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Marijuana prosecution hurts 'Family Values' 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 Kupferberg. 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 possess marijuana. 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 said. "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 marijuana. 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 said. 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 Copyright 1999 The Daily Camera. All rights reserved. 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