Man will go to trial for choice of medicine
July 19, 1997
Peter McWilliams says the seven
marijuana cigarettes he was allegedly
caught with at Detroit Metro Airport last
December were part of his treatment for
cancer and AIDS.
Prosecutors in Wayne County were
thinking of giving the Los Angeles man a
break, believing he wasn't aware of
Michigan's laws on marijuana, and that he
was using it under his doctor's care.
But Friday they decided to try
McWilliams on one count of marijuana
possession. The reason: A previous
conviction for marijuana possession, from
when he was a teen in Allen Park in
"I'd said we review it, but when I found
out (his record) ...that changed things,"
said Richard Padzieski, chief of
operations for the Wayne County
prosecutor's office. "It's not like the
doctor gave him this stuff and he went to
a state where he didn't know the law."
McWilliams convinced a judge to
postpone the trial until Sept. 19, but said
he was willing to go to jail to make a
point about using marijuana to treat
McWilliams was stopped by airport
security Dec. 12 as he was leaving
Detroit. After being severely ill with AIDS
and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, he had
recovered enough to travel and visit
relatives "to prove I was still alive," he
A guard asked McWilliams if he had any
contraband, and McWilliams showed him
the seven marijuana cigarettes in a gold
and silver case.
"While I was getting chemotherapy, it
made life worth living," McWilliams said.
"Now I take it because the AIDS drugs I
take causes nausea. A few puffs of
marijuana, and my nausea isn't there and
I can go about my business."
Earlier this year, Assistant Prosecutor
Marie Petito asked McWilliams to
provide proof he was using marijuana for
medical reasons. California law allows
doctors to recommend marijuana, but not
prescribe it. Michigan law allowed
marijuana for medical purposes from
1979 to 1987.
In the letter, McWilliams' doctor says the
drug is "medically appropriate" to help the
nausea. That wasn't enough for Wayne
County officials, who told McWilliams
they would not drop the charges.
"While your doctor thinks that the use of
marijuana may alleviate some of your
symptoms, he does not indicate that the
marijuana is being prescribed as medicine
in your condition," Petito wrote to
McWilliams earlier this month.
McWilliams argued the difference was a
semantic one, and asked for more time. A
few days later, the prosecutor's office told
him to get ready for trial. Petito declined
to talk about the case.
McWilliams' previous arrest came in
1968, when he was 18. He said his father
caught him with marijuana in the
basement of their home, and called a
friend who happened to be a police
officer. McWilliams said his father just
wanted to scare him, but the officer's
partner arrested him.
McWilliams was convicted and sentenced
to two years of probation. He said the
arrest tore his family apart.
"It was just because police -- they're used
to dealing with real criminals, people with
guns and knives," McWilliams said. "The
only choice they have is to put people in
That's a possibility with the current
misdemeanor charge, which carries up to
a year in jail with a conviction. And while
his cancer is in remission and new AIDS
drugs keep the HIV virus at bay,
McWilliams worries about what could
happen if he's in prison and the diseases
But McWilliams said he thinks a jury will
see his side and agree.
"I think the legislators and the enforcers
of law are way behind the will of the
people," he said. "I've no desire to be
famous from this. This is something to
make a point.""