Nov. 24, 2009 -- Irvin Rosenfeld, a 56-year old stockbroker from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., doesn't look like a record-setting pothead, but last week he woke up, turned on CNBC, and lit up his 115,000th joint.
If you think his dealer is thrilled to have a client who has smoked 10 to 12 joints a day for the past 28 years, you're wrong. Rosenfeld, who suffers from a rare form of bone cancer, isn't your typical weed smoker, and his dealer isn't your typical drug pusher. He gets his joints -- 300 at a time, one shipment every 25 days -- courtesy of the United States federal government.
"I don't know that I've broken a record, but I've certainly set one. No one else in the world can document having smoked 115,000 cannabis cigarettes – let alone the ones I smoked before that. I'm living proof that medical cannabis is real medicine. We need to get medicine in the hands of patients who really need it," said Rosenfeld.
Ironically, the government that supplies Rosenfeld with medical marijuana has for decades denied the drug's efficacy, penalized those states that legalized medicinal cannabis and -- until just months ago -- actively prosecuted suppliers in those states.
Rosenfeld said the drug acts as "a muscle relaxant, an anti-inflammatory, a painkiller and keeps tumors from growing."
What it does not do, he said, is get him high.
"I don't get high. I need the medicine; I'm not getting any euphoria," he said.
Rosenfeld said the marijuana allows him to maintain a normal life. He's been married for 36 years, goes to work every day, volunteers teaching disabled children to sail, and is working on a book.
His clients, he said, know about his marijuana use and are impressed by his doggedness.
"I always ask them, 'Have you ever met anyone who has taken on the federal government and won? If you want that kind of expertise and work ethic, then hire me.'"
When Rosenfeld began receiving marijuana from the federal government in 1982, he became the second patient to benefit under a narrowly defined "compassionate protocol" that supplied glaucoma and cancer patients with cannabis until the Federal Drug Administration's Investigational New Drug Program was disbanded a decade later.
Today, Rosenfeld is one of only four patients who continue to receive weed from the federal government. He is the longest surviving member of the program.
He uses the marijuana to treat two conditions -- one called multiple congenital cartilaginous exostosis, the other pseudohypoparathyroidism. They cause painful tumors to grow on his bones. His experience, he said, has led him to become one of the nation's most vocal proponents of medical marijuana use.
He has testified before the legislatures of several of the 13 states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes and has for nearly three decades fought the federal government to allow him to continue to use pot.
Though marijuana -- even for medicinal use -- is outlawed under federal law, the government began supplying a handful of patients with the drug in the late 1970s. When the program was outlawed in 1992, Rosenfeld fought to continue receiving the drugs.
Diagnosed when he was 10 years old, Rosenfeld found marijuana helped with his pain when he tried it for the first time as a college student in the 1970s. Desperate not to use an illegal substance, he petitioned the Federal Drug Administration for five years to let him receive government-grown marijuana.
Every month for the last 28 years, Rosenfeld has received 300 joints from the government, sealed in large tins and delivered to his local pharmacy. The marijuana comes from cannabis plants grown by the government on a small farm at the University of Mississippi. The plants are sent to Raleigh, N.C., where the National Institute of Drug Addiction dries them and prepares the cigarettes.
The federal government has traditionally cracked down on states that allow medical marijuana. When the bulk of the program it ran was shut down in the early 1990s, Rosenfeld twice sued and won to be allowed access to federally-grown weed.
Despite the federal government's efforts to grow and produce high quality marijuana, the government's position is decidedly against its use.
The Drug Enforcement Agency does not refer to medical marijuana on its Web site without putting the word "medical" in quotes, and insists there is little science to support the use of smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"There are no FDA-approved medications that are smoked. For one thing, smoking is generally a poor way to deliver medicine. It is difficult to administer safe, regulated dosages of medicines in smoked form. Secondly, the harmful chemicals and carcinogens that are byproducts of smoking create entirely new health problems. There are four times the level of tar in a marijuana cigarette, for example, than in a tobacco cigarette," the DEA says on its Web site.
In March, the Obama administration shifted federal policy away from prosecuting medical-marijuana dispensers in states where distribution had been legalized.
Only once, in 1983, was Rosenfeld arrested for possession. He was picked up in Orlando by a policeman who didn't initially believe his use was federally protected.
Ever since then, he said, he has carried a letter from his local police chief and a security officer at the Miami airport, explaining that he has permission to possess the drugs.