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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 smoking.
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 unsuccessful.
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.