One factual correction: we pled to 4,300 plants, not 6,000.




New York Times

November 21, 1999

Case Involving Medical Use Of Marijuana Results in Plea

Two advocates of the medicinal use of marijuana pleaded guilty today to

growing more than 6,000 plants and selling the drug, saying their only hope

was to ask for a judge's mercy after they were precluded from raising

medical issues in their defense.

The two men, Peter McWilliams and Todd McCormick, intended to tell jurors

about the state law passed by voters in 1996 allowing marijuana use for

medical purposes, its purported benefits and their own health. Mr.

McWilliams has AIDS, and Mr. McCormick has fused vertebrae from childhood

cancer treatments.

But Judge George H. King of Federal District Court here barred them from

raising those issues in the courtroom after prosecutors contended that doing

so would confuse and mislead jurors.

At the heart of the dispute was whether a ''medical necessity defense''

saying they broke the law because their health required it could be used

when Congress had classified the drug in question as having no legitimate


''Given the judge's logic, that the medical necessity defense does not

exist, someone in Peter's situation has only two remedies to prevent him

from going to jail,'' said Tom Ballanco, a lawyer for Mr. McWilliams.

''One is prosecutorial discretion, and the other is compassion on the part

of the judge,'' Mr. Ballanco said. ''Here, obviously, the prosecutors chose

to prosecute, so it's all up to the judge to demonstrate there is some

compassion in the federal law. I am hoping that he will.''

Both pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to manufacture and distribute

marijuana. In doing so, they capitulated to a set of facts that they

continued to dispute outside the courtroom. Based on letters Mr. McCormick

wrote to Mr. McWilliams, prosecutors maintained the men were planning to

sell marijuana to cannabis clubs where ill people go to use the drug.

But the defendants maintained they were growing the plants for personal use

and for a book Mr. McCormick was writing about medical marijuana. Mr.

McWilliams, a book publisher, acknowledged growing 300 of his own plants but

insisted the roughly $100,000 he gave Mr. McCormick was a book advance, not

financing for the growing operation.

The case also highlighted a conflict in federal law. Despite Congress's

stance, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit allowed a

cannabis club in Oakland to resume providing marijuana to patients in

September, saying medical necessity could be used as a defense against a

court injunction obtained by the Clinton administration.

Mr. McWilliams, who faces up to five years in prison under his plea, waived

his right to appeal on that issue. But Mr. McCormick will appeal Judge

King's ruling on the medical necessity defense. If he loses, he will face

five years in prison.

''I felt this was the smartest way to protect my health and my well-being,''

Mr. McCormick told reporters outside court afterward.