Author’s Arrest Revives Issue of Medical Uses for Marijuana

        October 30, 1997

        By: Dan Shine

        Detroit Free Press

The national debate on marijiuana use for medicinal purposes will come to a Romulus courtroom next month, one of the first such cases in Michigan since the law allowing therapeutic use of the drug expired in the state in 1987.

Peter McWilliams, a California author and Allen Park native, said the seven marijuana cigarettes he was caught with at Metro Airport in December were part of his treatment for cancer and AIDS. He said his doctor had recommended he use the drug to fight nausea and increase his appetite.

Prosecutors were prepared to excuse McWilliams’ oversight but decided to charge him after discovering that the 48-year old had a previous pot possession conviction from his teenage years 30 years ago.

If convicted of the misdemeanor, he could face up to one year in jail. “I’m not a radical point maker,” McWilliams said Wednesday from his Los Angeles home.   “But they’re threatening me with one year in jail so I’m happy for the opportunity to stand up for the people of Michigan who may not know that marijuana can help them.”

On Wednesday, 34th District Judge Tina Green said she would allow McWilliams’ attorney to call experts on the medical use of marijuana when the trial begins Nov. 21.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Luke Skywalker had tried to exclude the medical experts, saying they were not relevant to the charge of marijuana possession.  

McWilliams said he hopes his case spurs discussion on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes again in Michigan.  Legislators, he said, “need to make an exception for sick people.”

Last year, voters in California and Arizona approved such measures.   The United States outlawed marijuana in 1937 except for approved research.   Possession remains a federal crime.  

Chuck Thomas of the Marijuana Policy Project, the national group favoring the medical use of the drug, said thirty-six states in the past twenty years have passed legislation supporting medical use of marijuana.   However, most are only symbolic since they do not provide for legal supply of the drug as do the measures in Arizona and California.  

Thomas said Washington state has a proposition similar to the Arizona measure on its November ballot.   He also said he expects five to ten states with laws allowing medical use of marijuana to provide for a legal supply by next Fall.  

Michigan law allowed marijuana for medical purposes from 1979 to 1987.   In 1994, state rep Thomas Mathieu, D-Grand Rapids, offered an amendment containing provisions for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.   The amendment passed the House, 86-7, only to be removed by the Senate.   The bill was signed without the provision.  

The scientific and medical communities have increased their support for the use of marijuana as a treatment aid.   The National Institutes of Health recently issued a report calling for tests of marijuana’s effectiveness and the New England Journal of Medicine has condemned political interference in the medical debate.  

Patients with glaucoma, neurological diseases, AIDS and cancer have found marijuana helpful in treating their illness or the side effects of treatment.  

Those who argue against using the drug for medicinal purposes say marijuana is not medicine and to legalize it will only confuse children who are being taught to stay away from it.   McWilliams, who writes self-help books, said the drug has let him live a better life while battling cancer and AIDS.  

“This stuff really works,” he said of pot.   “It is a genuine medicine.”