Local bust highlights medical marijuana debate

December 05, 2007

, Express Gay News

It was a warm day Jan. 9, 2007, when police came to Robin Redman’s apartment. It was so warm, in fact, that Redman was sunning himself by the pool of the complex of his former residence in Wilton Manors.

Police had received complaints that Redman was dealing narcotics. For almost 20 years, Redman, 48, has been using marijuana to alleviate symptoms related to AIDS.

Wilton Manors Police officer Robert Rohr approached Redman with an agent from the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. The officers escorted Redman from the pool to his apartment, where they told Redman the reason for their visit.

According to the police report, detectives had been observing Redman for drug dealing, but when detectives found no suspicious activity, police went to his residence. He remembers police looking inside drawers and sifting through pockets of his jacket and jeans.

Once inside the apartment, the agents began searching the apartment, Redman recalled.

“They told me they were looking for meth,” he said. “What they found was a lot of little nuggets (of pot), and they put it all together.”

After nearly 90 minutes, the police found 56 grams — nearly two ounces — of marijuana in Redman’s room.

According to the incident report, police easily spotted marijuana residue and seeds Redman left in plain view near his computer. Police also found several baggies full of the drug, but there were none of the telling signs that Redman was dealing. No scales were located, and neither were there any smaller-sized baggies that are usually associated with dealers. Agents seized the stash, but they did not arrest Redman.

“Due to Redman’s medical condition an arrest was not made at the time,” reads the police narrative of the incident. Instead, Redman was informed that the charges would be presented to the State Attorney’s Office.

It wasn’t until Nov. 5 — nearly 10 months after police searched his apartment — that Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Redman on felony charges of possession. According to BSO, the agency got an arrest warrant for Redman’s arrest March 31. BSO’s fugitive squad attempted to arrest Redman in April and in June, but Redman had moved and police could not locate him. Police were not able to track him down until Nov. 5, according to a BSO spokesman.

That morning, as Redman was getting ready to take his morning meds, Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies appeared at his door. The deputies told Redman they had a warrant for his       arrest. They handcuffed him and took him to jail, where he stayed until he posted bail at 6:30 the next morning.

Redman appeared at an arraignment Nov. 29. His attorney, Norm Kent, the former publisher of the Express and a well-known proponent of medical marijuana, is arguing medical necessity. Kent successfully used the argument in the 1988 case of Elvy Musikka, a woman who suffered from glaucoma who was arrested for possession.

Redman is like many PWAs and cancer patients who smoke marijuana to increase appetite and alleviate some of the symptoms such as night sweats, diarrhea and aches associated with peripheral neuropathy.

Caren Woodson, director of Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical marijuana organization, said that as many as one in four people with HIV use marijuana therapeutically.

“It doesn’t matter if you live in a state with or without marijuana laws,” she said. “Without access to a safe and consistent supply, users of medical cannabis are putting themselves in potentially dangerous encounters with underground drug dealers or with police.”

Aside from alleviating aches and nausea, there are studies that find that marijuana is effective in helping PWAs to adhere to drug regimens.

But opponents say that medical marijuana is a ruse used to legitimize recreational drug use and dealing. They dispute the beneficial medical claims, pointing out that marijuana use leads to respiratory problems. Marijuana smoke, they argue, carries three times as much carbon monoxide as smoke from tobacco cigarettes.

Opponents of medical marijuana advocate the use of a synthetic form of THC in the drug Marinol. But for many patients, Marinol is too strong.

In 2005, the Food & Drug Administration issued a statement saying there are no scientific studies that support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Drug Enforcement Administration has long held that marijuana should not be legalized for any reason. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that federal authorities could prosecute patients in states that have approved its use.

Eleven states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — permit medical use of marijuana with certain legal requirements. But Federal law still classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 narcotic that has no medical use.

Florida has some of the harshest penalties for people caught with nominal amounts of marijuana. In Florida, a person can get a year in jail and be fined $1,000 for possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana.

Fort Lauderdale investment broker Irvin Rosenfeld is one of five people in the U.S. who can legally smoke marijuana for medicinal uses. Rosenfeld suffers from multiple congenital cartilaginous exostoses, a condition that produces bone tumors. He lobbied the FDA and won approval from the federal government to use marijuana in 1982.

Since then Rosenfeld has been on the front lines of the movement to change the classifying of cannabis from a schedule 1 narcotic to a schedule 2 drug.

Rosenfeld discovered pot relieved the pain caused by bone tumors that grew outward and strained his muscles. He said marijuana acts as an anti-inflammatory agent that helps his muscles and veins relax.

Michael Rajner, national community organizer for the National Association for People with AIDS, said that while he supports medicinal use of marijuana, the use should be controlled so as to dissuade recreational use.

“It depends on how sick a person might be,” Rajner said. “If you can’t eat, it’s a matter of life and death. While smoking pot is a criminal behavior, if it means saving one’s own life, then it’s not so wrong.”

Rosenfeld sees smoking pot as no different than taking HIV meds.

“[Marijuana] is a medicine,” he said. “It worked for me and it causes no ill effects.”

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