Fight For Your Right To Party
How the Drug War makes people puke

Peter McWilliams is a best-selling author, as well as an AIDS and cancer patient. His book, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in Our Free Country has sold 200,000 copies and was recently voted #1 in the Random House/Modern Library readers' poll of the 100 best nonfiction books of the 20th Century (the book has since slipped to #7 on the list). In addition, McWilliams is scheduled to go on trial in Los Angeles federal court this September, charged with being the ringleader of a conspiracy to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana.

See also...
... by Paul Krassner
... in the Scope section
... from July 28, 1999

PAUL KRASSNER: Why does your license plate read CONSENT?

PETER MCWILLIAMS: "Consent" is one of my favorite words. The ability to consent to do something, and thereby take responsibility for the outcome of the action, is what separates children from adults, in all senses of those words. When we reach "the age of consent," we choose which activities to take part in, enjoy the rewards of participation, and accept responsibility if things go wrong.

When I wrote Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, I chose to call the crimes that don't physically harm the person or property of another "consensual crimes." The popular term at the time (1993) was "victimless crimes." I didn't like it, because people who took part in consensual crimes (gambling, drug use, prostitution, homosexuality) might find themselves the "victims" of some misfortune brought on by their action, so it opens one to the facile argument, "There are so victims of drug use. What about overdose victims?"

Consent implies that (a) we have reached the age of consent, (b) we understand that any action (or non-action) contains risks as well as benefits, and that (c) we have weighed the risks with the benefits and have decided to take a certain action (or non-action). If we get a benefit, we enjoy that benefit. If we get the downside, we take responsibility for the choice we consented to make.

PK: July 23, 1998, was Monica Lewinsky's 25th birthday. It was also the day you got arrested in Los Angeles. Would you describe that scene?

PM: Monica got together with some girlfriends at a restaurant and they ordered champagne and -- oh, you mean you want me to describe the scene that was happening to me. A dozen or so DEA agents -- they travel in packs -- came to my door at 5:30 a.m., handcuffed me, and took me to the federal holding facility in downtown Los Angeles.

It was pretty much the standard booking procedure you see on TV cop shows -- mugshots, fingerprints -- except I was throwing up from time to time. I did it very discreetly in a toilet. The temptation to vomit on a DEA Special Agent can be very great, but I resisted. At one point, one of the agents said to me, with genuine concern, "Isn't there something you can take that will settle your stomach?" I gave him my best pained-faggot ironic look between heaves, and he suddenly realized what he had said and why he dragged me out of bed in the first place. "Oh, yeah."

PK: In your current pre-trial situation, you're not allowed to smoke marijuana -- you're forbidden by federal law to take your medicine?

PM: The conditions of my release on bail specifically prohibited the use of marijuana, a prohibition enforced by random drug testing. If I failed to meet this condition of release, my disabled mother's and brother's houses would be taken away and I would remain in prison until my trial, many months hence. My mother and brother, bless them, got appraisals on their houses and put them up for part of my $250,000 bond.

The nausea caused by the AIDS medication was unrelenting. My doctor prescribed one anti-nausea medication after another, to no avail. Using medical marijuana to keep down my combination therapy resulted in two and a half years of an "undetectable" viral load. (The viral load is a measure of active AIDS virus per milliliter of blood.) AIDS doctors become alarmed when it rises above 10,000. When mine had reached its previous high of 12,500 in March 1996, an opportunistic cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, had already developed as a result.

Unable to keep down my medication, my viral load had risen from 279 on August 21, 1998, to 3,789 by October 20, 1998. Less than two weeks later, on November 2, 1998, it had skyrocketed to 254,600. Since the arrest, I have lost 30 pounds, 15 percent of my total body weight. To quote the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, "I'm melting, I'm melting!"

The manufacturer of my toilet seat is the Church Company. It's printed on the underside of the seat. I spend a fair amount of time kneeling before the porcelain shrine, and each time I look up I see the word "church." When medical marijuana is legal and my company is selling it -- I plan to do for green what Larry Flynt did for pink -- I might give away toilet seats as advertising. The "church" will be replaced with "Medical marijuana is the best anti-nausea medication known" and an 800 number. Who else reads the bottoms of toilet seats but those on their knees retching? Selective marketing, I think they call it.

PK: Your recent hearing before U.S. District Court Judge George King, seeking permission to smoke, was like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland. What was it like from your point of view?

PM: The judge didn't rule that marijuana would not work for me, but that he had no authority to allow me to break federal law by using it. Well, of course he has the authority. Federal judges routinely stop laws Congress passes dead in their tracks by declaring them unconstitutional. Any federal judge can do that and they do it with a certain regularity.

The irony is that he has no authority, under the U.S. Constitution, to hold me in the first place. The entire drug war is unconstitutional. There is no power vested in Congress to arrest people for any non-violent drug-related activity. In 1930, in order to prohibit alcohol, the Constitution had to be amended. For drugs to be illegal at the federal level, the Constitution will have to be amended. Period. It has not been, so the federal government's hold on any drug war prisoner is unconstitutional.

So, yes, it was Alice in Wonderland-esque. The judge had no authority to hold me, but he's holding me, and he says he has no authority to override federal law, which he does. I wonder what sort of character Lewis Carroll would have turned him into.

PK: How would you respond to those who contend that if marijuana as medicine were decriminalized, it would open a wedge for the decriminalization of marijuana as a means to pleasure for its own sake?

PM: I agree that medical marijuana will eventually lead to the legalization of marijuana use for all adults, but not for the reasons the drug warriors paint.

There is no "massive, well-funded conspiracy" to legalize marijuana, as General Drug Czar McCaffrey maintains. Certainly, the few million spent each year by all the marijuana-legalization groups combined becomes an ineffective drop in the ocean when compared to the $50 billion annual Drug War budget. A million dollars, in $100 bills, makes a stack three feet high. A billion dollars, in $100 bills, makes a stack as high as the Empire State Building.

Medical marijuana will lead to recreational marijuana legalization through the natural process of experience and education. Once people personally discover how benign marijuana is, the next logical question becomes, "If alcohol and tobacco are legal, why not marijuana?" There is simply no reasonable, factual response to that question.

By the way, in 1997, the National Academy of Sciences, based on studies from four major universities, determined that 97 million Americans each year could benefit from the use of medical marijuana to treat pain. That's half the adult population.

PK: Will we ever see reason about any of the other illegal drugs?

PW: Well, for instance, caffeine and cocaine are nearly identical chemical cousins. Cocaine is no more harmful than caffeine. If cocaine were legal, most people would drink it for the "pause that refreshes," just as they did with the original Coca-Cola.

When the truth about drugs is more widely known, the Drug War empire will come tumbling down.

Paul Krassner's Impolite Interviews (Seven Stories Press) and Pot Stories For the Soul (High Times Books) will both be published in September.