January 10, 1994 12:00 PM

WHEN FRIENDS WOULD DROP BY MILDRED Kaitz’s home in Monticello, N.Y., they would often admire the handsome, 10-foot-tall plant growing beside her front porch. “They’d say, ‘Mildred, what is this?’ ” recalls the 79-year-old grandmother, who is known for her puckish sense of humor. “I’d say, ‘Marijuana,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, Mildred is joking.’ ”

But she wasn’t. And when two local cops—alerted to the pot plants by neighborhood teenagers—came to investigate last summer, Mildred got busted. She explained to the officers that she was growing the stuff for her son, Barton, 49, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and suffers from multiple sclerosis. Smoking grass eased the racking pain and nausea that caused him to lose 40 pounds in five years. Unmoved, the cops ripped out her plant and gave her a summons requiring her to appear in court. “They said to me, ‘What if your son needed an operation, would you rob a bank’?’ ” Said Kaitz, who has an 11-year-old granddaughter, Leah, by Barton and two grandchildren by her daughter Revalee Brody: “If it would cure his sickness, I’d go to jail for life.”

Happily, she won’t be going there at all. In September the case against Mildred, who has never previously been in trouble with the law, was adjourned, and she was placed on six months probation. When that ends, the possession charge is expected to be dropped. She is unrepentant. “Even though I knew it was illegal,” she says, “I don’t feel guilty. I didn’t grow it to sell it. I did it for my son.” In fact, she has spent time recently speaking out against federal laws that severely limit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. “There’s no reason to keep it away from people who need it,” says Kaitz. (To date, just nine Americans—with ailments including cancer, glaucoma and AIDS—have been legally allowed to receive marijuana.)

To plead her case, Kaitz has appeared on Donahue, the Home show and radio stations nationwide. She has been the subject of dozens of newspaper articles and has received hundreds of letters from supporters, some of whom enclose marijuana and ask her to forward it to her son. For his part, Barton, who can no longer work and needs crutches to walk, appreciates his mother’s resolve. “I love her for trying,” he says. Meanwhile, Kaitz, who has never smoked marijuana herself, wonders, “What do I do now? Go out on the streets and look for it?”

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