POZ Magazine

Drag King: Peter McWilliams is a writer blocked

By: David Kirby

June 1999

Note: POZ is a magazine for people who are HIV positive, their friends and family. POZ has a double meaning: HIV positive and keeping a positive attitude about it.

"Drag King" refers to either (a) taking a drag on a joint, or (b) what a drag it is that the federal government is killing me. I am not the proprietor of La Cage au Faux.



The federal government has handed down a sentence bestselling author Peter

McWilliams would never write: Smoke pot to help save your life and you'll

spend what's left of it in prison, with your mother and brother bereft of

their homes. For McWilliams, a cancer survivor whose viral load spirals as

nausea prevents him from keeping his HIV meds down, the government's stance

seems particularly cruel and unusual.

"The federal government is putting me through life-and-death hell,"

McWilliams says. A Los Angeles resident, he awaits trial in federal court on

eight felony counts including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute


"Only by smoking marijuana can I tolerate these medications," says the

author, currently on a regimen of 3TC, D4T and Sustiva -- when he can hold

them down. But as a condition of his bail, he is prohibited from smoking

grass and is subject to urinalysis without warning. One positive test for

marijuana use and McWilliams will forfeit his bail -- including the houses

of his mother and brother -- and return to jail.

The court allows McWilliams to take Marinol, the synthetic pot substitute

designed to boost appetite and help fight nausea, because drug tests are now

sophisticated enough to distinguish between the legal med and nature's own

outlaw weed. "But it is not nearly as effective," he says. "I can only keep

my medications down for about 30 percent as long with Marinol as when I

smoke marijuana."

But a motion filed by his lawyer to modify his condition of bail to allow

him to smoke pot was rejected by a federal magistrate in February and then

again in March.

McWilliams says his viral load went from a baseline of 12,500 copies three

years ago to 256,000 at last count, with his CD4 cells hovering below 400.

Viral resistance to some of his medications has set in, he claims, because

he hasn't been able to take them properly. [COMMENT FROM PETER: For more

than two years before my arrest when I used medical marijuana, my viral load

was "undetectable." The 12,500 was when I was first diagnosed, before any