Whatever happened to ... Medical pot recipient from Portsmouth?

December 02, 2007

Tony Germanotta, Virginian-Pilot

On November 20, Portsmouth native Irvin Rosenfeld marked a bittersweet milestone.

Rosenfeld, 54, opened a tin from his pharmacist and lit up a government-issued marijuana cigarette. It was his 25th year in a rare "compassionate use" program ostensibly studying the efficacy of pot as medicine.

For Rosenfeld, who suffers from a condition that causes painful tumors to grow on all the long bones of his body, marijuana has been a life saver. Because of it, he no longer needs the debilitating narcotics that used to leave him in a stupor but didn't blunt the agony.

Although he smokes a dozen of the free marijuana cigarettes a day, he said he has never gotten high from the drug.

Rosenfeld sent out invitations to the media last month to "come smoke a federal government 'joint' with Irv" as a way to celebrate his silver anniversary and drum up interest in legalizing medical marijuana use.

No reporters or camera people showed up in the board room of the Westin Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he said.

"It shows the apathy," Rosenfeld said from the brokerage firm in Florida where he has worked for more than two decades. These days, he said, there has to be a crisis to get media interest in his cause.

Rosenfeld is the longest living of the federal government's medical marijuana recipients. Once there were 13 in the exclusive club; there are only five left. No new participants have been allowed since 1992, but those in the system still are supplied marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi and rolled into cigarettes in North Carolina.

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Rosenfeld has been campaigning for decades to get the federal government to reclassify marijuana as a controlled substance that can be used by anyone with a doctor's prescription.

He was the second person in America to get a federal license to smoke marijuana. The first, Robert Randall, a glaucoma and later an AIDS patient, died in 2001, the only other person to legally cross the quarter-century mark.

Rosenfeld is on the board of a group, Patients Out of Time, that advocates a change in federal law, and, as Randall did before him, often speaks on behalf of medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, Rosenfeld is scheduled to address a conference in New Orleans by the Drug Policy Alliance.

He also has been writing a book on his efforts, tentatively titled "Pot Luck: How I Convinced the U.S. Government to Provide My Medical Marijuana and Started a National Movement."

Filmmaker Oliver Stone is interested in optioning the book, which is about 90 percent finished, Rosenfeld said.

It begins with his family learning, when he was 10, that he had multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis and pseudo pseudo hypoparathyroidism.

Rosenfeld, who is married and has no children, returns to Portsmouth regularly to visit his 88-year-old father and two sisters.

"I'm still doing great," Rosenfeld said. "I no longer run the bases in softball. I was tearing muscles." So he utilizes a pinch runner so he can continue playing the field and hitting, he said. Before marijuana, he had been forced to give up all sports.

He also teaches sailing to the handicapped and disadvantaged with an organization in Miami. It's a way of giving back, and he gets a lot of pleasure as well.

"Shake-A-Leg is the greatest," he said of the group. "If you feel down, you go to Shake-A-Leg and you can't feel down."

Tony Germanotta, (757) 222-5113, tony.germanotta@pilotonline.com

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