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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

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