The Federal Government Would Not Let Him Live

                                          by: Jim Rongstad

   Today marks the ninth anniversary of the tragic and unnecessary death of Peter McWilliams. Here is what I wrote nine years ago:

   Peter McWilliams, a best-selling author of books on a variety of subjects, died on June 14, 2000. His death was tragedy because it should not have happened.

   McWilliams was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and AIDS in March 1996. Like many people being treated for cancer and AIDS, McWilliams would become nauseous from the chemotherapy and AIDS medications he needed to take along with radiation treatments.

   McWilliams tried various prescription anti nausea medications, but none worked for him. He then turned to a natural substance that has been around for thousands of years, marijuana. Smoking marijuana alleviated the nausea McWilliams had been suffering. This allowed McWilliams to keep his medications down and allowed him to eat.

   McWilliams lived in California, where in November 1996 voters passed Proposition 215 which legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. McWilliams use of marijuana was legal in California.

   However, the Clinton Administration announced the federal government would ignore California law and prosecute anyone using marijuana for medical purposes. This seems a bit hypocritical coming from the administration of a man who jokes how hard he tried to inhale.

   McWilliams was a marked man, because he openly advocated the use of medical marijuana. In 1997 federal drug agents raided McWilliams home seizing much of McWilliams’ personal property, including his personal computers that he used to write his books.

   Not long after, McWilliams was arrested and charged with conspiracy to grow marijuana. His mother and brother put up their homes as security to bail McWilliams out of jail. As a condition of McWilliams’ bail, he was not allowed to use marijuana and was subject to regular urine testing for marijuana. Not willing to risk his mother and brother’s homes, McWilliams followed the federal order to not use marijuana.

   The result was a return of the nausea, difficulty keeping food and medications down and a deterioration of McWilliams’ health.

   With his health deteriorating and the tools of his livelihood confiscated, McWilliams was unable to work and forced into bankruptcy. This was not enough for the federal government.

   While awaiting trial, a federal judge ruled that McWilliams could not introduce as evidence for his defense any information about his illness, any scientific evidence supporting the medical use of marijuana nor the fact that medical marijuana is legal in California.

   While awaiting sentencing McWilliams choked to death on his own vomit, a result of not being allowed to control his nausea. He died because the federal government would not let him live.

   People of conscience must question a government doctrine that denies a human the right to try to preserve their own life.

   Exactly who or what is protected by barring the medical use of marijuana?

   Why is marijuana treated differently than say morphine which is also a controlled substance, but is allowed to be used for medical purposes?

   Why would Bill Clinton, a person who admits he tried marijuana in search of pleasure, allow his administration to deny a person the right to try marijuana to save his life?

   Why would Republicans, who rail against increased federal power over individuals and states, sit idly by while the federal government ignores the Constitution and usurps the rights of California and its citizens?

   Medical marijuana is just the tip of the iceberg of the whole issue of the so called "War on Drugs." Like most wars the biggest victims are the innocent: the children who are caught in the crossfire between gangs fighting over drug turf, honest Americans who are seeing increasing infringements on their privacy and property, and people like Peter McWilliams who are forbidden to take measures that they need to save their lives.

   The Drug War like alcohol prohibition in the 1920's has come at a great cost to society, with little or no real benefit. Marijuana was a legal uncontrolled substance until the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 and narcotics were legal and uncontrolled until the enactment of the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914.

   However, these laws were largely unenforced until the late 1960's. As the drug war has escalated, the crime rate and the cost in dollars have escalated also. It is time to realize, that like the war on alcohol in the 1920's, the war on drugs is counterproductive and should be ended.

   I realize that by taking this position, I open myself to the charge that I support the use of these drugs.

   Nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike the two major party presidential candidates who see nothing wrong with the drug war other than the need to escalate it. I can honestly say that I have never used any of these illegal substances.

   My position is merely a moral and practical position. It is moral because, as our libertarian Founding Fathers declared, we are all endowed with an unalienable right to control our own life. It is practical because the cost of the war on drugs to innocent citizens and society as whole is excessive beyond any reason. End the insane "Drug War" now!