Here is a remarkably compassionate and accurate article from the LA Times  (except for the "strike it rich" part).




LA Times

Saturday, November 20, 1999

Activists Plead Guilty to Drug Charges

Courts: Barred from using medical necessity or state initiative as

defense, two accused pot growers OK plea bargain.

By: DAVID ROSENZWEIG, Times Staff Writer

    Barred from using medical necessity as a defense, two prominent

marijuana advocates pleaded guilty to reduced drug charges Friday in Los

Angeles federal court.

    The pleas by Todd McCormick and Peter McWilliams followed a judge's

ruling earlier this month that the pair could not refer to California's

medical marijuana initiative or to their own medical conditions in their

upcoming trial.

    McCormick, 29, suffers from bone cancer, and McWilliams, 50, a

self-help book publisher, is a wheelchair-bound AIDS patient.

    They were accused of growing more than 4,100 marijuana plants at a

rented Bel-Air mansion and trying to sell their crop to the Los Angeles

Cannabis Buyer's Club, which has dispensed the drug since California voters

passed Proposition 215 in 1996.

    The federal government does not recognize the state initiative as

binding. Nor did U.S. District Court Judge George H. King in a Nov. 5

opinion that devastated the defendants.

    McWilliams' lawyer, Tom Ballanco, said Friday that King's ruling "took

away every defense we had," leaving McWilliams facing certain conviction and

at least 10 years behind bars.

    "He couldn't survive a sentence like that," he said.

    McCormick, whose legal bills are paid by actor Woody Harrelson, said

that pleading guilty will give him a chance to remain free on bail while his

lawyers appeal King's ruling on a medical necessity defense.

    "If I would have been found guilty at trial, I would have been remanded

into custody and not allowed an appeal bond," he said. "I felt this was the

smartest way to protect my health and my well-being and my rights in an

appellate process."

    After issuing his earlier ruling, King pressed both sides to negotiate

a plea agreement rather than go to trial.

    In the end, the prosecution dropped marijuana manufacturing charges

carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

    McWilliams and McCormick were allowed to plead guilty instead to

conspiring to grow and distribute marijuana, punishable by a maximum five

years imprisonment.

    McCormick agreed to a flat five-year prison term and McWilliams faces a

term of up to five years when they are sentenced on Feb. 28.

    Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, called the

pleas a victory for the prosecution.

    "This is the first time that these defendants have acknowledged they

were producing marijuana for commercial gain," he said.

    Indeed, the agreements they signed make no mention of growing marijuana

for medical use.

    McWilliams, owner of Prelude Press, admitted financing the marijuana

growing operation and paying McCormick more than $120,000 in one year.

According to court documents, McWilliams hoped to strike it rich as a

marijuana grower and compared himself to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

    In a letter to McWilliams memorializing their partnership, McCormick

wrote that the deal entailed "us splitting the harvest three ways, you

receiving two thirds for providing space and equipment and me receiving one

third for labor and expertise."

    Both men were arrested after agents from the Drug Enforcement

Administration raided the mansion on Bel-Air's Stone Canyon Drive,

confiscating 4,116 marijuana plants.

    Alan Isaacman and David Michael, McCormick's lawyers, said Friday they

cannot appeal King's ruling barring a medical necessity defense until after

the scheduled Feb. 28 sentencing.

    McWilliams, meanwhile, said he hoped the judge would "consider my

situation. This has been a terrible ordeal. I've lost my health, I've lost

my business and I'm about to go into bankruptcy. I'm just exhausted."