Marijuana prosecution hurts 'Family
David S. Broder —Washington Post
Daily Camera Commentary 09-19-99
TAKOMA PARK, Md. – If the movement to
legalize medical marijuana needs a poster family,
here it is.
They live in Takoma Park, a mostly middle-class
Maryland suburb of Washington. The mother, a
lawyer, suffers from migraines and a chronic muscle
pain disorder that is hard to pronounce and even
harder to spell: fibromyalgia.
It is a condition that is severe enough for her to be
considered totally disabled by the Social Security
Administration, according to her attorney, Steven
To relieve her suffering, according to police reports, this particular mom
planted and cultivated her own private marijuana garden under plant
lights in the basement of the family home.
That was before her 16-year-old daughter recently took photographs of
the plants to local police.
Police came to the home, smelled marijuana, according to their report,
and returned with a search warrant. They found the plants and charged
each parent on Aug. 30 with the manufacture and distribution of
marijuana, possession of marijuana and conspiracy to manufacture and
The parents, Robert Jason Alvarez, 54, and Kathleen Marie "Kitty"
Tucker, 55, turned themselves in to the Takoma Park police station and
were released on their personal promise to return to court.
Because of the controversy, the father, a political appointee, was fired
from his job as a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Energy Department.
The parents also lost custody of their daughter, Kerry Tucker. A county
judge ordered her into the care of family friends, an order that attorney
Kupferberg was working to overturn. The family wants to be reunited, he
"This is a family that is loving and caring," Kupferberg told me in an
interview. "There is no acrimony between parents and child. Everybody
understands where everyone else stands. This is a family crisis, a
tragedy of cataclysmic dimensions. Even if the allegations are not true, it
leaves scars. People just remember what they read in the paper."
Before the incident, both parents were widely known figures among
anti-nuclear activists. The wife helped bring national attention to the
1974 car accident that killed Karen Silkwood, a lab analyst at the
Kerr-McGee Cimarron Plutonium Plant in Oklahoma who was on her way
to meet a reporter to discuss alleged safety problems at the plant. Her
story became "Silkwood," the popular movie starring Meryl Streep.
Perhaps someone will make a movie out of the Alvarez-Tucker family's
story, too. It contains the sort of compelling and tragic irony that
Hollywood loves. It illustrates the tragic consequences that come from
treating marijuana as a law enforcement problem, instead of a health and
medical issue, even while a growing body of medical evidence endorses
the medical benefits of marijuana for some patients.
It also illustrates the tragic consequences of a "war on drugs" that
empowers kids, who are too young to comprehend fully the
consequences of their actions, to inform against their parents in the
fashion of Stalinist Russia.
Alan St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which favors decriminalization, told
me he can recall "about 20" similar cases of youthful tipsters against their
parents since assuming his post in 1990. Many have involved
teen-agers who, angered by some youthful dispute with their parents,
decided to get even by informing police that their parents possessed
In an earlier era, "We might have held our breath or run away, but today
teens really have the option to drop a dime on their parents," St. Pierre
But not everywhere. Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and
Washington State have passed referenda to legalize marijuana for use
by seriously ill patients. Maine votes on a similar measure this November.
A few blocks to the west of where the Alvarez-Tucker family lives, the
District of Columbia voted on a medical marijuana issue last November,
but a measure introduced by Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., while he was not
busy prosecuting President Clinton, blocked the vote from being
counted. Had it passed and Tucker's family moved into the District,
Tucker easily might have been prescribed marijuana the same way
doctors prescribe other legal pain relievers.
After all, even the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National
Academy of Sciences, announced earlier this year that marijuana eases
pain, nausea and other symptoms in some patients.
But the zero-tolerance crowd, led by folks like Barr, does not want to
hear about that. Sometimes politicians say they care about "family
values." Sometimes that talk just goes up in smoke.
September 20, 1999
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