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A Family Torn by Marijuana
Arrested Mom Still 'Baffled' by Teen's Anger

By Fern Shen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 31, 1999; Page B01

Plenty of teenagers get yelled at by their parents for staying out late and lying about where they've been. Plenty are told by their fathers to apologize to their mothers. But when it happened to Kerry Tucker last August, the Takoma Park teenager lashed back in a singular and devastating way.

The 16-year-old marched down to the Takoma Park Police Department clutching photographs of her mother's basement marijuana garden and turned her in.

A fight over Kerry not showing up at a driver's education class was what precipitated her actions, says her mother, Kathleen Marie "Kitty" Tucker.

But the teenager never anticipated the consequences of her approach to the police, her mother said -- that her parents would be arrested, that her father, Robert Jason Alvarez, would lose his high-level job at the U.S. Department of Energy or that a judge would order Kerry to have no contact with her parents, forcing her to stay with family friends.

Still, Tucker, 55, acknowledged in an interview in her attorney's Rockville office yesterday that Kerry had been "really angry" and said she is "still baffled" over why her daughter did what she did.

Perhaps, Tucker speculated, her daughter was getting a double message -- schoolteachers saying drugs are bad, while at home, her mother was smoking a home-grown marijuana joint three times a day for migraines and a neuromuscular disorder and telling her children that marijuana has gotten a bad rap in this country.

"I tried to teach them there is more evidence of danger from alcohol and tobacco and drugs like speed than from marijuana," said Tucker, a lawyer and anti-nuclear activist who pursued the case of nuclear whistleblower Karen Silkwood.

At a recent dinner party, Tucker recalled, she heard Kerry telling someone that people of her generation are "really, really angry" and "I got my hopes up, thinking I would finally learn what the problem was." But she never explained it.

And the therapy sessions that were supposed to start the family down the road to healing their wounds are off to a rocky beginning. Tucker said her daughter never showed up at the first family counseling session her parents scheduled, fearing the therapist would be biased toward the adults, since she had seen them already.

"I just do not understand '90s children," said Tucker, whose intense blue eyes matched the aqua in the scarf she wore yesterday.

The issue that is contorting the Takoma Park family is playing out in the shadow of the larger debate that is unfolding across the country, as increasingly vocal advocates push for the legalization of marijuana for medical uses.

A half-dozen states, including the District of Columbia, have approved referendums allowing the medical use of the drug. The District law has been overturned by Congress.

The Clinton administration has opposed such laws on the grounds that the medical use of marijuana should be dictated by science, not politics, and it has warned doctors of possible sanctions if they invoke such referendums. But some presidential hopefuls are staking out a position on the side of limited legalization. Vice President Gore, for instance, seemed to depart from the administration's position this month when he said doctors should have greater flexibility to prescribe the drug for medical uses.

While the highly politicized debate rages on, Maryland currently has no medical marijuana legislation on the books (although a Baltimore County legislator plans to introduce such a measure in the upcoming session, and Tucker hopes to testify on it).

So when detectives came to Tucker and Alvarez's Takoma Park home and were hit by a waft of marijuana the minute Tucker opened the door, what followed was inevitable. Montgomery County police charged each with marijuana possession and manufacturing, as well as conspiracy to manufacture and possess marijuana. Police had found 69 plants, grow lights, rolling papers and marijuana stored in cannisters and boxes in the master bedroom.

Kerry Tucker was finally allowed to come home in September, under the unusual condition that no one talk about the drug cultivation or arrest. And earlier this month Kitty Tucker and Alvarez were each able to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor, and received six months' probation, a $150 fine and a 10-day jail sentence, suspended.

Kitty Tucker said yesterday that she has been growing and using marijuana for years to help with the pain from migraines that were diagnosed when she was in her thirties.

"I remember I was organizing the National No Nukes Conference in Kentucky in 1978 and I just burst into tears during it," she recalled. "The pain was awful."

Other problems followed: depression, pains that shot out in spasms from her spine to her body and limbs.

Tucker has seen a host of physicians and been told that she also suffers from fibromyalgia, a neuromuscular disease, and from chronic fatigue immuno-deficiency syndrome. A few years ago, she qualified for Social Security disability status based on her illness.

Tucker said the suicide several years ago of her son from a previous marriage deepened her misery. "He was in a drug and alcohol treatment program, and we thought that he was improving, but then he stepped in front of a train," she said

Said Tucker of her marijuana use: "I initially started smoking it when I felt like I was dying. It gave me hope. . . . I mean, it helped me feel good enough I could get up and empty the dishwasher."

Tucker said her husband didn't use marijuana because, as a federal employee, he was subject to random drug tests.

Despite the arrest and its aftermath, Tucker is unrepentant about her use of the illegal drug. She said she's angry at her daughter and only angry at herself "because I failed to teach her why I was using it."

Tucker says, she worries she hasn't conveyed to her daughter her strong feelings about the drug's long history of use by other cultures, its "mellow, contemplative, creative" uses by her '60s-era generation and its merits when compared with tobacco or alcohol.

"If I were the one making the laws," Tucker said, sitting besides a stack of 16 books about cannabis, "marijuana would not be outlawed."

These days, the family is trying to get Kerry into a new private school. Alvarez is writing and consulting.

Kitty Tucker said she always tried to be discreet about her marijuana use, only smoking it mostly when she was alone or around "people I trusted.

"I never thought I would have to worry about my own family."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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