US: A Survivor's Tale

US: A Survivor's Tale
Posted by FoM on March 11, 2000 at 12:59:28 PT
By Peter McWilliams
Source: Liberty Magazine
The Federal Drug Police Can't Keep A Good Man Down: I love to paraphrase Oscar Wilde. His original line -- the third-to-the-last of the witty lines credited to him -- was, "The way England treats her prisoners, she doesn't deserve to have any." (The last two were made as he lay äying at only 45 shortly after his release from prison, a butterfly broken on the wheel. When presented with his final hotel bill he replied, "I am dying beyond my means." 
At the end, he looked around him and observed, "Either this wallpaper goes or I do.") A century ago, Wilde was incarcerated in a British prison for sodomy. I may soon be incarcerated in an American federal prison as the result of sodomy. Apparently, time, oceans, and Revolutionary Wars don't seem to change the nature of oppressive government intrusion into the private lives of homosexual eccentrics. I have AIDS. As I was unable to convince my parents that I was Haitian, and as I have a well-documented aversion to needles, I had to admit I got my HIV in the Oscar Wilde way. Although I had not used illicit drugs in more than two decades, in 1996 I began using medical marijuana to relieve the nausea caused by my cancer and AIDS medications. In July 1998, I was arrested on federal medical marijuana charges, even though I live in California, a state in which the use and cultivation of medical marijuana by the sick is legal. The "official" reason I was arrested was that I gave a book advance (! blush to confess I have been a publisher for 32 years, the progeny of my press having appeared five times on the New York Times Bestseller List) to an author for, How to Grow Medical Marijuana (available at A fellow medical marijuana patient, he used a portion of his advance to grow medical marijuana. The government arrested him in June 1997. Because I was the source of the funds he used to finance his grow, I was arrested as a drug kingpin -- the head of the notorious Medicine Cartel, I suppose. By this federal logic, if a New York Times reporter used a portion of his or her meager salary to engage the services of a prostitute, the owners of the New York Times could be arrested on federal pandering charges. I also grew some marijuana for my own medical use, in the time-honored tradition of Washington, Jefferson, and Timothy Leary. The actual reason I was arrested, however, was that I had written "Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country." During questioning after the pot-growing author's arrest in 1997, four DEA Special Agents told me that they had found my book on the shelf of every drug dealer they had ever busted. I, naturally, was flattered. To the DEA, however, I represented the lowest of the low. To them, my libertarian view of the War on Drugs provided the intellectual underpinnings and philosophical justification for the most nefarious criminals in our country -- those who are poisoning our precious children with pernicious drugs. Thirteen months of harassment later -- including five subpoenas for voluminous documents; dragging all my employees, an unknown number of past employees, my contractor, my electrician, and my neighbor before a federal grand jury; and a dawn raid on my home by eight DEA agents and one IRS agent (documented in my article "The DEA Wishes Me a Nice Day" in Liberty, May 1998 ) -- I was arrested. Bail was set at an astounding $250,000. My attorney had sent a letter to the federal prosecutors months before saying that I knew I was going to be arrested, that I was not about to flee the country, and that I would willingly appear for arraignment at the time and place specified by the government. Nevertheless, I was deemed a "flight risk." I spent a month in federal custody while my mother and brother had their houses appraised and navigated their way through the endless labyrinth of federal obstacles required to use real estate as collateral for my bond. Live Free and (Nearly) Die: Once released, I was not permitted to use the medical marijuana I needed to keep down my nausea-producing AIDS medications. For more than two years prior to my arrest, thanks to medical marijuana, I had a perfect retention rate. My viral load -- the measure of active AIDS virus in the body -- was undetectable. Unable to keep down the lifesaving prescription medications, by November 1998, four months after the arrest, my viral load soared to more than 256,000. In 1996, when my viral load was only 12,500, I had already developed an AIDS-related cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (now in remission, thank you). Even so, the government would not yield. It continued to urine test me. If marijuana were found in my system, my mother and brother would lose their homes and I would be returned to prison. As both the President and the Vice-President of the United States had admitted to marijuana use themselves, I was -- as were the other 4 million Americans arrested for marijuana during the Clinton-Gore watch --caught between a rock, a hard place, and deplorable hypocrisy. For the next year, with essentially no immune system, I fully expected daily to develop one of the thirty-or-so AIDS-related opportunistic illnesses and die. If I lived, I faced a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence, with no possibility of parole. (Already over capacity, the government would merely release a murderer earlier to make space for me.) I slept eighteen hours a day. I was unable to work. My personal fortune, not that fortunate to begin with, had evaporated. I filed for bankruptcy -- which one must do, ironically, in federal court. My publishing company -- once a $6 million-a-year enterprise employing eighteen people --fell apart. (This was partly