knack problems. I took [anti-inflammatories] morning and night. That was the only way I could be the best that I could be at my job. Who knows what I put my body through compared to if I had used cannabis? Since my introduction to CBD, I’ve had three more surgeries. And after each, I got prescribed Vicodin and OxyContin. I promise I have not taken them. I use cannabis and I use CBD. I love that I now have that option. There are just so many beneficial things that the plant provides. That’s why I’m such a big advocate.

Al Harrington Basketball Marijuana NBA Cannabis Now

Larry Bird was one of your coaches during your time with the Pacers. If you had ever passed him a joint, would he have hit it or would he have benched you?

I think he would have hit it. Larry Bird is old school, man. All of those old school players used to smoke. I think at the time that they played, they got one drug test to start the season. And after that, they did whatever.

Have any current NBA players reached out to you for advice on medical marijuana?

Yes. But their main question is: Am I going to get in trouble for using it? Because of how much I respect my relationship with these guys, I tell them I don’t know. If I can get these guys to try it in the summertime, when they’re not on the clock, and if they see that it works, then they can start going to the NBA and saying, “Look, I tried this CBD cream. It really worked.” At the end of the day, the league has got to start taking notice.

Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

TELL US, do you think the NBA should allow cannabis use?

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THCa Should Not Be Replaced With CBD

Knowledge of cannabis‘s clinical potential has blossomed greatly. One procreator of this bloom has recently been demanding our perceptions shift once more – into acidic cannabinoids like THCA and CBDA. Raphael Mechoulam coined the entourage effect. With the help of colleagues across the globe, innovators like Raphael have been able to hone the cannabis users […]

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Glaucoma, Acne, psoriasis? What cannabinoids work?

The age-old excuse, “it’s for my glaucoma.” Back when cannabis was stigmatized, CBD was not as well known and people relied on THC strains for everything. In the full and broad spectrum world of cannabis, there are only so many reasons for intoxication left. Remedies for deliberating conditions like Glaucoma and even acne may not […]

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