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By Anne Krueger, Staff Writer
San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune October 16, 1993.

Jurors decided yesterday that a La Mesa man who has the virus that causes AIDS has a medical need to use marijuana and acquitted him on two felony charges of growing marijuana at his home.

Samuel C. Skipper admitted at his trial that he grew the plants in his house and back yard, but said he needed to eat the illegal drug at each meal to fight off the nausea and weight loss that are often symptoms of the virus.

Skipper, 39, who works as a gardener and installs telephones, hugged his lawyer when the jury announced its verdict after only about two hours of deliberation.

"I've never been happier in my life," Skipper said. "Cannabis (marijuana) got a bad rap, and it really helps a lot."

Skipper, who took a marijuana-laced peanut butter ball to court hoping to present it as evidence, only to have it immediately seized, said he will continue to eat marijuana at every meal.

"I am not presently growing it, but I am using it and I'm not going to stop," Skipper said.

Jury foreman Bob Lenzi, a 37-year-old La Jolla financial planner, said jurors quickly agreed that Skipper proved his defense that he had a medical need to use marijuana because he has the HIV virus that results in AIDS and because he had shown symptoms associated with AIDS.

"He proved that he had a necessity to use cannabis to save his own life," Lenzi said.

If convicted of the two charges, Skipper could have faced as much as five years and eight months in prison. But yesterday's acquittal does not end his legal problems.

Because he pleaded guilty to growing marijuana in 1991, Skipper still faces having his probation in that case revoked -- and the unlikely prospect of being sent to jail -- for again being caught growing the plants when narcotics agents went to his house twice this year.

And despite Skipper's acquittal, there's nothing to stop drug agents from returning to his house and arresting him again if they find marijuana there, said Deputy District Attorney David Williams.

Skipper's lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Juliana Humphrey, said she will ask the judge to remove a condition from Skipper's probation that allows police to search his property without a warrant. Skipper could then continue to grow marijuana at his home to alleviate symptoms of the AIDS virus, she said.

"If that's something our society can deal with, then hopefully the District Attorney's Office can, too," Humphrey said. "Hopefully, that's the end of it."

Skipper said that while he has watched many of his friends with the AIDS virus succumb to the disease using such drugs as AZT, he has been able to maintain his weight and has shown few symptoms of AIDS since he started regularly using marijuana.

In his closing argument, the prosecutor told jurors that legal drugs are available to Skipper for every symptom of AIDS. Both sides acknowledged that there is no drug that can cure the disease.

"It's a matter of choice, not necessity," Williams said.

Williams said Skipper, who acknowledged having little faith in doctors, chose not to go to a physician and try conventional medicines to treat AIDS symptoms. He told jurors they had to decide whether Skipper's decision to instead grow and consume marijuana was reasonable.

"To stay in your sanctuary and ignore the rest of the world is all right," Williams said. "But it's not objectively reasonable when dealing with a medical problem."

Humphrey told jurors her client should not be expected to wait for other medicines to fail him and for his medical condition to grow worse before he can use marijuana.

"How many ineffective, blind-alley lethal medicines do you have to take and see someone die from before you can choose what you know works?" Humphrey said.

One of the witnesses at Skipper's trial was glaucoma sufferer Bob Randall of Washington, D.C. He is one of only nine people in the United States who can legally use marijuana to alleviate his suffering.

For 15 years, ill Americans could apply to get prescription marijuana to relieve the symptoms of serious illness. That changed in 1991 when the Bush administration ended the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program.

Randall said legislatures in 35 states have asked the federal government to lift the ban. President Clinton's surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, has indicated she may do that.

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