In Pursuit of Truth & Justice in California

by William F. Buckley, Jr.

              The Federal narcomaniacs decided, at some point,  to move in on the California scene. Background: In l996, a plebiscite was conducted. Proposition 215 ruled that a Californian could take marijuana if counseled to do so for reasons of health by his doctor.

              That would seem a reasonable decision, by a self- governing state. But it ran athwart a federal ruling. It is that marijuana is a proscribed substance and that its use under any circumstances is therefore unlawful.

California, then, became the legal battleground. And the Feds walked into a quandary when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last September authorized a cannabis club in Oakland to resume providing marijuana to patients where there was medical necessity.  In such cases, said this honorable court,  medical necessity could be used as a defense against a court injunction obtained by the Washington narcs.

   What apparently happened in the past fortnight was a policy decision to force the hand not only of California, but of the Ninth Circuit.  Judge George H . King of Los Angeles was given two indictments to try.

         Peter McWilliams, an author, publisher, and poet, and Todd McCormick, an entrepreneur.  McWilliams and McCormick were charged with conspiring to manufacture marijuana, which indeed is exactly what they did, growing 4,300 plants.  The design, said the defense, was to make these plants available to the cannabis clubs to pass the drug along as authorized by Proposition 215.

 The trial was scheduled to begin on November 30.  On the eve of the trial Judge King decided, so to speak, to eliminate the Bill of Rights.  Defense strategy had been to advise the jury of the reasons the defendants thought to act as they did.  They would cite Proposition 215, expressing the will of the citizens of California. Then they would recite the medical story.

Todd McCormick has fused vertebra from childhood cancer treatments.  Peter McWilliams has AIDS and also an AIDS-related cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He went through chemotherapy and radiation for the cancer and then a pharmaceutical therapy for AIDS.  In the account of Charles Levendosky, writing in the Ventura County Star, "The cancer treatment brought on complete remission. The AIDS treatment calls for a mixture of chemically derived protease inhibitors and anti-viral medications in order to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus in his body.  He must continue his AIDS treatment in order to live."

 In July l998, federal agents arrested McWilliams. They put handcuffs on him, took him to jail, kept him there for several weeks, then released him on bail on the proviso that he must not use marijuana, an edict the enforcement of which called for random urine  tests.

 Again in the account of the Ventura County Star:   "McWilliams stopped smoking marijuana.  He now takes the prescription anti-nausea drug, Marinol, that he claims only works about a  third of the time. He vomits  much of his AIDS medications and, by the fall of l998, the amount of live AIDS virus in his blood had reached a critical stage. McWilliams can no longer walk any  farther than 50 feed and uses a wheelchair.  All of this  since his arrest."

The judge issued his ruling: The defendants would not be permitted to advise the jury of the existence of Proposition 215, which presumably would have served to extenuate the guilt the prosecution was asserting  (one wonders whether a juror would have been dismissed for cause if he/she had voted for Prop 215?).   And, the jury would not be permitted to hear the medical record of the defendants.  McWilliams' attorney would not be permitted even to tell the jury that he could not address certain issues in the case, or give the reasons why he could not do so.

 So...the defense folded.  There isn't much point in undertaking to defend yourself is the reasons why you acted as you did you are prohibited to bring up.

 Obviously the high command of Narcs Inc. feared that the temptation would be felt by the jury to "nullify."  That happens, to use the language of Mr. Levendosky, "when a jury deliberately rejects the evidence of guilt or refuses to apply the law because it wants to send a message about a social issue or because the result dictated by the law is contrary to the jury's sense of justice, morality, or fairness."

So the fate of Peter McWilliams and of Todd McCormick is in the hands of Judge King.  Perhaps the cool thing for him to do is delay a ruling for a few months, and just let Peter McWilliams die.