FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 5, 1999
U.S. District Court Judge Bars Medical Necessity Defense, Mention of Prop. 215, in Case against Medical Marijuana Patients Todd McCormick and Peter McWilliams
McWilliams, McCormick Face 10 Years in Jail; Critically Ill AIDS Patient McWilliams Fears Imminent Death Behind Bars
Decision Directly Counters Ninth Circuit Ruling that Supports Medical Necessity Defense in Medical Marijuana Cases
LOS ANGELES, CA - In a decision that has left medical marijuana patients and advocates reeling, U.S. District Court Judge George King ruled today that there may be no mention of medical marijuana, California's Proposition 215 or the medical conditions of critically ill patients Todd McCormick and Peter McWilliams during the federal trial that alleges that the co-defendants illegally manufactured marijuana.
Today's ruling directly counters a recent landmark decision by the U.S.Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On September 13, 1999, a Ninth Circuit panel unanimously ruled that "medical necessity" can be a viable defense for people accused of breaking federal marijuana laws. The panel ordered U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer (pictured) to take into account evidence that some patients need marijuana to treat debilitating and life-threatening ailments in the federal lawsuit against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative.
Although both defendants argue that they are qualified medical marijuana patients under the terms of California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Proposition 215), the jury in their trial, which starts in Los Angeles on November 16, will not be allowed to hear any defenses that relate to their medical conditions, or to medical marijuana.
"How can this happen in America? I can't tell a jury why I used medical marijuana? I am stunned; speechless. The government monopoly on justice has just handed me a "Go to jail for life" card. I now face ten mandatory years in federal prison. I will die there. My life is over because I tried to save my life doing something my doctor recommended in a state where it is legal. If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone," said Peter McWilliams, who is critically ill with AIDS.
"This is clear proof that medical facts and the war on drugs are mutually exclusive," says Thomas Ballanco, attorney for Peter McWilliams. Prior to his 1998 arrest, McWilliams depended on medical marijuana, an anti-nausea medication, to enable him to digest his combination drug therapy. Since his arrest, when the federal government barred him from using medical marijuana, McWilliams has been able to keep down only a fraction of his treatments and his viral load has risen to a life-threatening level of 250,000. When his viral load reached 12,500 in 1996, he had already developed an AIDS-related cancer. His doctors believe he has only a short time to live and that a prison term would spell certain death for the former publisher and journalist.
"The Constitution is under attack from many fronts. The courts have followed a precedent favorable to the government in their prosecution, but have found every way possible to avoid decisions from the same courts that recognize individuals' rights," says David Michael, who represents medical marijuana patient Todd McCormick. McCormick, who received radical cancer treatments nine times before he was 10 years old, used medical marijuana until his 1997 arrest to alleviate the chronic pain he suffers as a result. Today's ruling means that the course of this trial will run along the lines of the federal trial against medical marijuana patient and caregiver, B.E. Smith, who was sentenced to 27 months in prison in May 1999 after U.S. District Court Judge Charles E. Burrell refused to let the jury hear any defenses relating to medical marijuana or Proposition 215.
"Counsel for defendants are instructed not to make any reference in whatever form including but not limited to arguments, questions, comments, testimony or evidence, to Proposition 215, the medical usefulness of marijuana, the closed single patient investigative new drug program [in which the federal government supplies marijuana to eight patients each month for medical use], defendants' reliance on advice of counsel and defendants' medical conditions. Counsel are further instructed to assure that no other persons, including their clients (the defendants), and their witnesses, make any such prohibited references at trial," according to the ruling, which was issued on Friday, November 5. McWilliams, 50, was arrested in 1998 by federal agents on charges that he financed the cultivation of over 6,000 marijuana plants to sell to marijuana clubs. McWilliams, the author of five best-selling books, contends that his only role in the alleged conspiracy was paying a book advance to McCormick, 28, whom McWilliams had commissioned to write two books on medical marijuana. McCormick says he was growing medical marijuana seedlings for his own personal medical use and for his research on the books he was writing for McWilliams.