Source:   Los Angeles Times
Contact:    Thursday July 31 1997

Cancer Patient Ran 'Pot Palace' 

Drugs: Man charged with cultivating thousands of marijuana plants in
turreted BelAir mansion was trying to develop new strains for those with
diseases, family and activists say.

Section: Metro   Page: 1  

 The man arrested at a BelAir mansion on charges of cultivating a
$20million forest of marijuana plants is a selfmade scientist and cancer
patient struggling to develop new strains of cannabis to help those
suffering from painful chronic diseases, activists and family members said

 Todd Patrick McCormick, who faces a federal charge of cultivation of
marijuana, began smoking the drug as a teenager to quell the pain from a
rare childhood cancer, his family said. In recent years, he has joined the
radical front lines of the battle for medicinal marijuana use,
experimenting with genetic engineering and clones of the plant to supply
patients nationwide, marijuana use proponents say.

 At the time of his arrest Tuesday evening by Los Angeles County
sheriff's deputies, the 27yearold Rhode Island native had received an
advance to write a book, was planning to launch a magazine on the subject
of marijuana cultivation and was a wellregarded cannabis expert who is
interviewed on the current High Times magazine Web site, marijuana
proponents said.

 His arrestwhich one county sheriff's official said was the largest
indoor marijuana seizure the agency has ever madeoutraged medicinal
marijuana activists, who praised McCormick as an inspired martyr.

 Authorities said McCormick, who grew marijuana plants in virtually
every room of his fivestory, fairytalelike mansion, appeared to be
supplying marijuana to cannabis clubs throughout the state.

 He was arrested after deputies found about 4,000 marijuana plants
growing inside the BelAir castle with turrets and secret rooms, not far
from the homes of actress Elizabeth Taylor and former President Ronald
Reagan. McCormick had rented the mansion since February for $6,000 a month,
friends say.

 County authorities turned over the case to the U.S. attorney's office
because of the large volume of marijuana involved and their belief that
McCormick sold it to people in other states. He was in custody in lieu of
$100,000 bail, and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

 Federal authorities also charged three others found at the home at the
time of McCormick's arrest with cultivation of marijuana.

 At a Wednesday news conference, Sheriff Sherman Block said that
investigators received a tip about the massive marijuana operation while
they were conducting a bust in the South Bay about five days ago.

 "Much to the surprise of our people, when you got up on the hill . . .
you could actually see (the plants) through the windows of the house," he
said. "Marijuana was growing on the patio, in the yard and all over the

 Block said 4,116 highgrade marijuana plantswith an estimated street
value of $5,000 eachwere individually tagged for their ultimate
destinations and illuminated with an elaborate lighting system.

 "It is a very, very significant seizure," Block said.

 He added that McCormick told the arresting deputies he was using the
plants to treat his own cancer. The sheriff, who has twice battled cancer
himself, quipped: "Four thousands plants should make him very healthy."

 Richard Cowan, former national director of the National Organization
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said McCormick is a hero "for many people
who suffer from the pain of disease . . . a real force of nature who has
put his personal freedom on the line to develop new strains of marijuana
for medicinal use.

 "The fact that they are . . . treating him like a criminal is a sham,"
Cowan said. "Todd is one of most knowledgeable people in the area of
cannabis in the world. His arrest and the loss of the plants he was
cultivating is a tragedy."

 McCormick's mother, Ann McCormick, said in a telephone interview from
her home in Rhode Island that when her son was 2, doctors discovered he had
histiocytosis X, a form of bone marrow cancer that required nine surgeries
and extensive chemotherapy due to the continuous growth of tumors.

 "We finally let Todd start smoking marijuana," she said. "His father
and I felt that this benign herb was less dangerous than the harsh
chemicals we had been allowing the doctors to pump through his veins. The
doctors saved Todd's life, but the cannabis saved his health."

 McCormick grew up with a fascination for the possibilities that
marijuana smoking could bring to sufferers of pain such as himself, she

 By the early 1990s, he had begun experimenting with various strains of
the plant on the theory that one strain might work well for someone
suffering with a brain tumor and another for an AIDS patient.

 Soon afterward, he formed a series of cannabis supply clubs for people
needing the drug.

 "He purebreeds plants," said Dennis Peron, director of the San
Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. "He's an amazingly intelligent person and
the kind of genetics he does, he needs a lot of plants. He isolates them
and combines them to form newer and better strains."

 In 1995, McCormick was arrested in Ohio while en route to Rhode Island
with 30 pounds of homegrown marijuana to begin such a club in his hometown
of Providence. After appealing to the courts, he was allowed to use
marijuana to treat his malady while in custody.

 The charges were later thrown out after a judge ruled that the
marijuana seized in McCormick's arrest was illegally obtained. "Todd is as
determined an activist as I've ever seen to make sure others in need have
this drug available to them," said lawyer Don Wirtshafter, who represented
McCormick in the Ohio case.

 "He's always believed that there were loopholes in medicinal marijuana
laws because the government doesn't really provide adequate ways to acquire
the drug and isn't letting the general public in on research of newer and
more effective strains of the plant. Todd was goaded on by his own success
and it's to hell with what the authorities think."

 After living for a year in Amsterdam perfecting new strains of
marijuana in a country where such research is legal, McCormick moved back
to Los Angeles in February with a new goal.
 "He was going to use techniques he was using in Holland," Peron said of
McCormick, who according to friends leads a holistic lifestyle and does not
drink alcohol or even take aspirin.

 After securing a publishing advance, McCormick rented the BelAir house
because he needed space to grow and work with his plantswhich he planned
to sell to cannabis suppliers nationwide, charging them only for the
production costs.

 Wirtshafter said he visited the house shortly after it was rented.

 "It's quite something," he said. "It's got turrets and gangplanks, a
moat with drawbridges, a dungeon and even king's quarters. But Todd wasn't
into any of that. He just needed the space to grow his marijuana."

 Marijuana advocate Cowan said that although a few large, mature plants
were transferred to the house, most of the plants confiscated by
authorities were small and recently planted varieties. "There were a few
really tall plants, but most of them were seedlings and clones," he said.

 Also charged Wednesday in federal court were Hermez Zygott, 30, from
Europe, Aleksandra Kristin Evangelidi, 23, of New York, and Renee Danielle
Boje, 28, of Boston.

 Capt. Al Scaduto, of the sheriff's narcotics bureau, said deputies had
seen people watering the plants, adding: "It was obviously a commercial
operation in the propagation of marijuana plants."

 Times correspondent Sue McAllister contributed to this story.


Marijuana Mansion

 Here are the facts about Tuesday's seizure of a mansion filled with
marijuana, the largest pot bust in Los Angeles County history:

 Value of marijuana seized: more than $20 million

 Number of plants: 4,116, many visible through windows and growing in

 Time of raid: About 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
 Agencies involved: L.A. County Sheriff, assisted by agents from the
Drug Enforcement Agency

 People charged: 5