Source: LA Weekly (California)
Contact:  6 Aug 1998
Author: Michael Simmons

The Cannabis Connection


Marching for marijuana: Hemp California's advocates take to the street

Escalating its drive against California's medical-marijuana movement, the
Clinton administration last week indicted nine Southern California
residents on charges of conspiracy to grow over 6,000 marijuana plants at
four separate sites, with intent to distribute. The nine-count indictment
arises from an almost yearlong investigation by the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) and the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal
Investigation Division, along with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

The government has painted Peter McWilliams, a 49-year-old author,
publisher and AIDS sufferer who is a leader in the medical-marijuana
movement statewide, as the kingpin of the conspiracy. The indictment
charges him with using his publishing company, Prelude Press, to underwrite
the pot-growing operations. Since his arrest on July 23 at his Laurel
Canyon home, McWilliams has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center
in downtown Los Angeles in lieu of $250,000 bail.

McWilliams issued a written statement denying the government charges. "I
have never sold a drug in my life," McWilliams wrote. "I have never asked
or authorized anyone to sell a drug. I have never profited from any drug
deal, ever."

Also indicted with McWilliams was Todd McCormick,who attained a degree of
notoriety as the target of a July 1997 raid on Stone Canyon Road in Bel Air
by L.A. County Sheriff's Department and the DEA. A childhood cancer
survivor and medical-marijuana/hemp activist, McCormick was dubbed the "Pot
Prince of Bel Air" by the media and guested with his friend Woody Harrelson
on Politically Incorrect.

Other defendants include Andrew Scott Hass, 34; David Richards, 25;
Christopher Carrington, 32;Gregg Collier, 25; Aleksandra Evanguelidi, 24;
Renee Boje, 28; and Kirill Dyjine, a.k.a. Hermes Zygott, 33. Zygott was
nabbed in the Bel Air bustwith McCormick and is a well-known musician in
hemp-activist circles. These new indictments supersede previous charges.

Complicating the dope opera is a series of references in the 43-page
indictment to statements by members of another faction in the
medical-marijuana movement, all associated with the L.A. Cannabis Resource
Center. In particular, Scott Imler, director of the center and a co-author
of Proposition 215, the initiative that legalized the medical use of
marijuana in California, testified before a grand jury about McWilliams.

Imler said in an interview that after McCormick's bust last summer he spoke
to McWilliams, who told him that he'd given the DEA all the checks he'd
written to Todd and "told them the truth." When the feds came knocking on
Imler's door, he says he likewise answered their questions truthfully, as
he did later when called in front of the federal grand jury. Imler and the
other L.A. cannabis-club employees were granted limited immunity, meaning
they could not plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying.

From the outset of the medical-marijuana movement in California, Imler has
been critical of the tactics of the more gonzo outlaws associated with the
McWilliams-McCormick camp; instead, he advocates an aboveboard, by-the-book
approach, keeping strict limits on production and distribution of the
banned weed.

Imler and company are now being accused of egregious snitchery through
Internet postings, media statements and intra-movement communiques. Ralph
O. Williams III, an attorney and friend of McWilliams, sent out a written
plea for bail money for his friend and accused Imler of being "the person
who turned Peter in."

Imler, who has agreed to an open-door policy with the West Hollywood
Sheriff's Department and City Council, has continually maintained that the
only road to legitimacy is to operate under the principle of
"transparency." He was critical of the scale of McCormick's crop (4,116
plants, according to the cop count), and has insisted on separating the
issue of medical use from legalization and hemp.

The federal indictments portray an elaborate conspiracy to grow marijuana
for profit, paid for by checks and credit cards from McWilliams' Prelude
Press. According to the feds, there were four separate locations where pot
was grown: McCormick's Stone Canyon residence, houses in Chino and Van Nuys
overseen by Scott Hass, and another house owned by McWilliams in Laurel
Canyon. Detailed throughout is a laundry list of grow equipment that reads
like the classified section of High Times: electrical outlets, subpanel
boxes, conduits, pumps, timers, sifters (used in the manufacture of
hashish), thousands of pots, soil, scales, fertilizer, nutrients,
chemicals, vermiculite, ballasts, hoods, ladybugs, fans, rockwool, a
moisture meter, grow lights, light movers, light rails, lamps, trays,
clear-plastic sheeting, a carbon-dioxide generator, atmospheric controllers
and more.

