Monday, June 14, 2010

Remembering Peter McWilliams

Peter McWilliams died 10 years ago today. Here's my piece from shortly after:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.
These words from Ecclesiastes begin best-selling author Peter McWilliams' book How To Survive the Loss of a Love.
McWilliams' time to die came last month. The government did not kill him directly, although McWilliams would still be alive if not for the hounding of federal prosecutors and the decisions of a federal judge.
McWilliams, 50, admittedly smoked dope and encouraged others to do the same.
Marijuana was the only substance that relieved McWilliams' nausea, which was caused by the drugs that fought his AIDS and cancer. He founded Medical Marijuana Magazine online to help others.
But, despite California laws legalizing medical marijuana, DEA agents stormed McWilliams' Los Angeles home and the offices of his publishing company and charged him with growing, possessing and conspiring to sell the evil weed.
McWilliams pleaded guilty to a lesser charge after federal Judge George King denied him a defense. The judge would not allow McWilliams to introduce into evidence information about his illness or California's law.
And, of course, King ordered weekly urine tests for McWilliams, whose nausea, without the marijuana, became uncontrollable.
McWilliams was out on bail and awaiting sentencing when he died, choking on his own vomit, in his bathtub.
I knew McWilliams only casually. We traded a few e-mails after he read one of my columns on the Dispatch Web site last year. He retained his humor and optimism, although the feds had started the campaign that ended in his destruction.
Conservative commentator William F. Buckley knew McWilliams much better than I.
In a recent column, Buckley called his friend "a wry, mythogenic guy, humorous, affectionate, articulate, shrewd, sassy."
"Imagine such a spirit ending its life at 50, just because they wouldn't let him have a toke," Buckley wrote.
McWilliams' political philosophy was summed up in the title of his 1993 book Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society.
"This book is based on a single idea," McWilliams wrote. "You should be allowed to do whatever you want with your own person and property, as long as you don't physically harm the person or property of a nonconsenting other."
In the book, McWilliams notes that the government has jailed more than 750,000 people for acts "that did not physically harm the person or property of another."
"Throwing people in jail is the extreme," McWilliams wrote, but the DEA proved him wrong.
The war on drugs now transcends questions of liberal vs. conservative. It now pits government against citizen, power against liberty, politics against common sense.
McWilliams was targeted not because he used marijuana but because he spoke out.
"If the DEA has seized my computer to silence me, it has failed," McWilliams wrote recently in Liberty magazine.
But that failure was only temporary. McWilliams -- a voice favoring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a voice opposing conformity -- is now silenced forever.
But they can't silence everyone.
As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.
The time to speak is now.

-- July 3, 2000

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