The Killing of Peter McWilliams
Source: Tech Central Station (Web)
Author: Ryan Sager
Published: December 02, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Tech Central Station
Contact: [email protected]
As the Supreme Court considers the
constitutionality of state medical marijuana laws, Americans might want
to pause to remember a man named Peter McWilliams. McWilliams was killed
by the federal government on June 14, 2000.
No federal agent put a gun to McWilliams' head or beat him up or threw
him into the line of fire, but he died at the government's hands,
nonetheless, as sure as if he had been locked in a cell and denied food
McWilliams, a Californian, a computer genius and a poet, had been
suffering from AIDS and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma since 1996. And under
California's Proposition 215, which passed in 1996 and legalized
marijuana for medical purposes in the state, he used pot to suppress
nausea and keep down his food and medication.
In what many consider to have been a politically motivated prosecution
-- McWilliams was a popular author and medical-marijuana activist whose
book, "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do," argued fervently against the
criminalization of consensual acts -- McWilliams' home was raided by
federal agents in 1997, and he was charged as a drug kingpin with
conspiracy to sell marijuana.
A federal judge ruled that McWilliams could not rest his defense on his
illness or on Proposition 215, which made his actions legal in his
state, because federal drug laws superseded California's. McWilliams
pled guilty to avoid a 10-year mandatory-minimum prison sentence.
While out on bail and awaiting sentencing, prohibited from using medical
marijuana, McWilliams died. He was found dead in his bathroom in Los
Angeles at age 50. He choked to death on his own vomit -- unable to keep
down his medication.
Yes, this is an emotional issue, and people's views on it are clouded on
To drug warriors, medical marijuana is nothing but a Trojan horse --
fronted by the chronically and terminally ill -- that hippies want to
use to quietly begin legalizing drugs. To hippies -- well, when the drug
warriors are right, they're right.
To liberals, like those on The New York Times editorial page, medical
marijuana sounds like a great idea -- but they don't want this states'
rights thing taken too far, lest the federal government be prevented
from intruding some time in the future, when the Times wants it to. To
conservatives, like those in the Bush administration, states' rights are
great and all -- unless the particular states in questions aren't far
enough to the right.
So, who can be believed? Who is arguing in good faith? There are always
the patients themselves.
While various groups with various agendas argue their various points in
the debate over medical marijuana, there's one group whose interests are
simple to understand: those suffering from AIDS, cancer, glaucoma,
muscular dystrophy and other ailments that can find some relief from
These people are not hippies trying to get around our federal drug laws
to get high (hippies and all other Americans already get high whenever
they want to), and they're not political activists trying to roll back
the powers of the federal government (they'd send checks to the
libertarian Cato Institute if they wanted to do that). They're just
people who have been subjected to terrible suffering but have also found
something that helps them.
Marijuana is not a traditional drug, and therefore the prohibitionists
have demanded proof of its medical properties. At the same time, of
course, the federal government has made it all but impossible to study
The burden of proof, however, should be on those who seek to prohibit
sick people from putting a substance known to be relatively harmless
into their bodies. Patients who rely on medical marijuana -- and I've
talked to some -- by and large would rather not. These are often elderly
people, even veterans, who would greatly prefer more conventional means
of treatment. But what works, works, and they're not willing to suffer
In oral arguments on Tuesday, the Supreme Court seemed very skeptical
that states have any right to carve holes in federal drug policy. Such a
conclusion would show that the conservative court's commitment to
federalism is weak at best -- opportunistic at worst.
But patients don't care about the legal questions, here.
What they care about is that a way be found to prevent them from meeting
the same fate as Peter McWilliams -- being hunted by federal drug
agents, denied their medicine and consigned to suffering and/or death.
If democratic initiatives in 10 states are held invalid by the Supreme
Court, this battle will move to Congress. Then, our nation's legislators
will have to decide whether they have the stomach to kill it in broad
Ryan Sager is a member of the editorial board of The New York Post.
Related Articles & Web Sites:
Angel Raich v. Ashcroft News
Peter McWilliams Memorial Page
States' Rights Defense Falters in MMJ Case
Must The Ill Be Made To Suffer for Meager Gain?
Peter McWilliams: 1950 - 2000
Some of us knew his personal warmth and love. Many of us knew him through his best-selling books, or his work for personal freedom.
Millions more will feel his impact. This man died a casualty in the war on drugs. The battle was over medical marijuana.
Voters in his home state of California agreed with him that marijuana should be legal for medical purposes.
Proposition 215 passed overwhelmingly in 1996, but the federal drug warriors ignored the voters, and his activism made him a target.
For helping a friend produce medical marijuana, he was charged as a drug kingpin in federal court.
In the end, he was facing five years in prison, he was bankrupt from legal battles, unable to work, and forbidden to use the medical marijuana he needed to keep down the medication for his AIDS and AIDS-related cancer.
He was awaiting the final sentence from the judge. But was unable to wait very long. He was unable to keep down his medication.
May Peter's soul and those of all who have passed away in this war rest in peace.
The death of Peter McWilliams, 50, best selling author, poet, photographer, publisher, libertarian crusader, medical marijuana activist, AIDS patient and cancer survivor is a human tragedy.
But when someone so talented dies, we can never know how much more that person may have given the human race. All of us are the poorer.
Peter was just that talented. His best-selling poetry and self-help books were an inspiration to many people in times of sorrow.
His book, Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do, was quickly recognized as the ultimate defense of personal freedom. That fact makes the circumstances all the more ironic and bitter.
He was found dead in his bathroom, apparently having choked to death on his own vomit. Peter was one of the roughly 40% of those patients for whom the anti-viral drugs being used to treat AIDS can cause violent nausea.
He had found that only marijuana relieved this nausea and made it possible for him to use the medications that controlled his AIDS.
Consequently, after the success of California's medical marijuana initiative in 1996, McWilliams decided to publish a book about the plant that had saved his life.
He hired medical marijuana activist, Todd McCormick to write the book and to experiment to see which strains worked best and grew best.
This meant a lot of plants, and that opened the door for federal "conspiracy" charges. Think about it, a conspiracy to provide the sick and dying with something to help them in a state where the people had voted for just that.
Although punishment is supposed to begin after the accused has been convicted, the federal government seemed intent on punishing even killing Peter from the time of his arrest.
Even though he posed no flight risk, he was held for almost two months, until he could raise $250,000 bail. And the feds did everything possible to block that.
When his elderly mother pledged her house, the prosecutors called and told her that if he smoked marijuana, she would lose her home!
As a result, his AIDS viral load, which had been "undetectable," soared to dangerous levels. Peter was also very fragile psychologically. Aggravated by his health and legal problems, he often suffered from debilitating bouts of depression.
Certainly, he was badly damaged by being in federal detention, and he knew from that experience that he could not survive very long if he were sent to prison.
The federal government did everything possible to be sure that he would not get a fair trial. They began by denying the relevance of the state law, despite the 9th and 10th Amendments to the Bill of Rights.
When it realized that a "medical marijuana conspiracy" would raise issues that might make it difficult to get a jury to convict a person with AIDS, they changed the charges and accused him of simply conspiring to grow marijuana.
Then they moved to deny him the right even to mention having had cancer and AIDS or make any reference to medical marijuana.
This denied him the Anglo-Saxon common law right of claiming a "necessity" to break the law, because doing so prevented a greater harm. Surely growing a plant that saved your life would be such a necessity.
Confronted with the inability to defend himself, Peter had no choice but to take a "plea bargain," such as it was, and so he confessed to the crime of having hoped to make money in America.
He was awaiting sentencing when he died.
Peter is survived by his mother Mary and brother Michael.
God Bless You Peter
Host and Organizer of Hempfest 2001 : Canada
War Hypocrites Kill A Troublesome Author
Peter McWilliams, 50, author of the 1993 book
"Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do:
The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country,"
and accomplished public speaker on libertarian topics,
died at home in Los Angeles June 14.
Struggling for breath in his bathtub, Peter choked to death
on his own vomit.
But it was not an accident.
McWilliams suffered from both cancer and AIDS.
A prescribed cocktail of toxic drugs was capable of holding
his viral load to zero -- in effect, producing complete remission.
Problem was, these drugs produced such severe nausea
that McWilliams was unable to keep them
-- or anything else -- down.
Peter McWilliams Memorial Service
Pictures Of Peter
McWilliams 1950 - 2000
Death Of A Crusader
Another Drug War Victim
Murder In California
Learning From Peter
Peters McWilliams Web Sites!
Medical Marijuana Magazine
Cannabis Research Links
Medical Marijuana Information Links
Rest In Peace Peter!
We Will Carry On!
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