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Legislator's Shift on Marijuana Bill Has Unexpected Result


SACRAMENTO — At first, Assemblyman John Vasconcellos was hesitant to carry a bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use. But he changed his mind, and now believes that the decision may have saved his life.

"Life's most curious in how our choices, our friends, determine our lives," Vasconcellos wrote, explaining his experience.

Vasconcellos, a Santa Clara Democrat and one of the few remaining unabashed liberals in the lower house, asked AIDS researcher and specialist Dr. Marcus Conant of San Francisco to testify at a legislative hearing about the pain relief that marijuana can give to people who are suffering from AIDS and other diseases.

When Conant, a friend of Vasconcellos, arrived in the lawmaker's office this month, the doctor noticed that a mole on Vasconcellos' nose had changed and suggested that the legislator allow Conant to check it. On May 12, Conant called to say that the growth was malignant. It was melanoma, and Vasconcellos went in for surgery Tuesday.

"The surgery has just been completed," Vasconcellos said. "The doctors are delighted with the outcome. They anticipate a full recovery and no damage to my appearance."

After the surgery, Vasconcellos said in his press release that he drew the following lesson: "Do good, make friends, that's the key to life."

Vasconcellos, 63, has been in the Assembly since 1966 and is that body's main expert on the state budget. But he is best known for promoting self-esteem as a way of improving people's lives.

He is a lawyer and student of New Age philosophy who, prior to undergoing heart bypass surgery in 1984, asked that his friends pause and spend a few minutes visualizing cleaning his arteries with brushes and solvent. He now plays racquetball regularly.

The Assembly approved Vasconcellos' bill to permit marijuana use for medicinal purposes last week. The measure awaits Senate action.

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