20/20 John Stossel Interview, “Give Me a Break” Segment
Barbara Walters: You may have heard that marijuana can help cancer and AIDS patients feel better. Well, the federal government doesn't accept that, and to that John, you say, give me a break.
John Stossel: I do, Barbara, because the federal government's so eager to fight the war on drugs, sometimes it thumbs its nose at the wishes of the people.
John Stossel: Peter McWilliams is an author who has AIDS. We met him three years ago while doing another story. Some drugs he takes to combat the disease make him nauseous, so, like many others in California, McWilliams smoked marijuana to reduce the nausea. He assumed it was legal because of Proposition 215.
Prop 215 Ad Spot: Vote YES on 215.
John Stossel: Oh, California did legalize medical marijuana after this ad campaign laid out the arguments.
Prop 215 Ad Spot: Prop 215 Ad Spot: When my husband, JJ, was dying of cancer, I felt helpless, so I broke the law and got him marijuana. It worked.
John Stossel: Since California and five other states had legalized medical marijuana, you'd think sick people in those states could legally smoke pot, but it seems that in America today, if the marijuana police want to get you, they will. In California, federal prosecutors went after doctors who prescribed marijuana, then they shut down the buyers club set up to sell marijuana to those who are sick. This left lots of sick people desperate.
Contact: Basically they're going to be out on the streets. They're going to be on the turfs trying to buy weed.
John Stossel: McWilliams was not popular with authorities because he openly smoked and advocated legalizing the drug. A few years ago federal authorities discovered a friend of his was growing these marijuana plants. They then raided McWilliams' house.
Peter McWilliams: I assume that they were looking for [a] drug king pin something or another. Isn't that what the DEA is all about? The major traffickers?
John Stossel: Later, federal authorities arrested McWilliams, saying he'd given his friend money to grow marijuana. McWilliams claimed the money was for research for this book. I don't know who's right, but what seems unfair is that in court, McWilliams was not even allowed to tell his side of the story because authorities took him to federal court. This meant McWilliams would not be allowed to mention his medical condition or the fact that California legalized medical marijuana. He couldn't make the most basic arguments in his own defense. Faced with that, he gave up.
Peter McWilliams: I was going to be put in jail for ten years, period. I would die in a federal facility in far less than ten years.
John Stossel: So he plead guilty to a lesser charge and today awaits sentencing. He's out of prison on the condition he not smoke marijuana, but it was the marijuana that kept him from vomiting up his medication.
Peter McWilliams: I spent almost all my time in bed.
John Stossel: Only by staying in bed for hours, he says, can he hold off the nausea and hold his medications down.
Peter McWilliams: It is exhausting and yet it is keeping me alive.
John Stossel: Isn't something off here? A man is not allowed to say the truth at his own trial? I can understand that the federal drug police don't agree with what some states have decided to do about medical marijuana, but does that give them the right to just end-run those laws and lock people up? Give me a break!
Barbara Walters: One does wonder about that. What's the point of a state passing laws. But when is Peter McWilliams going to be sentenced?
John Stossel: Later this summer. Because of the plea bargain he won't get ten years, but he may get five, which just seems wrong, I--. This war on drugs often does more harm than the drugs themselves.
Barbara Walters: So it seems sometimes. We'll be right back.