Joseph Berger (Special to the New York Times)
Monticello, N.Y., Oct. 4 -- The annals of crime do not record many 79-year-old grandmothers who have been arrested for growing marijuana in their backyards, and even Mildred Kaitz has an explanation that she thinks makes her offense pardonable.
She did it for her son, Barton, who lives in Brooklyn and who, at 49, has been suffering from multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the nervous system, that has progressively crippled his legs, blurred his vision and deadened his appetite. Smoking marijuana, she discovered, made him eat with gusto, so she did what she says any loving mother would do in similar circumstances: grow the marijuana for him.
"The police said to me, 'what if your son needed an operation? Would you rob a bank?'" Mrs. Kaitz recalled. "I said, 'If it would cure his sickness, I would absolutely. I'd go to jail for life.'"
A judge in this Catskills resort village where Mrs. Kaitz has lived for two decades has placed her on probation for two months. He warned her to keep out of trouble if she wants the marijuana possession conviction erased from what had been an unblemished lifelong record.
But keeping out of trouble is not
the same as keeping quiet.
Only nine Americans - with such ailments as cancer, glaucoma and AIDS - are legally entitled to receive marijuana grown by the Federal Government at the University of Mississippi. The number has been frozen since last year, when a review by the Drug Enforcement Administration concluded that marijuana has no medical potency.
Supporters of reclassifying marijuana as a controlled substance with medical purposes, like morphine, argue that marijuana relieves nausea and stimulates appetite in cancer and AIDS patients and relieves pressure in the eyes of glaucoma sufferers. In 1991, Harvard University researchers found that almost half of the 1, 035 cancer specialists who returned a questionnaire said that they would prescribe marijuana if it were legal and a slightly smaller percentage said they had already recommended marijuana to patients.
A still robust woman whose eyes twinkle behind Sophia Loren-like glasses, Mrs. Kaitz insists that she never smoked pot, though she remembers tasting a doctored brownie once. "It had no effect on me whatsoever," she remembers.
But she is not a conventionally staid grandmother either.
There has always been something of the Bohemian in her mother's heart, says her daughter, Revalee Brody, a former police officer.
For 53 years, Mrs. Kaitz, an art shop owner and antiques collector, was married to an Art Deco artist, Gustave Kaitz, who died in December. Mr. Kaitz painted idealized nudes in scenes drawn from mythology.
How many parents can say they accompanied their children to the fabled Woodstock concert of 1969, as the Kaitzes did with their son? And the Kaitzes once had their three children blessed with a feather by the Swami Muktananda.
Still, when visitors enter the white clapboard house that also contains Mrs. Kaitz's shop, they get a greeting not unlike one of a stereotypical Jewish mother. Mrs. Kaitz, who immigrated at 16 from Lvov, Poland, brings out plates of Nova Scotia lox, cream cheese and bagels, and herring. And on the way out her door, offers of soup and care packages never let up.
Until five years ago, Barton Kaitz had led an active life as a film editor for Allen Funt, the maker of the "Candid Camera" series and as the owner of an antiques shop on Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue. Although he never married, Barton Kaitz has an 11-year-old daughter, Leah, whom he helps support.
With the onset of multiple
sclerosis, his coordination faltered, his mouth numbed and
his appetite flagged. In the last year and a half, he has
lost 35 pounds, now weighing 150, and he walks on crutches.
He lives on Social Security payments of $527 a month in a
subsidized Park Slope apartment.
Mrs. Kaitz decided she would obtain
marijuana for her son and with the help of a more
street-smart friend, bought $50 worth. To her
disappointment, what she ended with was no bigger than a
packet of sugar.