I’ve been resisting writing this article for weeks, and it’s taken me hours to figure out why.
To do that, I went through all the research I would have to go through anyway to write the article, so really not too much loss of time there. But I did have to take some serious hits of indica, because now I indeed remember exactly why I put the sad tale of Peter McWilliams into the back of my subconscious. And it’s not pretty.
Way before I became a medical marijuana patient, way before the turn of the century, even before the Web…there was a guy named Peter McWilliams. I never knew him personally, but I knew his work. He was a prolific writer of computer books that were not only exceptionally clear and well-written, but very beautifully designed too. He also started his own publishing company and presumably did very well for himself financially and professionally. I mostly lost track of him in the 1990s, but during this period he was clearly thinking a lot, writing books about libertarianism and spiritual topics.
I was surprised, but not scandalized, when I heard from various sources around 1996 that he was gay and diagnosed with AIDS and cancer and using medical marijuana to keep himself alive. This was just at the time when medical marijuana was being legalized in California, and it was quite a new thing. It’s probably hard for most newer patients to even comprehend this — a good thing, because it shows how far we’ve come — but back then, virtually everyone not personally involved in either the AIDS or MMJ communities thought “medical marijuana” was an oxymoron or a big joke.
In any case, the following year, writers on an extremely popular TV show called Murphy Brown had the title character using medical marijuana to help her live with the side effects of chemotherapy she was taking for breast cancer. The head of the DEA, typically and sociopathically for those times, declared in public that the writers were “trivializing drug abuse” and actually threatened to begin a criminal investigation against them (Bill Clinton was president at the time, in case you’re keeping score). This apparently incensed Peter, because he took out a full-spread ad in Variety scathingly denouncing Hollywood’s portrayal of marijuana, the hypocrisy shown against cannabis by society, and finally the DEA and its attack on cancer patients. This apparently incensed the head of the DEA, because next thing you know, DEA agents descended on Peter’s home and office and
stole seized his computers, books, notes, and private papers, effectively putting him out of business. I was scandalized, but not surprised.
All this happened just about 16 years ago, almost to the day.
Two years later, Peter McWilliams was arrested for growing 4,000 cannabis plants (many with irreplaceable genetics). He and Todd McCormick (a friend and fellow patient who wrote one last book with Peter) were facing some serious jail time, because the Federal courts “ruled that they could not use California’s medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, as a defense, or even tell the jury of the initiative’s existence and their own medical conditions” and so they were quickly found guilty, since the jury did not have all the facts. While waiting for sentencing, stripped of his human and legal right to use the one plant that could save him, Peter McWilliams died at the age of 50.
See, this stuff really bothers me. It makes me feel like pounding somebody, and I’m decidedly not the violent type. I don’t like that feeling, and I don’t like myself when I feel that way. And that’s why I can only take just so much activism, because the thought of the sick, greedy, twisted types who hurt and kill good people over a plant really makes me feel sick myself.
Yet we all must be activists on some level if we are going to relegalize cannabis and make sure it’s available for every last person who needs it. So I’ve forced myself to relive these particular horrible memories, in memory of a great humanitarian, author, and marijuana martyr. And I’m doing this because more people should know and remember Peter McWilliams and his work, so that his sacrifice should not be in vain.
And finally, this special video which was just released, features Josh Stanley reading Peter’s unfinished last book, “A Question of Compassion: An AIDS/Cancer Patient Explores Medical Marijuana”, which you can get a free PDF copy of here.