There are a small handful of people in America who get legal medical marijuana directly from the federal government. Irvin Rosenfeld is one of them.
Right now, medical marijuana is legal in 33 US states, but it remains federally prohibited. That means all medical marijuana patients are criminals in the eyes of federal law. Well, almost all of them. There are a handful of exceptions like Rosenfeld, who is one of only a small number of patients that were granted federal permission to use medical marijuana.
Every month, Rosenfeld receives 300 joints from the FDA—all of which comes from the only federally licensed cannabis cultivator at the University of Mississippi. That might sound like a dream come true, but the stuff Rosenfeld gets is low potency and not particularly high quality. Still Rosenfeld says it fulfills his needs.
"If you're talking about a connoisseur who wants to get high, they would be disappointed in the quality of the cannabis," Rosenfeld told Vice. "But I'm looking for the medicinal aspect and what I get sent to me is enough."
The condition that Rosenfeld was cleared to treat with medical marijuana is a rare bone disease called multiple congenital cartilaginous exotosis. Basically, he has hundreds of tumors covering his bones causing near constant pain. For years Rosenfeld was reliant on huge amounts of traditional painkillers to help manage his condition. But once he began experimenting with cannabis as a college student in the early seventies, everything changed.
"That's when I realized this illegal drug called marijuana was the only medicine that was doing this for me," Rosenfeld said.
Later on, Rosenfeld linked up with the late Bob Randall - the medical marijuana activist who became the first person to successfully petition the federal government to use medical marijuana. Together they opened the doors for the FDA's Investigational New Drug (IND) program.
Previously, the program allowed patients suffering from conditions like AIDS and rare forms of cancer to access the federal supply of marijuana. However, the program was shuttered by the Bush administration in 1992 and only 13 patients were grandfathered into the new regime. Rosenfeld was one of them.
While Rosenfeld is happy to see so many US states allow access to medical marijuana within their jurisdictions, he's still pushing for medical marijuana legalization on the federal level.
"In 1982, Bob Randall and I made a pact," said Rosenfeld. "We were going to teach the entire world about the benefits of medical cannabis. That's what we set out to do, but we haven't won yet for everybody. It's frustrating when the feds keep saying there is no medicinal benefit to cannabis because we know there is. We're living proof that this works."