Irvin Rosenfeld, the South Florida stockbroker who gained national attention for his fight to freely use marijuana as medicine, has run into resistance from one of the nation’s top sailing events for the disabled and expects to be barred from next year’s event.
The reason: an independent group that monitors use of drugs by athletes won’t exempt the pot Rosenfeld uses to treat tumors that would otherwise leave him bedridden and in pain.
Rosenfeld, who has sailed in three races of the North American Challenge Cup in 11 years, has asked the race’s organizers and the U.S. Sailing Association to overrule the United States Anti-Doping Agency and let him sail in the 2006 regatta. He said an event that celebrates overcoming disabilities is in effect discriminating against a disabled person.
The USADA, the official anti-doping agency for Olympic, Pan American and Paralympic sports, gave no reason for its rejection, Rosenfeld said in a Friday e-mail to the sailing officials.
Travis T. Tygart, general counsel for Colorado Springs-based USADA, said Monday the agency is bound by the standards of the World Anti- Doping Agency, which bans marijuana. Banned drugs must meet at least two of three standards: they enhance performance, they have detrimental health effects, or they violate the spirit of sports. The WADA does not specify which standards apply to marijuana, Tygart said. He said athletes are free to appeal to WADA, and, if rejected there, to an independent arbitrator.
Representatives of Montreal-based WADA did not return calls on Monday.
Challenge Cup Chairwoman Jennifer French couldn’t be reached Monday. U.S. Sailing spokeswoman Marlieke Eaton said from Portsmouth, R.I., that the group is bound by the USADA’s rules. But, she said, “We do have intent to revisit this.”
Seven people—one has since died—were given marijuana in a federal program started in 1978. Rosenfeld joined in 1982. The U.S. government grows marijuana on a farm in Mississippi and provides it in cans of 300 cigarettes to Rosenfeld in care of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami.
Rosenfeld smokes 10 to 12 cigarettes a day of what he calls “my medicine.” He said the federal government has ruled the marijuana does not give him an edge over other competitors. And he said that because he has never gotten high on the drug, he has special permission to drive and even operate machinery and would not be a danger to other sailors.
In the 2005 regatta in Chicago, organizers allowed him to race but said he must refrain from using his marijuana during the event. He said he took his medicine in secret, but believes competitors and organizers knew he was doing so, since he at times smoked it just a few hundred yards away.
“Why don’t you just tell a diabetic to stop taking his insulin for five days?” Rosenfeld wrote.
“U.S. Sailing had some nerve to single me out for my ‘BANNED SUBSTANCE’ when a lot of the other competitors were on banned substances,” Rosenfeld continued. He alleged competitors in the Challenge Cup have never been tested for drugs, even though virtually all of them take some sort of medicine, none of it designed to improve their performances.
“All of us are disabled, and that’s the medicines that we use,” Rosenfeld said Monday in an interview.