PERSONAL BECOMES POLITICAL FOR MARIJUANA-ISSUE ADVOCATE

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Pubdate: Sun, 27 Aug 2000
Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News (CO)
Copyright: 2000 Denver Publishing Co.
Contact: letters@denver-rmn.com
Address: 400 W. Colfax, Denver, CO 80204

Author: Holly Kurtz

PERSONAL BECOMES POLITICAL FOR MARIJUANA-ISSUE ADVOCATE

Man With AIDS Backs Plan Allowing Patients To Use Drug With Doctor's OK

Luther Symons knows what it's like to live with nausea.

Since being diagnosed 15 years ago with AIDS, he has become well- acquainted with faint
and not-so-faint feelings of seasickness brought on by his disease and the drugs he takes to
control it.

The 38-year-old is expending some of his dwindling energy to support a ballot initiative he
believes will ease a chronically ill patient's fears that what goes down will come up.

The "Medical Use of Marijuana" measure voters will see on the Nov. 7 ballot would allow
Coloradans with certain serious medical conditions to use marijuana with their doctor's
approval. This is the second time around for the Colorado initiative, which was put off two
years ago after legal disputes over petition signatures.

Symons says he smoked marijuana maybe five times in his younger, wilder college days but
never enjoyed it. But five years ago during his worst bout yet with AIDS-related illness,
Symons was so debilitated he would have done almost anything to keep food down.

Symons considered smoking pot to quell his nausea, but didn't want to put his friends or
family at risk of arrest by purchasing the illegal drug. So he fought his sickness, bite by bite,
to stave off the illness that eventually whittled his 6-foot-4-inch frame down to 120 pounds.

Eventually, after a bout in the hospital and a new regimen of drugs, he has pulled his weight
back up to 210 pounds.

But when he heard about the medical marijuana ballot proposal, it struck a chord. He had
watched many of his friends with AIDS die in the 1980s after starvation robbed their bodies
of its defenses.

"When a doctor looks at you and says, 'You've got AIDS and the chances aren't good,' you
want as many treatment options as you can get," he said. "Most people who haven't been
through a life-threatening experience don't understand the enormous desire to fight with
everything that's available. You never know what's going to work and what won't."

Symons decided to use his personal experience both with the disease and as a political
consultant to become a spokesman for the campaign to get the measure passed.

Symons does whatever he can, although side effects of the drugs he takes force him to spend
most mornings at home struggling with diarrhea and nausea.

"If I have a morning where I feel good," he said, "it's sort of a bonus day."

Symons believes he would have voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes even if he
hadn't been diagnosed with AIDS. But he doubts he would have volunteered full time for the
campaign.

"It's because I've been through it," he said. "It can be a very lonely thing, being very sick."

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