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George McMahon, Who Got Medical Pot from the Feds for Decades, Passes Away


George McMahon, Who Got Medical Pot from the Feds for Decades, Passes Away

McMahon was one of a handful of patients who received free medical marijuana through a federal program established in 1978. The program shuttered to new patients in 1992, but McMahon received federal pot until his death.

Medical marijuana patient, author and pioneering activist George McMahon passed away on Nov. 30 at the age of 69. McMahon’s passing in Iowa was first reported by family members on Facebook and then on Wisconsin cannabis news site CannaBadger.

McMahon was one of only three remaining patients who receive cannabis under a unique program from the FDA called the Investigational New Drug Program (IND). The government usually grants severely ill people IND access to use experimental pharmaceutical drugs not yet FDA approved, but in 1978, a lawsuit from activist Robert Randall forced the IND program to allow legal access to cannabis. So, for decades, the federal government sent qualifying patients — a group that peaked at 15 participants in the early 1990s — as many as 300 joints a month, grown on the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s farm at the University of Mississippi.

McMahon’s participation in the groundbreaking program came as a result of being diagnosed with nail-patella syndrome, which is characterized by abnormalities of the nails, knees, elbows and pelvis. The features of nail-patella syndrome vary in severity between affected individuals, even among members of the same family.

In 2006, McMahon spoke at the National Clinical Conference on Cannabis Therapeutics in Santa Barbara, California about his experiences with medical marijuana and how it changed his life for the better. 

“The first medical joint [I got from the federal government] was in 1988,” McMahon told the crowd. “I got it from a health worker.”

He said, until that point, his life had been a turnstile of attempts to treat his condition. He claimed what was really wrong him was all the other medications he was forced to endure before finding out that marijuana could be effective in treating his condition.

His doctor at the time was the one who got McMahon successfully enrolled in the IND, but at the time, there was a two-year application process where he was told he would have to abstain from using his newfound miracle medicine in order to qualify. 

“[The doctor] sees me get better and the government has the nerve to say to him, the medicine man, ‘You need me, the lawyer, to tell you how to treat him,’” McMahon said. After six months of abstinence from pot, he was back to taking 17 pills a day.

When he eventually got the first batch of medical marijuana from the government on a Friday night, he says he woke up on Saturday and flushed all of those pills down the toilet.

McMahon said his diagnosis was really for pain, spasms and nausea.

“You don’t have to be somebody special, not one of us they can define, you just got to have some of those symptoms,” McMahon told the crowd. “And that really makes me feel good. That pretty much means I’m right, that it’s right for everybody.”

In 2002, researchers looked at the impact the IND cannabis program had on the health of four of the surviving participants. They wrote: “Results demonstrate clinical effectiveness in these patients in treating glaucoma, chronic musculoskeletal pain, spasm and nausea, and spasticity of multiple sclerosis. All four patients are stable with respect to their chronic conditions, and are taking many fewer standard pharmaceuticals than previously.”

NORML founder Keith Stroup told Cannabis Now that the IND program gave a huge boost of credibility to the burgeoning medical marijuana movement in the 1970s.

“The Investigative New Drug program that ended up authorizing more than 30 patients to use medical marijuana (supplied by the government) before it was eventually shut down, was terribly important at the time, as medical marijuana had not yet been approved by any state (California was first in 1996) and was officially denied as a medicine by the federal government,” he said in an email. “The fact that this handful of trailblazers were permitted to use medical marijuana as part of a scientific investigation, although there is no evidence the government actually studied the effectiveness of the medical marijuana, gave enormous support and credibility to the medical use movement.”

Of course, Stroup noted the irony of the federal government giving out cannabis as medicine while the Controlled Substances Act stated cannabis had no medical benefit.

“It also underscored the ‘head-in-the-sand’ federal policy that could on one hand ship 300 marijuana joints monthly to patients in the IND program while at the same time denying that marijuana had any legitimate medical uses,” Stroup wrote.

Stroup went on to say it is also important to note why the IND program stopped accepting new patients in 1992. He said that President George H.W. Bush was shocked at the large number of HIV/AIDS patients who were suddenly applying for admission to the IND program, and suddenly closed the entire program from accepting new patients in 1992.

Stroup believes Bush chose to close the program rather than allow it to be composed of mostly gay patients.

“He did, surprisingly, continue the program for those who had already been admitted, and the program is still providing pre-rolled joins to the two remaining patients in the program,” Stroup said. 

The program’s two surviving patients, Irv Rosenfeld and Elvy Musikka, continue to be active in the medical marijuana movement.

Stroup went on to note that the IND program was crucial for making medical cannabis widely available around the country — a fight which McMahon spent decades working on.

“Once California voters legalized the medical use of marijuana in 1996, the medical use movement was off and running and the original IND program was a footnote in history,” Stroup said. “But the victory in California in ’96 might not have been possible but for the legitimacy and public acceptance medical use had gained because of the publicity surrounding the IND program.”

TELL US, what will you do to support medical marijuana patients?



  1. Thaddeus Greear

    February 23, 2020 at 11:16 am

    I am a participant in a brain injury rehab we are 40 STRONG in Kentucky. We need medical cannabis for a better quality of life

  2. Tudo

    December 5, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Sorry “yearofaction” but to have any hopes of legalizing cannabis on the basis that it was “racist” to make it illegal to begin with is a loser argument and will go nowhere.

    • YearofAction

      December 6, 2019 at 7:01 am

      In the 1930’s, racism was the extra disparagement that allowed the propagandized fear of cannabis smoke to secure the prohibition of the cannabis plant. It remains unnecessary and improper to call cannabis smoke “marihuana” in the law, since there are many people like you who don’t subscribe to such racism and already prefer to use the English term “marijuana”.

      Correcting the spelling is a minor part of updating the definition to modern day standards. The more substantial parts of the update are adding clarity and specificity to eliminate its deceptions. Most people who support the Constitution want federal definitions to be non-deceptive, non-racist, clear, and specific. They just need to tell the politicians how to correct them.

      p.s. Wickard vs. Filburn was not about cannabis, it was about expanding the power of the Commerce Clause to allow federal laws to diminish the rights of farmers. In 2005, the Supreme Court similarly misapplied the Commerce Clause to allow the deceptive definition of marijuana to prohibit the noncommercial, intrastate use of cannabis. This is why correcting the definition will benefit patients and farmers.

  3. YearofAction

    December 4, 2019 at 5:57 am

    For the benefit of the patients and the farmers, Congress needs to receive more comments about reconstructing the malformed federal definition of marijuana to eliminate its three deceptions that have persisted since 1937:

    1. The Disparaging Racism imbued into that federal law by the use of the Mexican slang term “marihuana”.
    2. The Dismembered Riddle that adumbrates how marijuana is actually derived from cannabis: Marijuana is what substance that is “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L.”, and simultaneously “does not include the mature stalks of such plant”?
    3. The Aggrandized Prohibition of marijuana that subsumes the legitimate federal prohibitions of cannabis use established by the 2nd, 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments.

    They can each be rectified to create a reconstructed definition, like this:

    1. Replace the disparaging racist term “marihuana” with its anglicized homonym “marijuana”.
    2. Clearly describe how marijuana is actually derived from cannabis.
    3. Explicitly include the legitimate federal prohibitions from the 2nd, 9th, 10th, and 14th Amendments.

    We the People can contact our members of Congress, and our favored congressional candidates, about enacting this comprehensively reconstructed definition that upholds our U.S. Constitution:

    Sec. 802.
    (16) The term “marijuana” means all parts of the smoke produced by the combustion of the plant Cannabis sativa L., which is, as are the viable seeds of such plant, prohibited to be grown by or sold by any publicly traded corporation or subsidiary company, and such smoke is prohibited to be inhaled by any child or by any person bearing any firearm, as is their intake of any part or any product of such plant containing more than 0.3% THC by weight unless prescribed to such child by an authorized medical practitioner.

    This definition will carefully deschedule the industrially versatile, medically valuable, renewable natural resource that is the plant Cannabis sativa L. Citizens who are its proponents can then use the plant protected by the originally intended perimeter of limited federal prohibitions, and with more scientific information than our forefathers had. This will be true for cannabis, even if the adulterated medical value of marijuana itself is subsequently removed from Schedule 1.

    The reconstructed definition will remove the deceptions within this malformed definition:

    Sec. 802.
    (16)(A) Subject to subparagraph (B), the term “marihuana” means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.
    (B) The term “marihuana” does not include (i) hemp, as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946; or (ii) the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.

    The terms “marijuana” and “hemp” actually refer to different uses of cannabis (cannabis smoke and cannabis fibers, respectively), but their inaccurate federal definitions in the Farm Bill of 2018 created the false notions that those terms refer to separate types of cannabis (illegal and legal, respectively), in violation of the 9th and 10th Amendments.

    The exclusion of hemp from the definition of marijuana in Paragraph B, Item (i), is redundant because that exclusion was claimed to be the original intent of the text in Paragraph B, Item (ii), way back in 1937. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics willfully ignored that intent to the detriment of small farmers (google Wickard vs. Filburn), then the DEA continued to enforce that circumstance. Only Congress can reconstruct the definition to override that willful ignorance by eliminating its deceptions.

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