Fort Lauderdale stockbroker 'living proof' medical marijuana works

After 130,000 joints and 31 years in federal program, Irvin Rosenfeld backs Florida amendment drive

Irvin Rosenfeld is Florida's only legal pot smoker. His marijuana provider? The federal government. Since 1982, as part of an experimental drug program, Rosenfeld has received a monthly tin with 300 fat joints – about nine ounces – grown by the feds on a farm at the University of Mississippi.

Rosenfeld, 60, a Fort Lauderdale stockbroker with a painful chronic bone tumor disorder, carries a prescription bag with his marijuana cigarettes to work. When I visited him at his office last week, he took a hit off a smokeless vapor pipe, which he sometimes uses when the market gets hectic. But he prefers smoking, which he says is more beneficial in getting the plant's full medicinal effects.

Every few hours, he ducks into a parking garage, greets the standard tobacco junkies puffing away during their smoke breaks, and lights up.

With the Florida Supreme Court about to decide whether a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana can appear on the November 2014 ballot, I figured it would a good time to catch up with Rosenfeld. Ask him if medical marijuana works, and he says, "I'm living proof."


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"I consider myself a very healthy disabled person – a productive member of society who's able to work every day in a very stressful business," Rosenfeld told me.

Marijuana doesn't make him high, he says, but provides pain management without the harsh side effects of narcotics. When I first met him in 2005, he called pot "a godsend for me." After 31 years and more than 130,000 joints, Rosenfeld said this week that his lungs and mind are clear. Every six months, Rosenfeld and his sponsoring physician send a report to the feds about his treatment.

Rosenfeld should be Exhibit A in the fight for medical marijuana, yet organizers of Florida's petition drive to get the amendment on the 2014 ballot haven't reached out to him. Rosenfeld said he has called John Morgan, the Tampa attorney spearheading the effort, three times and hasn't heard back.

"I don't feel slighted so much as disappointed that they don't use my expertise with everything I've been through," Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld, who favors full legalization of marijuana, said he supports the amendment with reservations. He said it would be better if the issue didn't have to go the constitutional amendment route, but realizes there's little hope of Florida legislators taking direct action. Medical marijuana bills failed to get any hearings last session. If the amendment reaches the ballot, it will need 60 percent voter approval to pass.

Rosenfeld is one of four surviving patients in the federal government's Compassionate Investigative New Drug progam, which began in 1976 and stopped accepting new patients in 1992. Not many people realize that Rosenfeld or the program exist. Especially since the same federal government that grows and ships Rosenfeld's supply still officially classifies marijuana as a dangerous drug with "no accepted medical use," on par with heroin and LSD.

"It's very frustrating," Rosenfeld says of the feds' inconsistency. Medical marijuana is now legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, in direct conflict with federal law. A court battle along the lines of the gay-marriage fight seems inevitable.

"We trust our physicians to make decisions every day when it comes to prescribing narcotics," Rosenfeld said. "They should be able to do the same with marijuana."

mmayo@tribune.com, 954-356-4508

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