Robert C. Randall, 53, who won a landmark D.C. Superior court case in 1976 by arguing that the marijuana growing on his Capitol Hill sun porch kept him from going blind and thus helped launch the medical marijuana movement, died June 2 at his Sarasota, Fla., home. He had AIDS.
After the court case, Mr. Randall became active in the effort to legalize marijuana for medical purposes and, until his health began failing in recent years, found himself on the front lines of the national debate over drug policy.
The first legal user of marijuana for medicinal reasons, Mr. Randall also was a key figure in a lawsuit that resulted in a controversial 1987 ruling. The decision, which was subsequently ignored by Drug Enforcement Administration officials, was written by the agency's chief administrative law judge, who wrote that marijuana was "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."
Conservatively dressed, with thick glasses and a quiet demeanor intended to put people at ease, Mr. Randall also was a familiar figure testifying in statehouses and courtrooms across the country.
He did this mainly as a representative of the group he founded, Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, through which he made allies across the ideological divide, including then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, the Georgia Republican who later became speaker of the House, and former Reagan administration official Lyn Nofziger.
In recent years, he also was active in unsuccessful efforts to permit AIDS patients to join the same federally run program that provided him with marijuana up until his death.
He was critical of the officials who kept marijuana illegal as well as of activists who sought to combine social use of the drug with its medicinal use.
In a 1998 book he co-authored with his wife and longtime companion Alice M. O'Leary, Mr. Randall wrote that, "Seriously ill Americans are caught in the crossfire as drug warriors on both sides of the cultural divide try to turn the sick into cannon fodder."
R. Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said, "Bob was, in essence, the father of the medical marijuana movement."
Mr. Randall, a native of Sarasota, received a bachelor's degree in speech and a master's degree in rhetoric from the University of South Florida. He moved to the Washington area in 1971, hoping to find work as a political speechwriter. He lived in Arlington before moving to Washington.
He worked at Red Top cab company but, with his eyesight growing progressively worse and a doctor telling him he would soon go blind, found new work as a speech teacher at Prince George's Community College. He also wrote theater reviews for suburban weekly newspapers.
He said he first noticed that marijuana helped his eyesight when smoking it with a friend at an Arlington apartment in 1973.
Mr. Randall and O'Leary had been on vacation in 1975 when marijuana plants were discovered on their porch during a raid on a neighboring apartment. He presented the court with the then-novel claim that the glaucoma from which he was suffering was alleviated by smoking marijuana, an idea that even his lawyer found hard to hear at first without chuckling.
But it was no laughing matter to Mr. Randall, who found supporting research and went through a battery of tests conducted by a UCLA researcher to support his claims.
In November 1976, D.C. Superior Court Judge James A. Washington ruled that Mr. Randall "has established a defense of necessity. . . . The evil he sought to avert, blindness, is greater than that he performed."
The charges were dismissed. Working on a separate track, Mr. Randall's attorneys successfully petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to have him included in a research program that allotted him 10 marijuana joints a day.
The marijuana was grown at a University of Mississippi farm, rolled into cigarettes at a facility in North Carolina, and shipped in a tin to pharmacies near Mr. Randall, where he would pick them up to good-natured joking from the pharmacists.
He said that he never got "high" from the marijuana, since he smoked so much of it. He also was critical of the government drug's characteristics, saying it was "consistently bad . . . very metallic. It lacks the fine, almost perfumed taste of street marijuana."
In 1978, after he was withdrawn from the program when his eye doctor moved to another state, he successfully sued the government to be included in the program.
In the early 1990s, he established the Marijuana AIDS Research Service, which helped AIDS patients apply for the FDA program in which he and 33 others were enrolled. After what appeared to be initial approval for the idea, it was nixed.
Closure of the program led activists to turn to the polls and sponsor various state ballot initiatives, including California's Proposition 215, which allowed for medical use of marijuana. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently that it is illegal under federal law to distribute marijuana, regardless of a claim of medical necessity.
Mr. Randall is survived by O'Leary of Sarasota, whom he recently married; a brother; and a sister.