In Pursuit of Truth & Justice in California

by William F. Buckley, Jr.

               The Federal narcomaniacs decided, at some point,

         to move in on the California scene.
               Background: In l996, a plebiscite was

         conducted. Proposition 215 ruled that a Californian

         could take marijuana if counseled to do so for reasons

         of health by his doctor.
               That would seem a reasonable decision, by a self-

         governing state. But it ran athwart a federal ruling. It

         is that marijuana is a proscribed substance and that its

         use under any circumstances is therefore unlawful.
               California, then, became the legal battleground. 

         And the Feds walked into a quandary when the United

         States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last

         September authorized a cannabis club in Oakland to

         resume providing marijuana to patients where there was

         medical necessity.  In such cases, said this honorable

         court,  medical necessity could be used as a defense

         against a court injunction obtained by the Washington

               What apparently happened in the past fortnight was

         a policy decision to force the hand not only of

         California, but of the Ninth Circuit.  Judge George H .

         King of Los Angeles was given two indictments to try. 

         Peter McWilliams, an author, publisher, and poet, and

         Todd McCormick, an entrepreneur.  McWilliams and

         McCormick were charged with conspiring to manufacture

         marijuana, which indeed is exactly what they did,

         growing 4,300 plants.  The design, said the defense,

         was to make these plants available to the cannabis clubs

         to pass the drug along as authorized by Proposition 215. 
               The trial was scheduled to begin on November 30. 

         On the eve of the trial Judge King decided, so to speak,

         to eliminate the Bill of Rights. 
               Defense strategy had been to advise the jury of

         the reasons the defendants thought to act as they did.

         They would cite Proposition 215, expressing the will of

         the citizens of California. Then they would recite the

         medical story. 
               Todd McCormick has fused vertebra from childhood

         cancer treatments.  Peter McWilliams has AIDS and also

         an AIDS-related cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.  He

         went through chemotherapy and radiation for the cancer

         and then a pharmaceutical therapy for AIDS.  In the

         account of Charles Levendosky, writing in the Ventura

         County Star, "The cancer treatment brought on complete

         remission. The AIDS treatment calls for a mixture of

         chemically derived protease inhibitors and anti-viral

         medications in order to prevent the spread of the AIDS

         virus in his body.  He must continue his AIDS treatment

         in order to live."
                     In July l998, federal agents arrested

         McWilliams. They put handcuffs on him, took him to jail,

         kept him there for several weeks, then released him on

         bail on the proviso that he must not use marijuana, an

         edict the enforcement of which called for random urine

               Again in the account of the Ventura County Star: 

         "McWilliams stopped smoking marijuana.  He now takes the

         prescription anti-nausea drug, Marinol, that he claims

         only works about a  third of the time. He vomits  much

         of his AIDS medications and, by the fall of l998, the

         amount of live AIDS virus in his blood had reached a

         critical stage. McWilliams can no longer walk any

         farther than 50 feed and uses a wheelchair.  All of this

         since his arrest."
               The judge issued his ruling: The defendants would

         not be permitted to advise the jury of the existence

         of Proposition 215, which presumably would have served

         to extenuate the guilt the prosecution was asserting

         (one wonders whether a juror would have been dismissed

         for cause if he/she had voted for Prop 215?).   And, the

         jury would not be permitted to hear the medical record

         of the defendants.  McWilliams' attorney would not be

         permitted even to tell the jury that he could not

         address certain issues in the case, or give the reasons

         why he could not do so. 
               So...the defense folded.  There isn't much point

         in undertaking to defend yourself is the reasons why you

         acted as you did you are prohibited to bring up. 

               Obviously the high command of Narcs Inc. feared

         that the temptation would be felt by the jury to

         "nullify."  That happens, to use the language of Mr.

         Levendosky, "when a jury deliberately rejects the

         evidence of guilt or refuses to apply the law because it

         wants to send a message about a social issue or because

         the result dictated by the law is contrary to the jury's

         sense of justice, morality, or fairness."
               So the fate of Peter McWilliams and of Todd

         McCormick is in the hands of Judge King.  Perhaps the

         cool thing for him to do is delay a ruling for a few

         months, and just let Peter McWilliams die.