Here is a remarkably compassionate and accurate article from the LA Times (except for the "strike it rich" part).
Saturday, November 20, 1999
Activists Plead Guilty to Drug Charges
Courts: Barred from using medical necessity or state initiative as
defense, two accused pot growers OK plea bargain.
By: DAVID ROSENZWEIG, Times Staff Writer
Barred from using medical necessity as a defense, two prominent
marijuana advocates pleaded guilty to reduced drug charges Friday in Los
Angeles federal court.
The pleas by Todd McCormick and Peter McWilliams followed a judge's
ruling earlier this month that the pair could not refer to California's
medical marijuana initiative or to their own medical conditions in their
McCormick, 29, suffers from bone cancer, and McWilliams, 50, a
self-help book publisher, is a wheelchair-bound AIDS patient.
They were accused of growing more than 4,100 marijuana plants at a
rented Bel-Air mansion and trying to sell their crop to the Los Angeles
Cannabis Buyer's Club, which has dispensed the drug since California voters
passed Proposition 215 in 1996.
The federal government does not recognize the state initiative as
binding. Nor did U.S. District Court Judge George H. King in a Nov. 5
opinion that devastated the defendants.
McWilliams' lawyer, Tom Ballanco, said Friday that King's ruling "took
away every defense we had," leaving McWilliams facing certain conviction and
at least 10 years behind bars.
"He couldn't survive a sentence like that," he said.
McCormick, whose legal bills are paid by actor Woody Harrelson, said
that pleading guilty will give him a chance to remain free on bail while his
lawyers appeal King's ruling on a medical necessity defense.
"If I would have been found guilty at trial, I would have been remanded
into custody and not allowed an appeal bond," he said. "I felt this was the
smartest way to protect my health and my well-being and my rights in an
After issuing his earlier ruling, King pressed both sides to negotiate
a plea agreement rather than go to trial.
In the end, the prosecution dropped marijuana manufacturing charges
carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
McWilliams and McCormick were allowed to plead guilty instead to
conspiring to grow and distribute marijuana, punishable by a maximum five
McCormick agreed to a flat five-year prison term and McWilliams faces a
term of up to five years when they are sentenced on Feb. 28.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, called the
pleas a victory for the prosecution.
"This is the first time that these defendants have acknowledged they
were producing marijuana for commercial gain," he said.
Indeed, the agreements they signed make no mention of growing marijuana
for medical use.
McWilliams, owner of Prelude Press, admitted financing the marijuana
growing operation and paying McCormick more than $120,000 in one year.
According to court documents, McWilliams hoped to strike it rich as a
marijuana grower and compared himself to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
In a letter to McWilliams memorializing their partnership, McCormick
wrote that the deal entailed "us splitting the harvest three ways, you
receiving two thirds for providing space and equipment and me receiving one
third for labor and expertise."
Both men were arrested after agents from the Drug Enforcement
Administration raided the mansion on Bel-Air's Stone Canyon Drive,
confiscating 4,116 marijuana plants.
Alan Isaacman and David Michael, McCormick's lawyers, said Friday they
cannot appeal King's ruling barring a medical necessity defense until after
the scheduled Feb. 28 sentencing.
McWilliams, meanwhile, said he hoped the judge would "consider my
situation. This has been a terrible ordeal. I've lost my health, I've lost
my business and I'm about to go into bankruptcy. I'm just exhausted."