Legal marijuana sparks skepticism

February 17, 2005

Mary Massingale, State Journal-Register

Irvin Rosenfeld on Thursday expected to do his moral duty by testifying before Illinois lawmakers on the benefits of smoking marijuana for a painful bone disorder.

He didn’t expect to be detained by Illinois secretary of state police for bringing in a tin containing about 150 federally approved joints.

Call it “show and tell” gone bad.

The 51-year-old stockbroker from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., appeared in front of the House Human Services Committee in support of House Bill 407. Sponsored by Rep.

Larry McKeon, D-Chicago, the proposal would legalize marijuana use for residents with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or AIDS.

Federal law prohibits possession of the cannabis plant, but the U.S. Supreme Court will rule this year on whether federal officials can prosecute individuals who use medical marijuana. Ten states currently allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.

Rosenfeld is one of seven patients nationwide allowed to legally use marijuana under a now-closed federal program. Every 25 days, he picks up a tin of 300 marijuana cigarettes provided by the federal government at his local pharmacy. Smoking 10 to 12 cigarettes a day for the past 33 years - 221/2 years with the approval of the White House - has kept his bone tumors under control and managed the constant pain.

He told committee members wanted to help give others the same relief he gets from smoking marijuana.

'When you have a disabling disease, it sucks,' Rosenfeld said. 'You want to make something good come out of something bad.'

It was about to get worse.

After his testimony, Rosenfeld was detained by two secretary of state police officers stationed in the committee room. Extra security had been requested by the U.S. marshal's office for the earlier appearance of John Walters, the White House 'drug czar.'

The officers walked Rosenfeld through a commonly used tunnel connecting the Capitol with the building housing the committee room, using a wheelchair when Rosenfeld complained of ankle pain. He was detained in a Capitol basement substation while officers called the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to verify his story.

'He is in fact one of seven who are federally exempt,' said Brad Demuzio, director of the secretary of state police.

McKeon, a former Los Angeles police officer who is HIV positive, criticized the officers for taking it upon themselves to investigate Rosenfeld when they had heard his testimony about his marijuana use.

'I find that disgusting and offensive,' McKeon said.

Demuzio defended his officers, saying they were justified in the 30-minute detention.

'When you have a tin with 300 marijuana cigarettes and you walk into the Capitol and you tell us you have a federal exemption, you have to investigate,' Demuzio said.

The incident upstaged the earlier appearance of Walters, who serves as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He told lawmakers that marijuana use and dependency accounts for 60 percent of rehabilitation treatment sought nationwide and can often lead to methamphetamine use.

'This is not your father's marijuana,' Walters said. 'This is not your marijuana when you were in college, if you are a baby boomer. You are suffering under 'reefer madness' if you think it is.'

The Food and Drug Administration has not approved marijuana for medical use. A 1978 Illinois law allows participants in federally approved research projects to use medical marijuana, but that law has never been implemented.

Committee members rejected HB407 on a 4-7 vote, with opponents asking how law enforcement officials could contain such a program.

McKeon, however, said he would continue to push the proposal. He suggested setting up a teleconference among law enforcement officials in Illinois and the 10 states with medical-marijuana laws to further the debate.

'I'm going to proceed with this legislation, period,' McKeon said.

Mary Massingale can be reached at 782-6882 or mary.massingale@sj-r.com.



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