due to my inattention and inability to write new books, and party due to the DEA telling my employees during its search of my offices in December 1997, "You'd all better look for other work. The DEA will own this place in six months." Three months later, all my employees had followed the DEA's advice.) My waking hours were consumed with nausea and vomiting. Every productive hour was spent working on my defense. Of thirteen motions submitted to court, twelve-and-one-half were denied; every motion submitted by the federal prosecutors was granted. My boyfriend of eleven years deserted me. By the way, did I mention that during this year I was depressed? Don't Confuse Them With the Facts: But in November 1999 came the most crushing blow. The federal prosecutors successfully obtained an order prohibiting me from presenting to the jury that I am a cancer survivor, that I have AIDS, that marijuana is medicine according to the federally funded March 1999 Institute of Medicine report, that since 1974 the federal government has been supplying eight patients with medical marijuana, or that California passed a law permitting the very act of cultivation that I was accused of violating federally. How could the government do this? Well, federal law, you see, is far tougher on criminals than state law. The rate of federal convictions is astonishingly high -- 85 to 90 percent. Federal criminal law was originally designed to dispense with the wily and slippery destroyers of the nation, such as traitors and spies. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the federal tough-on-criminals code was expanded to break up organized crime -- organized, as it turns out, as a direct response to federal Prohibition. Thanks to the War on Drugs, this guilty-until-proven-innocent-beyond-all-possible-doubt mind-set is now being applied to cancer-surviving AIDS patients treating their illnesses while trying to help other gravely ill people treat theirs. The specific peg on which the government barred all evidence of medical marijuana in my case is a nifty federal rule saying that no evidence can be presented that might "confuse" the jury. Due to the nefarious criminals and horrific crimes federal law at one time addressed -- back when "to make a federal case out of it" actually meant something --this rule has essentially been interpreted by the courts as applying to any evidence that might "confuse" the jury as to the guilt of the defendant. In my case, because marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and since Schedule I drugs are, by definition, of no medicinal value, marijuana can have no medicinal value because it is, after all, a Schedule I drug. To tell a jury otherwise would tend to "confuse" them. As to the federal government distributing marijuana to the sick each month, that "Compassionate Use" program (as it was called) was discontinued by the federal government in 1992 because too many pesky AIDS patients were imploring the government for medical marijuana. The federal health officials did not want to send "the wrong message" to children, so it closed down the program. The program is now being "phased out" by "attrition," meaning that the government is waiting for the last eight people in the program to die (everyone else from the original program is already dead). Information about a defunct federal program would tend to "confuse" the jury. As to California's medical marijuana law, well, every federale knows that federal law trumps state law (something about the "supreme law of the land" in that otherwise-completely-ignored-by-the-federal-government document, the Constitution), so there's no need to "confuse" the jurors about the long-ago-settled supremacy issue, either. As I never denied my medical marijuana cultivation, that left me with no defense whatsoever. To avoid an almost-certain guilty verdict and a ten-year mandatory-minimum sentence, I pled guilty to a lesser charge (The whole, sad story is at I am overjoyed to end this article on a jubilant note. My most recent viral load came back undetectable. This brings to mind the telegram Mark Twain sent to a New York newspaper that had printed his obituary: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." Over time, I tried various techniques to keep the AIDS medications down a little longer before vomiting. In addition to large doses of Marinol, which is essential, I added herbs, lying in hot water, curled up in a fetal position in bed, and two electric massagers -- a smaller one to stimulate the acupuncture points for anti-nausea, and a larger one for my stomach. Gradually, over many months of trial and mostly error, I was able to increase the length of time I could hold down my medications from 30 minutes to one hour and fifteen minutes. That 45-minute increase is apparently enough for the medications to get into my system. Since November 1998, I had been living week by week, fully expecting any day to redevelop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (my viral load now 20 times higher than the first time I developed it) or some other AIDS-related opportunistic illness, and die. Now, I can look ahead to a series of books and web sites that will not be completed until the end of 2003. My personal physician, as well as the foremost AIDS physician in Southern California who recently examined me, are both writing strong letters to the judge saying that I have medically proven that I can take care of my illness at home using methods not available in federal prison. This is an excellent argument for serving whatever time I may be sentenced to under home detention. The procedure of keeping down the medications is agonizing, exhausting, debilitating, and I must do it three times a day. It would be entirely unnecessary if I could use medical marijuana. But it seems to