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Remembering Peter McWilliams

A black and white portrait of Peter Alexander McWilliams, a poet and writer, passed away June 14, 1980 at the age of 50 from complications of AIDS, which could have been healed by cannabis.


Remembering Peter McWilliams

What if you were a bestselling author and nearly finished with one of your most inspiring books when cut down in the prime of your life? That’s what happened to self-help author and poet Peter McWilliams when he died from complications of AIDS in 2000. “A Question of Compassion” was to be one of his stellar works enlightening people to the benefits of cannabis as medicine.

Fourteen years later a McWilliams fan, Julia, has created a video on You Tube celebrating this last work, narrated by Colorado cannabis grower Josh Stanley, and featuring those in the cannabis cause working to end the prohibition of this life saving plant.

VIDEO: A Question of Compassion:

Fallen Angel

Peter Alexander McWilliams pass away June 14, 1980 at the age of 50. He was found on the bathroom floor of his Los Angeles home after the federal government withheld the one medicine he desperately needed – cannabis.

McWilliams was a New York Times bestselling author, at the tender age of 17 McWilliams first effort was a self-published book of poetry, “Come Love with Me and Be My Life.” More than 40 self-help books followed including, “How to Heal Depression,” championing the medicinal herb, St. John’s Wort.

In 1996 McWilliams was diagnosed with AIDS and AIDS related non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He found cannabis helped myriad complications from chemotherapy, specifically the chronic nausea and waste away side effects that plagued him.

“Nausea is an unsolved problem of medicine,” McWilliams declared publically. “Marijuana is the finest anti-nausea medication known to science.”

Peter told himself if he lived he’d dedicate his life to getting medical cannabis to the masses. He lived, and soon planted plants for the people.

Failed Crop

Using his publishing skills Peter launched the online zine, “Medical Marijuana Magazine.” After meeting fellow writer Todd McCormick he commissioned him to work on a portion of his new effort, “How to Grow Medical Marijuana.”

McCormick used some of the book advance to help fund an indoor garden, and was soon arrested for growing a “cash crop,” when, in actuality, it was intended for patients only via legal California dispensaries. Explanations fell on deaf federal ears earning him the name of a “Drug King Pin.”

The feds returned his confiscated computer with a virus successfully shutting down his publishing business, and truncating his ground-breaking page turner, “A Question of Compassion: An AIDS-Cancer Patient Explores Medical Marijuana.” (The partial piece can be found on his Web site,

Pot Pioneer

In 1993 McWilliams had written “Aint Nobody’s Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society,” later adopted by the Libertarian Party as its Manifesto. On July 4, 1998 McWilliams gave what is now referred to as a “stirring speech” on behalf of the Libertarian Party at its National Convention, aired on CSPAN.

Later he wrote of his speech, “I praised Medical Marijuana and condemned the Federal Government for keeping it from sick people.” By July 23, nine DEA agents visited his home and booked him on manufacturing and distributing charges.

McWilliams was without medication for nine days of the four weeks spent in jail. He was told he would be released if he stopped using cannabis, that his mother and brother would lose the homes already put up as collateral, and that he would remain in prison until and during his trial.

Without cannabis, the nausea and wasting continued to deteriorate the once prolific writer and advocate under the heavy weight of AIDS, cancer and related treatments, and subsequent symptoms for both.

“The AIDS viral load feels as though I have the flu all the time,” he wrote of his condition. “I sleep 18 to 20 hours a day. I have maybe four productive hours in every 24 – most of them spent trying to keep my head financially above water. I have so much to say, so many ideas and discoveries I want to communicate, but very little time or clarity of mind to do so.”

Lost Cause

The New York Times reported in his obituary that during his last court appearance he had sat slumped in his wheelchair with little energy left to continue the fight. Unable to medicate, the wasting and nausea were too much to bear, causing him to lose 30 pounds, a stated “15 percent of my body weight,” of the frail writer.

In November 1999, United States Federal District Judge George H. King ruled against any medical defense, forcing McWilliams into a guilty plea in order to avoid a 10-year mandatory minimum.

Court records state Prosecutors remarked, “Marijuana is not medicine because Congress says it’s not medicine. Federal Law supersedes California Law. We don’t care what his doctors say. If McWilliams dies, he dies.”

On June 14, 2000 Peter McWilliams was found dead on his bathroom floor in Los Angeles.

Commentator and friend William F. Buckley stated McWilliams was “vomiting and in pain when he died.”

Julia’s Heart

“Julia,” is a shy young woman who wants nothing more than to keep Peter’s name, his story and his heart alive. A traumatic brain injury survivor, Julia is not a cannabis patient, yet tirelessly campaigns for a cause her hero, Peter cared about deeply.

Julia typically travels to legal states and weed events, taking the stage as a force to be reckoned with. Think Steel Magnolias meets Norma Rae. Often in pumps, always with a string guitar, surprising everyone with her own musical tribute to her favorite author.

With the blessing of McWilliams’ mother, Julia created “Peter’s Page” on MySpace in 2009, then a Facebook page, “Peter McWilliams Tribute.” In 2011 she created a tribute video using photographs and archival footage.

Julia has worked to keep his memory alive, you can follow her tribute page here.

RIP: Peter McWilliams (1949-2000)

By Sharon Letts



  1. Cori TRIPC Petersen

    March 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Thank your brining this to everyone’s attention. It is not fair to make people suffer. No ones healthcare should not be held hostage. Especially one should not PERISH while waiting for permission to use a life saving substance all because of PROFIT and POLITICS!

