by Julia Rose
“It’s your life. Live it with people who are alive. It tends to be contagious.”
A wise man both wrote and lived those words. In 2009, I discovered “You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought,” one of Peter McWilliams’ books that topped the New York Times bestseller list. That book helped change my life. I wanted to thank the author but soon sadly found out he had died.
I wanted to do something to
honour Peter’s life. It all began with a Myspace page. Facebook followed.
Then last year, I was honoured to obtain
petermcwilliams.org and set out to redesign
it and add a bunch of articles. Then I began work on a short
tribute video. I started speaking at
hempfests so that people could discover this wonderful author and activist.
Peter Alexander McWilliams was born on August 5, 1949 in Allen Park, outside of Detroit, and by the age of seventeen he had published his first poem. He was prolif- ic, self-publishing forty books. Five of them were New York Times best-sellers. He taught people how to use computers. He wrote passionate poetry. He wrote: “This poem is a kiss for your mind.” He helped people through their grief. The best-seller, “How to Survive the Loss of a Love,” co-authored by Dr. Melba Colgrove, Ph.D. and Harold H. Bloomfield, is still in print and helping hearts heal, over thirty years later. Peter was a fan of transcen- dental meditation and began searching inside himself for answers. The LIFE 101 Series began. Books such as: LIFE 101, “Do It! Let’s Get off Our Buts” and “You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought.”
In 1993 Peter wrote the libertarian manifesto, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do.” It called for drug legaliza- tion and an end to crazy laws which are senseless and use- less.
In 1995 Peter discovered he had suffered depression all of his life without knowing it.
Harold H. Bloomfield, Peter’s depression. Like always, Peter wanted to share his knowledge with others. The two teamed up once again to write, “How to Heal Depression.” Peter was a health-nut, always into cutting edge natural cures. He found that Hypericum, aka St. John’s Wort , a natural herb, helped heal depression. Peter wrote, “The ongoing successful treatment of my depression is the single most important positive step I have taken in my life, hence my enthusiasm for the subject.”
In March, 1996, Peter was diagnosed with AIDS and an AIDS-related cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and tried every prescription medicine under the sun that his
doctor could think of to help heal his
nausea. Nothing worked. Peter turned to
smoking Cannabis. He had not partaken since his college days in Michigan. He said,
“Nausea is an unsolved
problem of medicine.
Marijuana is the finest anti-nausea medication known to science.” Peter made a promise. He wrote, “I told myself
that, if I lived, I would devote my life to getting
na to all the sick people who
needed it. I lived, and I began my campaign.”
In 1997 Peter published the Medical Marijuana Magazine Online. Peter had met Todd McCormick and had hired him to write a book on growing medicinal mar- ijuana. Todd used a portion of his book advance to rent a house in which it could be grown. Todd was arrested and Peter wrote, “the DEA claimed Todd had ‘more than 4,000 plants worth between $20 million and $27 million. As the Los Angeles Times noted, ‘Many were seedlings rather than mature plants.’ “
Peter was soon labeled a “drug kingpin” by the DEA. Four DEA agents questioned Peter. Peter wrote, “All four said they had known about me for some time, because most every bust they go on, they find a copy of my book Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country. They didn’t say it, but it was clear that, to them, I was the guy who wrote the bestselling book against the Vietnam War, the DEA Special Agents were the Green Berets. I was a traitor to their cause, and I was spreading my treachery through the written word. “
Peter began writing a book titled, “A Question of Compassion: An AIDS-Cancer Patient Explores Medical Marijuana.” (Unfortunately, due to the government’s interference, this masterpiece was never completed, but it’s available at petermcwilliams.org ).
The DEA seized his computer. They returned the comput- er, along with a virus, and because of all the problems that ensued, Peter’s publishing business was severely crip- pled.
On July 4, 1998 Peter gave a stirring speech before the Libertarian Party National Convention in DC. It was nationally televised on CSPAN. Peter wrote, “I praised medical marijuana and condemned the federal govern- ment for keeping it from sick people.”
On July 23, 1999, nine DEA agents again visited Peter and arrested him and booked him. Peter spent four weeks in jail and his mother and brother were forced to put up their houses as bail. He was denied his AIDS medication for the first nine days.
He was told he would be released provided that he stopped using Cannabis. If he failed drug tests, his moth- er and brother would lose their houses and he’d remain in prison until and during his trial.
Peter became sicker and sicker. He wrote, “In the three months following the arrest I lost 30 pounds, 15 percent of my total body weight. “
Through dealing with the court
system, they stated: “Marijuana is not medicine because Congress says it’s
not medicine, federal law supercedes California state law, we don’t care what his doctors say, if McWilliams dies, he dies.”
Judge George H. King denied Peter’s request for medical marijuana.
And Peter got even sicker. “The high AIDS viral load feels as though I have the flu all the time. 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, and very little time or clarity of mind to do so.” Peter instinctively knew his days were numbered. He said, “I am the representative of all the sick people and what they are doing to me is only the worst case right now, but there will be others. I am living on borrowed time anyway. I owe this part of my life to luck and modern medical science. But I can’t imag- ine what the rest of it will be like if they won’t let me use medical marijuana.”
On November 5, 1999, the trial judge ruled Peter could not use medical marijuana defense, nor could he even mention Proposition 215, marijuana’s medical useful- ness, the eight patients who get medical marijuana monthly from the federal government, or his medical condition.
Peter pled guilty to a lesser charge to avoid ten years in federal prison.
On June 14, 2000, while awaiting trial, Peter was found dead in his bathroom. Many people have their theories as to what caused his death, but I feel Peter died of a broken heart, because America had let him down.
Peter once said, “..in the war on drugs, unlike any war in American History, unlike any modern civilized war of the past two centuries in this war on drugs they are not stop- ping the battle and allowing the Red Cross on the field. In fact, they are shooting directly at the sick and at those who are trying to help them..and they are shooting to kill.”Peter was many things: poet, photographer, author, self-publisher, libertarian, gay man, Cannabis activist. There are so many things to love about that man, and so many reasons why we should always remember Peter.