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  The Gang That Couldn't Grow Straight
Posted by FoM on September 03, 2001 at 06:44:27 PT
By Michael Simmons  
Source: Penthouse 

medical On June 14, 2000, Peter McWilliams had just drawn a bath at his home in the Hollywood Hills when he suddenly collapsed.

At the time of his death, the flamboyant and controversial 50-year-old best-selling author, publisher, and medical-marijuana activist, whose supporters crossed the political spectrum from William F. Buckley on the right to Paul Krassner on the left, was awaiting sentencing on 1998 federal charges the he'd financed several large-scale marijuana grows.

An AIDS patient and cancer survivor, he had been instructed by the judge who presided over his case, Federal District Court Judge George H. King, that if he smoked the marijuana that kept him from vomiting the multiple medications he needed to stay alive, he would forfeit his bond, and the homes that his mother and brother had put up for collateral would be seized.

McWilliams had complained publicly of the time-consuming ordeal of hot baths and bed rest that, with hit-and-miss accuracy, allowed him to hold down his multi-pilled cocktail, bolster his immune system and ward off the many opportunistic diseases that can kill an AIDS victim.

Reaction to his death was immediate and outraged. "Overdose by government!" screamed the e-mails and op-eds. "What was he doing when he died?" asked Buckley. "Vomiting. The vomiting hit him while in his bathtub, and he choked to death." Richard Brookhiser, another conservative pundit, noted in the New York Observer, "Here is a verifiable case of a choked innocent." "Peter McWilliams would not be dead today if not for the heartless, lethal War on Drugs," declared Steve Dasbach, national chairman of the Libertarian Party. "The federal government killed Peter McWilliams by denying him the medical marijuana he needed to stay alive as surely as if its drug warriors had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger."

In the months that followed, McWilliams was proclaimed by many to be the most prominent martyr of the battle over medical marijuana. At Arianna Huffington's Shadow Convention in Los Angeles last August, the McWilliams name was invoked several times as a personification of all the victims of the War on Drugs.

But tracking the complexities of the slow death of Peter McWilliams is as circuitous as trying to follow a thought after having smoked some serious bud. One's mind can wander hither and thither and completely forget what that original thought was at all. The truth is that Peter McWilliams did not die from choking on his own vomit, and yet this is the commonly accepted version. Furthermore, McWilliams did indeed initiate and pay for a major marijuana-growing scheme that he was not prepared to take the consequences for. Like a hero in classic Greek tragedy, he was at odds with two formidable enemies - and one of them was himself.

Peter McWilliams had a shock of curly hair, a vivacious smile, and a manic energy explainable, at least partly, by his self-acknowledged manic depression, which he treated with Hypericum (St. John's Wort). Like many manic depressives, when he was "up," he'd spit out another book or magazine article, read voraciously, chat endlessly. I witnessed McWilliams's loquacious charm, as well as his vindictive streak and unrealistic world view, during several interviews conducted from July 1997 through April 1998, and on one occasion was a lunch guest at his home. Many of his quotes in this article are culled from those interviews.

Born August 5, 1949, in Allen Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, McWilliams came of age in the sixties. Gay, literate, and rebellious, he idolized both Yippie cofounder Paul Krassner ( who, having been editor of The Realist in the fifties, was later dubbed "the father of the underground press" ) and fellow Michiganite and White Panther chairman John Sinclair ( who in 1969 was dealt a nine-and-a-half-to ten-year sentence for giving an undercover narc two joints ). These counter-cultural legacies - iconoclastic self-publishing and pot-political POW - would resonate in the McWilliams story until the end.

In 1967, at the age of 17, McWilliams wrote a collection of poems titled Come Love With Me & Be My Life. He self-published it, as he would most of his prodigious output. It became a best-seller, and he was dubbed "the paperback Rod McKuen."

A restless polymath, McWilliams followed through on his initial success with such popular works as The TM Book ( 1975 ), on transcendental meditation ( he'd become a devotee of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ), and ( with two coauthors ) How to Survive the Loss of a Love ( 1976 ). Krassner explains McWilliams's motivation for the latter project: "He'd been hurt badly, and his instinct was to survive and then to share what he learned from his loss with others. Whatever he discovered, he wanted to share."

McWilliams later chose as his spiritual mentor California cult leader John-Roger, whose acolytes included Picasso biographer and conservative theorist Arianna Huffington. McWilliams and John-Roger cowrote Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School But Didn't ( 1991 ) and six other books, though McWilliams would later claim he himself was sole author of all the books.

After McWilliams broke with John-Roger in 1994, he publicly criticized Huffington's involvement with that erstwhile mentor, making available a video of Huffington allegedly dressed in a white robe being baptized in the Ganges by the guru. According to Krassner, when arch drug-warrior Democrat Dianne Feinstein subsequently defeated Michael Huffington in the 1994 California senatorial campaign, McWilliams fretted that his outing of the Republican candidate's wife as a cult member had contributed to her husband's loss.

In 1979, McWilliams wrote and published The Word Processing Book ( a.k.a. The Personal Computer Book ), considered by many the first how-to book to explain to novices the nuts-and-bolts of the computer revolution. A huge seller, the work caught the attention of William F. Buckley, who wrote a column about it. "I was enormously impressed by it, partly because I had been psychologically resisting the whole theme," Buckley told me after McWilliams's death. The two authors began exchanging correspondence and became lifelong friends. "I thought he was a very charming guy a bird of paradise," Buckley remembers.

All told, McWilliams produced nearly 40 books in areas ranging from self-help to medicine, poetry to photography. He became a regular both on the New York Times best-seller list and the talk-show circuit. But it was Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country ( 1993 ) that became his most important work. An entertaining and simply written plea for government to stay out of the sex lives, gambling habits, and, interestingly, health care and drug intake of its citizens, Ain't Nobody's Business appealed to many, including subscribers of Libertarian philosophy, which advocates unfettered personal freedoms as well as free markets. Pete McWilliams, a self-avowed Libertarian, maintained that the book represented half of his beliefs, the other half being a completely laissez-faire economic system.

Although he was not a drug user when he wrote Ain't Nobodys Business, it contains an eerily prescient passage that cites the perfectly legitimate business of a winemaker, and then adds: "If, on the other hand, I choose to buy a farm and grow marijuana with the intent of selling it for profit, I would be a felon, a criminal, a drug lord, and a disgrace. Under current federal law, I could be put to death."

In 1996, McWilliams was diagnosed with AIDS and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. To quell the intense nausea from chemotherapy and multiple medications, he began using marijuana medicinally. He hadn't smoked pot in decades, but he took to it as enthusiastically as he had to TM and John-Roger. "The scales fell from my eyes, and I was like Paul on the road to Damascus," he told me. Later, he would publicly admit to smoking ten joints and popping ten Marinol pills ( prescription synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC ) daily, but insisted he no longer got high from this gargantuan habit, claiming that one builds up a tolerance.

That same year, California voters passed Proposition 215, the initiative that legalized medical marijuana under state ( though not federal ) law. Those were heady days, and many med-mar proponents let the euphoria go to their heads. Peter had become a member of the fledgling Los Angeles Cannabis Buyers' Club, a group of patients organized by Scott Imler in October 1995 to pool their money to buy marijuana in order to treat their illnesses. ( Imler, who is a personal friend of mine, co-authored Prop 215 and had engineered a similarly successful med-mar initiative in Santa Cruz, California, in 1992. ) He also had rented the LACBC office space in the building that housed Prelude Press, Imler's publishing company, in West Hollywood. When the then-small Cannabis Buyers' Club was busted by the West Hollywood Sheriff's Department on September 16, 1996, less than two months before the passage of 2t5, McWilliams staged an impromptu press conference outside the jail where four volunteers were held, and, to the consternation of the LACBC staff, he misrepresented himself as a spokesman for the club.

After 215's passage, McWilliams saw something on television that changed the course of his life. He told me, "You had [Drug Enforcement Administration head Thomas] Constantine going in front of Congress saying, 'Marijuana is legal in California!' All the law-enforcement people ... basically saying, 'We're throwing up our hands.' We interpreted this as being 'It's now all legal.' "

Sensing historic opportunity, McWilliams devised a plan for a medical-marijuana advocacy-and-research entity called the Medical Botanical Foundation. He got in touch with Jeffrey Farrington, the "farmacist" for the LACBC, and invited him to grow for him, telling him they'd be "millionaires in a year" and that he wanted to be "the R.J. Reynolds of medical marijuana." Farrington declined to be involved. McWilliams then phoned his friend Buckley, who is a longtime foe of the War on Drugs. Buckley referred McWilliams to Richard Cowan, a Buckley friend who in the early nineties had been a director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, where his tenure was marked by controversy. As a pot-patriate in Amsterdam, Cowan had befriended fellow American hempster and avid - albeit noncredentialed - medical-marijuana researcher Todd McCormick. Brimming with visions of becoming med-mar's first mogul, McWilliams got in touch with Cowan, who introduced him to Todd McCormick.

Twenty-six years old at the time he met McWilliams, Todd McCormick had suffered histiocytosis-X, a rare cancer, from the age of two to 15, and had undergone nine surgeries to remove tumors. As a result, the five-foot-six Rhode Islander was a gaunt 120 pounds - and a lifelong medical-marijuana crusader.

McCormick's first encounter with medical marijuana had been at the age of nine. His mother, Ann McCormick, who had read a magazine report on studies maintaining that cannabis could soften pain, reduce the nausea of chemotherapy and radiation, and restore one's appetite, gave Todd a joint and told him to smoke it like a cigarette. "It immediately removed my dizziness, my nausea, and gave me an appetite," McCormick stated to me in a 1997 interview. "My overall health increased." His cancer eventually went into remission, but because his left hip had failed to develop normally owing to repeated radiation treatments, as well as the fact that the first five vertebrae in his neck were fused, McCormick still suffered chronic pain. With his life radically improved by cannabis, he began researching and advocating medical marijuana, an endeavor in which he engaged with messianic fervor.

In the two years before he was introduced to McWilliams, McCormick had cut a swath through the cannabis culture. He founded a medical-marijuana club in San Diego, and worked with Jack Herer, the father of the hemp movement, on a failed initiative to legalize marijuana in California. He also got busted in Ohio in July 1995 for having in his car more than 30 pounds of grass destined for a cannabis club in Rhode Island. He would eventually beat the Ohio rap when a judge ruled that the search and seizure were illegal, but three days after the arrest, the DEA shut down the San Diego club.

In November 1995, McCormick split for Amsterdam, the Shangri-la of over-the-counter cannabis coffee shops, and it was thus in Amsterdam that he met Cowan. Over the next year, McCormick experimented with different strains of weed to determine which were most efficacious for individual illnesses. Ironically, he found a marijuana low in THC and high in a less psychoactive cannabinoid called CBD to be most effective in controlling his neck pain. In the Netherlands he also edited one issue of a magazine called HempLife.

Upon hearing from McWilliams in December 1996, Todd flew to Los Angeles, where he and Peter struck a deal to write a book about medical marijuana - or perhaps create a video. ( They were often vague when asked about their arrangement. ) McWilliams immediately began writing checks - by his own estimate around $150,000 over time - to Todd, who had never written a book. A laughably slapdash volume called How to Grow Medical Marijuana, written by McCormick with a rambling 12-page foreword by McWilliams, was eventually published in 1999.

In February 1997, using McWilliams's cash advances, McCormick rented a mammoth, turreted, moated, gangplanked, five-story mansion on Stone Canyon Road in the tony Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, where his new neighbors included Ronald Reagan and Elizabeth Taylor. The mansion - "the ugliest house in Bel-Air," McWilliams would joke - was dubbed Liberty Castle, and instantly became a destination for Tinseltown's partying set. Indeed, stories of the brief reign of "the Pot Prince of Bel-Air" and the celebrity smokers and nubile hempie girls who gathered at Liberty Castle are legion in the marijuana movement.

But the cannabis-loving celebs and cuties weren't what distinguished Liberty Castle or attracted the attention of the law; it was the enormous quantity of marijuana being grown there. McCormick was continuing his botanical-cum-biochemical research into the medical efficacy of a variety of strains, and there were plants on the balcony, plants in the yard, plants visible through the windows, plants everywhere.

Clearly, more than a book and a video on medical marijuana were in the works. In interviews, both McCormick and McWilliams told me that they had drawn up plans to distribute the crop to one or more of the many cannabis clubs that had surfaced in California in the nineties. McWilliams also adamantly denied that there were plans to sell the weed in the open market. "Our agreement was that anything that got sold was for medical purposes," he said. In the spring of 1997, McWilliams invited Scott Imler, who was now director of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center ( the former LACBC ), to his home in Laurel Canyon. At that meeting McWilliams asked for an exclusive contract to supply the club with marijuana. Imler, who has always advocated a by-the-proposition approach to production and distribution, declined.

( Another important event occurred that spring, when McWilliams was busted with seven joints at the Detroit Metro Airport. That case wound its way through several state courts, but was rendered moot when the feds were ultimately given overriding jurisdiction over McWilliams. )

Any plans to distribute McCormick's crop, whether to cannabis clubs or elsewhere, were snuffed on July 29, 1997, when 50 flack-jacketed, heavily armed L.A. County sheriff's deputies and DEA agents descended on Liberty Castle. McCormick was arrested along with four other people, including Renee Boje, a 28-year-old artist who the DEA claimed was observed "watering plants." ( Boje is currently in Canada, fighting extradition and facing a ten-year federal mandatory-minimum sentence in the United States. She has become a cause celebre, profiled in Glamour magazine and elsewhere. "Call me naive," she says now. "Todd told me it was legal." )

The Liberty Castle bust became a media sensation because of the upscale location, the flamboyant setting, and, above all, the sheer number of plants: 4,116, as cited by law enforcement. In their defense, McCormick and the others said that many of the plants were clones or seedlings. And while cop counts are often wild exaggerations, the photos that ran in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere showed what looked like a sea of denuded pots sitting in the backyard.

McCormick sat in jail for two weeks, until movie star and hemp activist Woody Harrelson posted the $500,000 bail. "I am helping Todd because he is a friend, but more importantly because he is working to help others in a way that California voters have declared perfectly legal, in spite of the fact that the DEA considers this legislation a threat to their somewhat questionable reason for being," Harrelson told the press.

Harrelson's well-meaning defense notwithstanding, McCormick's willful or woeful ignorance of 215 was immediately obvious. Even if one were to claim legality under Proposition 215, the California statute exempts marijuana only for "personal medical use." While McCormick maintained that the pot was in fact for his own personal medical use, 215 does not exempt research projects, books, or videos. It was a muddled approach, demonstrating that McCormick and McWilliams had not given much forethought to what was a terribly risky endeavor.

Following the Liberty Castle bust, the DEA began conducting an investigation of McWilliams, interviewing friends, associates, med-mar activists, his electrician, and McWilliams himself. "The government says I'm the kingpin of the Medicine [pronounced like Medillin, Colombia] Cartel," he would joke. On December 17, 1997, nine DEA agents showed up at his house, handcuffed him, and proceeded to turn the place upside down. They found a relatively small amount of grass, but they also seized his computer. When it was returned some time later, the book he'd been working on was missing. They also installed a tracking device in his Lexus, then impounded it, causing the car's lease to be revoked.

Uncowed, McWilliams refused to lower his profile. He wrote and paid for a two-page ad in the entertainment-industry trade paper Variety, condemning DEA chief Constantine for his criticism of fictitious sitcom character Murphy Brown's use of med-mar, and accusing Hollywood of showing no spine in the face of governmental complaints about drug use in films and television. He also announced the formation of a publishing company devoted exclusively to the drug war, and on July 4, 1998, he gave a speech to the Libertarian Party National Convention in which he fulminated against both the Clinton administration and the DEA, and displayed his irreverent wit ( "I'm one of those laissez fairies" ).

Then, on July 23, 1998, a year after the Bel-Air bust, McWilliams was arrested at his home by the DEA. Before being led away, he vomited. "Isn't there something you can take to settle your stomach?" asked one of the agents. The narc quickly realized the absurdity of the query. "Oh yeah," he said, answering his own question.

McWilliams's arrest wasn't as surprising as the 43-page conspiracy indictment, released the same day, which re-indicted McWilliams, McCormick, and the four other defendants from the Bel-Air bust and added three new ones. The new indictment singled out four grow sites ( including Bel-Air ) and alluded to two others, with McWilliams as the kingpin who had allegedly cut the checks through Prelude Press to finance the operations. The checks and credit-card receipts showed that, despite McWilliams's earlier statement to this writer that "Todd's arrest got rid of any thoughts of doing any independent growing at once in one fell swoop," Peter indeed continued to pay people whose primary occupation appeared to be growing marijuana, even as he knew the feds were dogging him.

Most of the 182 "overt acts" of the indictment consisted of money advanced from McWilliams to the defendants, the use of his credit card by them, delivery of grow equipment to Prelude Press and Liberty Castle, set-ups for the grow ops, etc. Five items in the indictment were testimony to a federal grand jury by Imler and two members of the LACRC, who were given limited immunity, meaning they couldn't plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying.

According to Imler's testimony, McWilliams had approached him about an exclusive growing contract and claimed that he, Peter, would be the Bill Gates of medical marijuana - none of which was anything that the feds needed to make their case. McWilliams nevertheless considered the testimony a betrayal. Soon, Imler began receiving death threats. "He did what he did and he's gonna get caught," a cryptic McWilliams told me. "Not by me, but word's gonna get out."

For his part, McCormick claimed Imler had dropped the dime on McWilliams's operation. During the discovery process of his trial, McCormick had obtained a memo written by a West Hollywood Sheriff's Department detective concerning information from a confidential informant who McCormick insisted was Imler. Dated five days before the Bel-Air bust, the memo contains no indication that the Cl was Imler, who, in any event, was in Atlanta at a Methodist conference the week the informant squawked. What's more, according to an affidavit from a DEA agent, the feds knew about the pot mansion two days before that memo when, on July 22, 1997, they'd busted a woman named Susan Korski on a charge of possession of quantities of weed and cocaine. She fingered McCormick and said he was growing marijuana in a "castle-type" house in Bel-Air.

The attempt to malign Imler as a snitch was obvious payback for the LACRC director's previous public criticism of the outlaw style of the Bel-Air grow and for his honesty in front of the grand jury. For McCormick and McWilliams, the buck stopped everywhere but Liberty Castle, which had bustled with members of the hemp community: growers, dealers, celebrities, ganja groupies. The informant could have been any one of the human traffic that visited the Bel-Air mansion. But this very controversy begged a larger question: If they were operating under the law as they claimed, what was the big secret? McCormick never went for a stealth policy, never tried to work quietly with politicians and law enforcement, as have many major cannabis clubs in California with varying degrees of success.

McWilliams spent four weeks in jail. The government asked for and was granted a bond of $250,000, which McWilliams was unable to post. While in custody, he was denied his AIDS medicines for at least four days, a cessation of treatment that can cause the HIV virus to replicate into untreatable mutations. The American Civil Liberties Union had to petition U.S. Attorney Nora Manella in order to ensure that McWilliams received his AIDS medications. He was also refused the Marinol that to a lesser degree could have helped him keep from vomiting his medications. Even when his jailers did get around to medicating him, the drugs were irregularly dispensed.

McWilliams's difficult side surfaced, not surprisingly, while he was in jail. When he couldn't make bail, he called his friend Steven Markoff, a wealthy businessman and civil libertarian, who says that McWilliams was "hysterical, in tears, very distraught, crying, 'You've gotta get me out!' " Markoff retained Bruce Margolin, a well-known California drug-defense lawyer. Two days after Margolin took the case, McWilliams called Markoff from jail, pleading for another lawyer. Markoff naturally inquired as to the whereabouts of Margolin. Peter had fired him in less than 48 hours over a strategy dispute. Markoff went back to Margolin, and, pleading that McWilliams was under enormous pressure, persuaded Margolin to take the case again. Two days later, McWilliams fired Margolin a second time. "This is a man languishing in jail, unmedicated," recalls Markoff. "It was a wonderful example of how self-destructive by being stubborn Peter could be."

Eventually, McWilliams's mother and brother put up their homes for bail while Markoff covered the rest in cash ( he also loaned Peter $200,000 ). McWilliams was ordered to undergo random urine testing; if the tests came back positive for the drug, his family's homes would be forfeited and he would be imprisoned for the duration of his trial. McWilliams's health began to suffer demonstrably. He lost 30 pounds, his viral load ( the measure of the active AIDS virus in the body ) skyrocketed, and his T-cell count ( "good" cells that bolster the immune system ) plummeted. In spite of emergency pleas, neither Judge King nor a magistrate judge would allow McWilliams to use the most efficacious medication for his particular condition. Without marijuana to ward off the nausea and vomiting caused by his medications, McWilliams resorted to a regimen of Marinol, herbs, acupuncture, and bed rest to increase the amount of time that he was able to metabolize his medications.

In the meantime there were political developments. On March 17, 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a report, commissioned by White House Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, that, with some caveats, validated the medical use of cannabis for people suffering from chronic conditions like AIDS wasting. And on September 13, 1999, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the government ought to take into account medical necessity with cannabis use. Based on these, McWilliams's new attorney, Tom Ballanco, petitioned Judge King to ward off, as McWilliams called it, "my ongoing toboggan ride to death." King once again denied the motion.

McWilliams continued to write and give interviews. But Prelude Press had closed, he'd filed for bankruptcy, and he was about to lose his house. In photographs he appeared gaunt, his hair thinning, and was often in a wheelchair. On November 5, 1999, King ruled that neither McWilliams nor McCormick could use a medical-necessity defense, mention Prop 215, or even discuss their respective physical conditions because it "is not available as a matter of law." All the talk of research, books, and videos was immaterial. McWilliams and McCormick were left with no choice. Facing ten-year federal mandatory-minimum sentences each, they negotiated a plea agreement. In exchange for a guilty plea entered on November 19, 1999, the prosecution dropped the manufacturing charges. Instead, McWilliams and McCormick were found guilty of "committing an offense against the United States government" - in this particular case, the manufacture and distribution of marijuana. It was a legalistic technicality that lowered the maximum sentence to five years each.

McWilliams planned to ask for mercy from the court and request home detention because of his ill health. McCormick planned to appeal based on medical necessity while remaining free on bond. But McCormick would fuck up - big - one last time.

On November 21, 1999, a California Highway Patrol officer observed a black Nissan doing 90 miles an hour and began following it. After the cop turned on his overhead lights, the driver of the Nissan threw a small object from the window. The car then slowed down and pulled over. The cop did the same. He walked over to the driver's window, smelled marijuana, and noticed the driver was trembling and his voice was shaky. Asked if he'd been smoking pot, the driver didn't answer. He had no registration, no insurance, no license, but he said he had a birth certificate. He reached into a backpack to retrieve it, then suddenly put the car in gear and took off.

The Nissan led two CHiPs vehicles on a high-speed, four-mile pursuit for approximately five minutes. Though no weed was found, a photocopy of a passport was, and Todd McCormick was placed under arrest.

It took some time for this arrest to register with the feds, but sure enough, on January 5, 2000, Federal Magistrate James McMahon revoked McCormick's bail, and he was sent to prison. On March 27, 2000, he was sentenced to five years on the conspiracy charges. He is at this writing imprisoned at Terminal Island in Los Angeles, awaiting his appeal.

Peter McWilliams began the new millennium with an undetectable viral load and the possibility of home detention. Mixed news, at best, but not without some measure of hope. Meanwhile, his case was attracting attention. On Friday, June 9, 2000, TV journalist John Stossel profiled McWilliams on ABC's 20/20 during a segment called "Give Me a Break." And more than a thousand letters were sent by Mc-Williams's supporters to Judge King, asking for leniency when he was to be sentenced on August 15.

In the early evening of Sunday, June 11, a fire broke out in McWilliams's home. Billy Rader, a neighbor and friend, placed a ladder to the second-story window and helped McWilliams to the ground. Peter had suffered some smoke inhalation and scrapes and bruises, but was relatively unscathed and refused hospitalization. The house, however, was severely damaged, and the computer in which the manuscript of his latest book was stored was wrecked. The book, said to have been "the truth" about his case, was lost. Understandably, Peter was reported "upset and depressed."

A few days later, on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 14, McWilliams's housekeeper, Natalie Fisher, summoned Rader back to the house. McWilliams had gone into the bathroom earlier and was not responding to her calls. Unable to open the door, Rader was forced to break it in. In the bathroom he discovered McWilliams's body.

The claims that McWilliams had died from vomiting began circulating the next day. In an e-mail to his supporters dated June 15, Ann McCormick, Todd's mother, wrote, "The preliminary cause of death is listed as asphyxiation. It appears that [McWilliams] was alone, vomited, and was unable, in his weakened state, to clear his airway." But the coroner's report, released on July 27, says McWilliams had 80 percent occlusion of the left main coronary artery and left anterior descending artery, and that he died of coronary artery disease - a heart attack. No foul play or trauma. Natural causes. No reference to vomiting.

Nonetheless, some activists shall not be swayed. "The government obviously got to the coroner," one prominent hempster told me. "It doesn't matter," said Kevin Zeese, the president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, when advised of the autopsy's conclusion. "He was tortured to death by the government."

Peter McWilliams alternated between loyal friend and furious foe, articulate spokesman and royal screwup. Despite their public solidarity, he bickered and broke with McCormick repeatedly. When his plans faltered, he'd blame everyone but himself, although he did once confess to me that he "was very foolish to give Todd a large amount of money."

It is within reason that the stress McWilliams endured in the last three years of his life could have contributed to his death. If he had settled for being the Michael Moore of medical marijuana instead of the R.J. Reynolds, he might be alive today. "The vomit remains as a metaphorical truth," suggests Paul Krassner.

In spite of McWilliams being the financier of The Gang That Couldn't Grow Straight, it must be noted that we're discussing marijuana - and marijuana for sick people, at that. In a just world, none of this would be of concern to the federal government or law enforcement. What was a barely thought out, poorly executed scheme became quite literally a federal case. Whatever Peter McWilliams's transgressions may have been, they don't even begin to approach the scope of the United States of America's 64-year-old insane prohibition of a medically beneficial, moderately psychoactive plant.

News article courtesy of Mapinc.

Source: Penthouse (US)
Author: Michael Simmons
Published: October 1, 2001
Copyright: 2001 General Media Communications, Inc.

Related Articles & Web Sites:

Common Sense for Drug Policy

John Wort's Joy Pills

Peter McWilliams Memorial Page

Fleeing from The Drug War

Death of a Crusader

Peter McWilliams, R.I.P.

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Comment #11 posted by FoM on July 28, 2002 at 17:26:38 PT
Thank you for not using profanity.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #10 posted by biged on July 28, 2002 at 16:58:09 PT:

[Please refrain from using profanity in your message]

how dumb do they think we are

I'll post as much profanity in this message as I want

Thank you very much

Cheers Ed

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #9 posted by E. Johnson on September 03, 2001 at 18:32:18 PT
The next article to do, Michael
Find out where DEA agents go for cancer treatment...

[ Post Comment ]

Comment #8 posted by E. Johnson on September 03, 2001 at 18:27:43 PT
Don't blame Scott, he saves lives
The health and well being of hundreds of people depend on how Scott can keep a cool head and avoid getting his whole operation smashed by the evil uncaring ones.

I think Michael did a beautiful job of showing a tiny snapshot of the evil and corruption with which we are faced, when the DEA agent realized what Peter really needed to settle his stomach. Oh! He needs the thing we're tearing his whole life apart for. DUH!

How can these guys live with themselves?

Are their federal jobs that important to them that they are willing to lie in public about things where they know the truth in private?

Obviously every federal agent who has contact with a puking medical marijuana patient realizes at some point that marijuana really does make these people stop puking.

How can they keep lying in the face of that experience?

Gee, maybe the conservatives are right, maybe big government is a disease like cancer.

I grew up thinking the feds were always the good guys, because of the Civil Rights days.

I grew up hating George Wallace and now here I am, contemplating the idea of being a state's rights Democrat.

Good job, Michael.

This isn't really an issue, I think it's a revolution. It's going to really push the two party system in America, just wait and see.

[ Post Comment ]

Comment #7 posted by Michael Simmons on September 03, 2001 at 14:28:39 PT
The Death of Peter McWilliams
I interviewed Billy Rader, friend and neighbor of Peter McWilliams, for this article. Billy, as detailed, found Peter's body. When I asked him if Peter had choked on his own vomit, his response was "That's all bull****. I don't know who made up that story."
Penthouse edited this quote out of an earlier draft for space reasons -- much to my consternation. Admittedly, no one can be expected to know something they're not told. But conversely, if we're not expected to believe everything we read, then where did the "vomit explanation" come from"? And why do people believe it? Because it's been printed and repeated? It has never been sourced.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #6 posted by Robbie on September 03, 2001 at 10:49:02 PT

Why not Playboy? Or, at least, some accredited news magazine? Seems like the author, either, is owned or owes a favor to Penthouse, or no one else would touch this article with a ten-foot pole.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #5 posted by sam adams on September 03, 2001 at 10:37:03 PT
heart attack? puh-lease..........
Heart attack? what a joke. So typical of the media to latch onto a single report and treat as a gold standard of truth. A coroner's report is one guy filling out a form in a darkened lab! EASILY manipulatable by the gov't or anyone else.

Remember when one of the Kennedy's died skiing in Colorado? Witnesses all over the mountain said the group had been playing football while skiing - that's right, throwing a football back & forth while hurtling down the mountain. Witnesses said the entire group was drinking heavily.

The coroner's report WAS NOT RELEASED for a couple weeks after the accident. Then, Senator Ted Kennedy flew out to Colorado in person, met with the coroner, and the toxicology report was released the next day - completely clean, absolutely zero alcohol or drugs in his system. Duh! People in this country are SO programmed to believe the Establishment. That's what separates us from Russia - both countries have very corrupt gov'ts, huge law enforcement agencies and massive prison populations, and tons of violent crime. But in Russia, the population all know they're being bullshitted by the gov't and they don't trust them at all. Here, we're all brainwashed by this "home of the free", apple pie, best country in the world shit. Oh, the gov't says this or that? and it's in the paper? Well gee, it must be true!

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Comment #4 posted by lookinside on September 03, 2001 at 09:35:24 PT:

well wife corrsponded with mcwilliams for about
a year before his death...we found him humorous and
outspoken in his beliefs...

he is missed...

the autopsy report reminds me of something i saw in a movie
about chernobyl...every person who died after exposure to
the extremely lethal levels of radiation died of "heart

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Comment #3 posted by Poisoned1500DaysSoFr on September 03, 2001 at 09:11:36 PT
I was on Peter's Mailing
list and he sent out frequent emails.
He maintained a sense of humour
that I could not understand. He was
a great guy.
I wish he had gone to Canada
as soon as they busted the castle.
He would still be alive.
Perhaps that could be a good rule
of thumb. Go To Canada. Or Europe.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #2 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on September 03, 2001 at 08:09:03 PT:

Thanks to Michael for an in-depth piece reviewing this recent social history and its legendary overgrowth.

People will argue details, motivations, heroes and villains ad nauseam. It is all very upsetting. What should not be lost are the final thoughts from this article. Irrespective of any details, this entire debacle was unnecessary, and led to the death of one player, the imprisonment of another, and exile of a third. Nothing has been gained. Only bitterness and tears remain. Let us free Todd, and welcome Renee home. STOP THE WAR!

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Comment #1 posted by J.R. Bob Dobbs on September 03, 2001 at 08:01:59 PT
I'd like to know how much of this is true or not. It's certainly a more in-depth report than any I've ever read. And, being in Penthouse, maybe some of our Senators will finally get a chance to read it...

>>The attempt to malign Imler as a snitch was obvious payback for the LACRC director's previous public criticism of the outlaw style of the Bel-Air grow and for his honesty in front of the grand jury.<<

In Todd McCormick's last phone call to Pot-TV News, he alledged that the CBCs were against him because he was showing people how they could do it themselves. The CBCs needed the patients to purchase their marijuana so that they could cover the $750,000 loan they took out on the Oakland CBC building. Thus, their motivation was financial, and that's why they ended up being against Todd and Peter. Well, that's what Todd seemed to be saying, anyway...

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