    This video and site brings light to this subject. It is also to be noted that the WHOLE PERSON is celebrated, not just his use of marijuana. A very important concept to be appreciated. Thanks again for creating this memorial.

    The Peter McWilliams Stage at Seattle Hempfest is ALWAYS the place to be 🙂

  2. rebecca brooks

    March 24, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Very well written and heartbreakingly accurate. Too bad the incorrect words continue to be used, i.e., “weed”.

    Never forget Peter, bless you Julia.

  3. Brett

    March 24, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Oh and BTW.. Love you Julia! You are the reason that Peter is getting the kind of recognition he deserved and you deserve PROPS for that! I would miss some of the misspellings! We are all intelligent enough to understand the message. I say if your that much of a perfectionist.. go get your media from corporate controlled sources and see how that works out for you!

  4. J. Nayer Hardin

    March 24, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    What a beautiful article about a wonderful man. Great narrative of what really happened in the life and times of Peter McWilliams.

    Paraphrasing what the poet Nikki Giovanni wrote ‘you are so hip, even your errors are correct.’

    Peter’s struggles were not easy, or smooth, or even correct by traditional standards. His journey to co-create positive change in our consciousness was painful and cost him everything. Yes he fell. The post perfectly reflects the life of the man. No matter what, “you can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought.” Fukushima is burning and some folks are talking about….whatever. I am doing my best not to cuss – may not make it.

    I suspect Peter’s soul has not left and he was channeling his story through his certified biggest fan, Julia, who has also sacrificed her life to keep his wit and wisdom alive.

    Though my initial reaction is to respond to the critics with four letters followed by 3 more, let me just write thank you Julia for both the touching video and article. I pity the miserable souls who cannot find beauty in your work. The editing terrorists are focusing on the mole when looking at Marilyn Monroe’s face. Just Fools Before God.


  5. Brett

    March 24, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    The blood of this man is on the hands of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Federal Judge George H King, the mindless drones of the DEA, and the soulless Prosecutors who’s only comments were that they are “saddened” by Peter McWilliams death. Really? McWilliams was without medication for nine days of the four weeks spent in jail. Ok for any one that does not comprehend…that means his Anti Viral medications that were legal and actually saving his life! All of these people I mentioned above were so busy hammering nails in Peters coffin that they could care less that he was very much still alive! They all have more serious DEMONS to deal with than ever your worst nightmare! Curiously, in that sense, I feel very ‘sad’ for them!

  6. ElectroPig Von Fökkengrüüven

    March 24, 2014 at 11:51 am

    I’d heard of Peter before, but way back in the day, when all I really knew was that he was just a guy who wrote books about computers.

    Without Julia’s tireless work in trying to help other people, and keeping Peter’s work and his memory alive, who knows how long I, and many other people, would have gone without knowing what really mattered about him?

    Peter was a human being, and an extremely multidimensional one at that. You can’t just pigeon-hole Peter into any artificially limiting category of “activist” or “author” or “humanitarian” or “educator”, as he was all those things and more.

    He wasn’t a “figurehead” or a “superhero” either. He was just a guy who saw things wrong in the world that someone needed to address…so he did. His life was spent trying to educate people, and help them get through this life a little bit easier than they otherwise might.

    Like we all should try to do, but find so many excuses not to.

    But Julia does. Every day. And like Peter, she continues, despite all odds, and despite all obstacles thrown in her path.

    We’re all better off because of those two, and I’m glad that I got the opportunity to meet one of them, and to learn more about the other.

    These are the people we need to get behind. We need to support them in their efforts to make this world a better place, not just for corporations and governments and “miscellaneous alleged authority figures”, but for everyone. To help them do what they were born to do: change this world for the better!

    A very small number of people who read this will ever get the chance to meet Julia, and for those few, when you do, you’ll understand what I mean.

    She’s one of the few people in this world that I can honestly say that I’m proud to know. We need more like her. And like Peter.

    • Anon a moose

      February 17, 2015 at 3:01 pm

      Brave words, Todd.

  7. Michael Dare

    March 24, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Dozens of mistakes. Someone seriously needs a copy editor.

    • Pat

      March 24, 2014 at 11:11 am

      Funny, I didn’t even notice any of that stuff. All I saw was a beautiful piece about a beautiful man who was murdered by our government.

      Great job, Sharon Letts/Cannabis Now

    • Verde Mamasita

      March 24, 2014 at 11:27 am

      So all you got out of this video (and all the hard work that went into it) was: “Dozens of mistakes. Someone seriously needs a copy editor.” That is truly a shame and I feel sorry for you that you could only focus was on the mistakes rather than the message. One love, Brother. Spread it.

    • ElectroPig Von Fökkengrüüven

      March 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

      When the mind is closed, the eyes see naught.

    • Gene Pool

      March 24, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Those were the best 25 minutes I’ve ever spent viewing a video about cannabis.
      This video struck a nerve with me and stole my heart.
      I can see it educating even the greatest anti-pot curmudgeon out there.

      Appreciate the informative article.
      Great to see the heroes of yesterday are honored and are still very much alive in our present endeavors to free the plant.

    • Sharon Letts

      March 24, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  8. Cw

    March 24, 2014 at 6:41 am

    Wow, never heard of McWilliams. Touch and sad story. Sadly, no they don’t care how many lives are lost until it affects them. The FBI is a robotic organization, a slave to Harry Anslinger’s lie to keep a job for his department.

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