be working. I have gotten my life back the old fashioned way -- I earned it. [Sidebar:] May It Please the Court... I do hope you are asking yourself, "Can I do anything to help?" Yes, thank you, there is. Would you please take the time to send a letter, or a fax, or even an e-mail, to the judge on my behalf? It would make all the difference in my world. My sentencing for this charge will be in late May 2000. The deadline for turning in letters of support is May 10, 2000. The letter need not be long or eloquent. One sentence is sufficient. The judge can sentence me to anything from 0 to 5 years. The federal sentencing guidelines place my recommended (but not mandatory) sentence in the 5-year range. It is probably unavoidable that I get a sentence to serve some time -- perhaps the full five years. What I am asking the judge -- and what I am asking you to ask the judge -- is that I be able to serve my sentence under "home detention," also known as "electronic monitoring." An electronic transmitter would be permanently fastened to my ankle and my whereabouts would be monitored 24 hours a day. (Hillary now has a similar device on Bill as well as all White House interns. She can monitor everyone's location from her campaign bus.) I would not be able to leave my home except for medical or court appointments. As I live in Los Angeles, this will allow me to write books, including "Galileo L.A." In writing to Judge King, please observe these commonsense guidelines: 1. Please be respectful. The judge owes me, or you, nothing. You are asking for a favor. When Judge King was asked to allow me to use medical marijuana while out on bail, he said to the attorneys on both sides, in a voice trembling with compassion, "I am struggling mightily with this. Please, struggle with me." Alas, there was nothing in federal law that permitted him to allow me to break federal law, even to save my life. But I believe his struggle was sincere. Judge King is a good judge upholding a bad law. My sentence is at his discretion. I believe he will be fair, that he will read the letter you send, and that he will be moved by your heartfelt request. 2. Please focus on my health, my contributions to society (through my books), and, of course, most significantly, my contribution to Liberty magazine, as reasons why I should receive home detention or electronic monitoring (the term can be used interchangeably). The legal arguments will be made by my attorney. 3. If you know me, please say so. Kindly state any positive character traits you may have noticed wafting by from time to time. (Although this letter is going to a federal judge, it is not written under oath, so you will not be arrested for perjury.) 4. If you have read any of my books, please say so. If they helped you, please say how. (Exception: Please do not mention "Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do.") 5. Please do not give your opinion of the War on Drugs (unless you're in favor of it), how the government treated me in this case (unless you approve), your views on medical marijuana (unless you're against it), or anything else critical of the status quo. Save those remarks, however well-reasoned and accurate, for letters-to-the-editor and conversations with your friends. They may be counterproductive in a letter to a federal judge. 6. If you can, please keep the letter to one page, and no longer than two. Actual letters (those things popularized during the last millennium, printed on paper, put into envelopes, and sent through the Post Office) are best. Typed is better, but handwritten is fine. Please use the most impressive letterhead to which you have legitimate access. (Your business stationery is better than your personal stationery, for example, unless your company is Bongs 'R Us.) If you don't have stationery, you can create a letterhead on any word processor in about two minutes. Please address the letters to: "The Honorable George H. King" and begin the letter: "Dear Judge King." But mail the letters to me at: Peter McWilliams, 8165 Mannix Drive, Los Angeles, California, 90046. If you know you're probably not going to get around to writing a letter, and I know just how you feel -- I don't know where to find an envelope any more, much less a stamp -- please send a fax (signed, on letterhead stationery, if possible, but if not, that's fine) to: 323-650-1541. If you think you might not get around to sending a fax, please send an e-mail. Please write at the bottom of the e-mail "You have my permission to reformat this letter, edit it, print it, and sign my name at the bottom." Your name will be signed for you, next to which will be the initials of the person signing it. Please include your complete mailing address. The e-mail address is peter Finally, please circulate this request as widely as you can -- post it on bulletin boards, send it to receptive people on your e-mail list, send it out in newsletters. Kindly use your creativity, but, please, no spamming. If you cannot post the entire missive, the online address of this request is: Thank you from the bottom of my weary but very grateful heart. MAP Posted-by: Don Beck URL: MAP - Making a Difference With Your Help Pubdate: April 2000 Source: Liberty Magazine (US) Copyright: 2000 Liberty Foundation Contact: letterstoeditor Address: Box 1118, Port Townsend, WA 98368 Website: Author: Peter McWilliams Note: Sidebar contains a request for help from the author. Also: Peter has posted a note to the internet asking that all letters (as requested in the sidebar) be provided by Tuesday, 14 Mar 2000, so please do it today. Cited: http://www.petertrial.comCannabisNews MapInc. Archives: Articles On Peter McWilliams:
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on March 11, 2000 at 13:34:34 PT
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