The Medical Marijuana Magazine

Man will go to trial for choice of medicine

July 19, 1997
Associated Press

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 1968.

"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 illnesses.

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 said.

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 jail."

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 come back.

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.""