Most of the overt acts listed in the indictment concern money transfers
made directly to the defendants for rent on the residences, alleged
meetings between defendants, and the seized product and equipment. The five
acts in which the L.A. Cannabis Resource Center is cited quote club
employees who repeated McWilliams' alleged boasts. He wanted to become the
"Bill Gates of medical marijuana" - McWilliams claims the Gates reference
was a joke made by his lawyer - and he intended "to become the largest
supplier of medical marijuana in the country, distributing high-quality
marijuana clones through the mail, and he wanted to enter into a grow
contract with the club for the sale of marijuana at $4,800 per pound."
Other allegations include transfer of marijuana, grow lights and other
equipment to the L.A. club, and a discussion between defendant Hass and
club employees about hypothetically setting up a hydroponic growing operation.

Hass is a former entertainment-industry stunt coordinator who maintains
that he sustained numerous injuries in his line of work, making him, like
McWilliams and McCormick, a legitimate user of medical marijuana. He says
he was brought in to Prelude Press by his friend McWilliams as a business
consultant to fix financial snafus, and that much of the alleged
dope-business moneys were legitimate payments to him for relocation,
salary, etc. The only involvement in marijuana that he'll admit to was that
he was investigating methods of cannabis delivery that were alternatives to

McCormick's explanation is the same as it's been since the Stone Canyon
Road bust: that he was simultaneously growing for personal use and
researching the efficacy of different strains for particular illnesses, and
that he had hypothetical plans to distribute cheap, medical-quality pot to
cannabis clubs.

Both Hass and McCormick say they barely knew each other, thereby making
moot the conspiracy charges. But as Laurie Levenson, associate dean of
Loyola Law School, notes, "You do not need to know your co-conspirators or
to have met them. The fact that you know there's a larger operation going
on is sufficient." Attempts to contact the other defendants have been

Peter McWilliams is the author of The Personal Computer Book, a 1979 manual
that heralded the soon-to-be-ubiquitous home PC and dozens of other popular
tomes ranging in subject from self-help to romantic poetry. The author
launched Prelude Press in the early '80s, obviating the need to hawk his
books to the majors and eliminating the financial middleman.

In 1996, McWilliams was diagnosed with AIDS as well as non-Hodgkin's
lymphoma. He says he hadn't smoked marijuana for close to 20 years, but
that he tried the drug again and found that it alleviated the nausea and
other side effects from medications and treatments. He became fascinated
with the medicinal properties of pot and briefly lent office space to the
Los Angeles cannabis club.

That same year, Californians passed Proposition 215, an event McWilliams
saw as portentous. McWilliams described his mindset at the time in an
interview last November: "You had [DEA honcho Thomas] Constantine going in
front of Congress saying, 'Marijuana is legal in California!' All the
law-enforcement people . . . basically saying, 'We're throwing up our
hands.' We interpreted this as being 'It's now all legal.'"

McWilliams developed a plan for an advocacy and research entity called the
Medical Botanical Foundation, which would promote alternative medicines
such as hypericum (St. Johnswort) and marijuana. He called his friend
William F. Buckley Jr., who, despite his conservative credentials, is an
outspoken opponent of the drug war. Buckley referred McWilliams to his
friend Dick Cowan, a former director of NORML who, like McWilliams, is a
gay, reefer-smoking, libertarian.

Cowan had become a pot-patriate in Amsterdam and befriended hempster and
avid, albeit amateur, medical-marijuana researcher Todd McCormick.
McWilliams worked out a six-figure deal with McCormick for a book; and
early in '97, McCormick set up shop in the house on Stone Canyon Road in
Bel Air.

While the legalities of McWilliams' schemes will eventually be decided in a
court of law, even those who are less than worshipful are horrified by the
way he's been treated while in custody. For at least four days he was
denied his AIDS medications, including protease inhibitors, which,
according to Ged Kenslea of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, could cause his
virus to replicate into untreatable mutations. McWilliams says he continues
being refused Marinol, a legal pill form of THC, which enables him to hold
down his other medications. He also charges that his medicine is being
irregularly disbursed.

Taylor Flynn, staff attorney of the ACLU, has cited the Americans With
Disabilities Act, the Federal Rehabilitation Act, the Civil Rights of
Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Eighth Amendment of the
Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, in McWilliams'
defense and has petitioned U.S. Attorney Nora Manella to rectify this
emergency immediately.

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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski