When one of the seven people in the country legally allowed to puff marijuana called a news conference last summer and threatened to sue Delta Air Lines for refusing to allow him on a plane with his herbal medicine, he was not just blowing smoke.
Irvin Rosenfeld, a 48-year-old Boca Raton stockbroker, never got the apology he wanted, so he filed a federal discrimination lawsuit in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, seeking unspecified monetary damages and a promise from Delta that it would stop violating the Air Carriers Access Act of 1986.
Rosenfeld suffers from a rare and painful bone disease but finds relief in smoking marijuana, prescribed by a doctor and grown for the government. The smoking dulls the constant, piercing pain but does not make Rosenfeld euphoric, he said.
Relief, in the form of about 300 marijuana cigarettes, arrives by mail each month in a nondescript tin canister. On an average day, Rosenfeld said, he smokes about a dozen.
When flying Delta at least a dozen times before this incident, Rosenfeld said he always contacted the airline ahead of time and made arrangements to take a smoke break in a secluded area of an airport if there was a lengthy layover on his itinerary.
He has lit up in smoking lounges and even police substations at airports. But when he went to board a March 26 flight bound for Washington, D.C., where he was to attend a U.S. Supreme Court session on medicinal marijuana, a Delta worker told him he could not board with his canister of cannabis.
Refusing him a seat on the airliner was like booting a diabetic from the flight because he carried hypodermic needles and insulin, said Christopher C. Sharp, Rosenfeld’s lawyer.
The Air Carrier Access Act protects against discrimination for a disability, and a violation can result in punitive damages. Under the act, Delta was required to specify in writing why Rosenfeld could not board the airline and why he was thought to be a threat to the safety of everyone on board, Sharp said.
Delta did not do that. The airline also violated the law by not having a complaint resolution officer at the airport to explain the law and the company’s decision to Rosenfeld, the lawsuit states.
Delta, however, said the law is on its side.
“Under federal law, marijuana is an illegal drug, and I’m not aware of any medical use exception of the nature he claims or of any private citizen having a right to possess it in the United States,” said Katie Connell, a Delta spokeswoman.
Rosenfeld said he showed the Delta counter agent his prescription and even called a Broward Sheriff’s officer to the counter to verify his claim. The officer happened to be familiar with the medicinal marijuana program and told the ticket agent — to no avail, said Rosenfeld.
Neither Rosenfeld nor a representative of the federal agency that he says oversees the medicinal marijuana program has presented any documentation to Delta proving that he is legally prescribed cannabis, Connell said. If that documentation were presented, Delta would readily comply with that advice, she said.
Terri Somers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4849.