By: David Kirby
Note: POZ is a magazine for people who are HIV positive, their friends and family. POZ has a double meaning: HIV positive and keeping a positive attitude about it.
"Drag King" refers to either (a) taking a drag on a joint, or (b) what a drag it is that the federal government is killing me. I am not the proprietor of La Cage au Faux.
The federal government has handed down a sentence bestselling author Peter
McWilliams would never write: Smoke pot to help save your life and you'll
spend what's left of it in prison, with your mother and brother bereft of
their homes. For McWilliams, a cancer survivor whose viral load spirals as
nausea prevents him from keeping his HIV meds down, the government's stance
seems particularly cruel and unusual.
"The federal government is putting me through life-and-death hell,"
McWilliams says. A Los Angeles resident, he awaits trial in federal court on
eight felony counts including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute
"Only by smoking marijuana can I tolerate these medications," says the
author, currently on a regimen of 3TC, D4T and Sustiva -- when he can hold
them down. But as a condition of his bail, he is prohibited from smoking
grass and is subject to urinalysis without warning. One positive test for
marijuana use and McWilliams will forfeit his bail -- including the houses
of his mother and brother -- and return to jail.
The court allows McWilliams to take Marinol, the synthetic pot substitute
designed to boost appetite and help fight nausea, because drug tests are now
sophisticated enough to distinguish between the legal med and nature's own
outlaw weed. "But it is not nearly as effective," he says. "I can only keep
my medications down for about 30 percent as long with Marinol as when I
But a motion filed by his lawyer to modify his condition of bail to allow
him to smoke pot was rejected by a federal magistrate in February and then
again in March.
McWilliams says his viral load went from a baseline of 12,500 copies three
years ago to 256,000 at last count, with his CD4 cells hovering below 400.
Viral resistance to some of his medications has set in, he claims, because
he hasn't been able to take them properly. [COMMENT FROM PETER: For more
than two years before my arrest when I used medical marijuana, my viral load
was "undetectable." The 12,500 was when I was first diagnosed, before any