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Federal Medical-Marijuana Patient Barbara Douglass, 1956-2018

One of the last four federal marijuana patients, Barbara Douglass, passed away on August 26. She was 62 years old.

Born in Storm Lake, IA on April 13, 1956, Douglass suffered from multiple sclerosis. She petitioned the government in 1991 to allow her to enter NIDA’s Compassionate Investigative New Drug (IND) program, which provided a monthly allotment of government-grown marijuana to patients.

Diagnosed with MS in 1988, Douglass had never used marijuana until it was recommended that she try some to find relief. She quickly discovered that cannabis helped treat pain and spasticity. She also had a wasting syndrome, but was able to overcome that thanks to the marijuana, which gave her an appetite.

In the 1980s and ’90s, the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics (ACT) opened the door to the relatively unknown IND program. Robert Randall – the first person to legally receive federal medical marijuana through the program (for glaucoma) – and his partner, Alice O’Leary, founded the group. Randall was approved to receive marijuana in 1975. The compassionate IND program’s application was quite complicated, involving a great deal of paperwork. To help guide patients though the process, Randall and O’Leary put together a how-to manual that helped a lot of people, including Douglass, apply for the program.

In 1991, Douglass became Patient Number 13. She was the last patient approved for federal medical marijuana before the IND program was halted by President George H. W. Bush the following year.

When the program was canceled, there were reportedly about 300 applications in the pipeline awaiting approval, largely due to ACT and also ACT UP and other AIDS activists. Thousands more potential patients had learned about the program and were working on their own applications when it was shut down.

The 13 patients who were in the program when it folded were allowed to continue receiving their federal weed for as long as they lived, so long as their physician prescribed it for them. Unfortunately, by the late 2000s, only four of the IND patients survived: Douglass and fellow Iowan George McMahon, and Floridians Elvy Musikka and Irvin Rosenfeld.

In 2007, Douglass stopped receiving her monthly federal marijuana shipment because her original physician had lost his license. The program required that patients have a local prescribing physician, so by 2009 she was dropped from the program entirely.

Douglass was a founding member of the medical-cannabis advocacy group, Patients Out of Time, dating back to 2000.

The Feds may have taken her medicine, but they couldn’t break her spirit. Douglass lived a full and happy life, with the help of cannabis, in the Hawkeye State.

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