Introduction to the book How to Grow Medical Marijuana

"Todd McCormick had cancer nine times before he was ten." That’s the journalistic shorthand for what happened to Todd McCormick.
The longhand truth is far worse.
Starting at the age of two, McCormick had a series of tumors known as Histiocytosis X. Now science knows this to be a benign tumor of childhood that usually goes away on its own. When Todd McCormick was two, unfortunately, medical science treated Histiocytosis X as a malignant cancer requiring aggressive treatment. This included chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery—all of which were inflicted on young Todd nine times between the ages of two and ten.
Thanks to improper medical treatment—not cancer—Todd has the top five vertebra of his spine surgically fused together and has one hip, frozen by radiation, the size of an eight year-old boy. A specialist who studied the adult Todd’s X-rays but had never met Todd was shocked to find that Todd was not permanently confined to a wheelchair.
For over a decade the medical profession, through a mistake—an honest mistake, a government-approved mistake, but a mistake nonetheless—made Todd unnecessarily and permanently disabled. In addition, the treatment more than likely has shortened his life.
Now the government that sanctioned Todd’s mutilation as "FDA-approved proper medical procedure" want to put him in jail for the rest of his life for attempting to treat his pain brought on by governmental incompetence. And, adding insult to injury, the government tells us it is doing all this to "protect the children."
Where was the government when Todd was two and in need of some protection?
As you can see, this whole story is a little long for the lead in most newspapers or as a television soundbite, so it became shortened to, "Todd McCormick had cancer nine times before he was ten."
Todd and I met at the end of 1996 while I was researching a book on medical marijuana. AIDS and cancer in March 1996, and the nausea brought on by the treatment of same, convinced me of marijuana’s medicinal effectiveness. If I lived, I told myself, I would not rest until medical marijuana was available to every sick person in America who needed it. I lived, but I’m a long way from my goal. But back to late 1996.
Todd had just returned to California from a self-imposed exile in Amsterdam after the passage of Proposition 215. What a treasure trove of information is Todd McCormick! Self-medicating with Todd is a university education in Cannabis sativa. Not only was he clearly an expert grower, he was also working on determining which strains of marijuana worked best for specific medical conditions.
Todd explained that medical marijuana is one of the most advanced and versatile plants in the entire Plant Kingdom. Marijuana has a male plant and a female plant—very rare in botany. Most plants have both sexes in the same plant.
Because there are two sexes, medical marijuana can be bred, the offspring taking on the characteristics of both mama and papa. In more than 5,000 years of human medical use, this breeding has led to an almost uncountable (more than 30,000, at least) variations of the medical marijuana plant.
Todd’s goal was (and is) to identify which strains (variations) best treat which illnesses.
For example, some medical marijuana is known for deep bodily relaxation. These strains are good for people with muscle spasms, chronic bodily tension, and pain. Other medical marijuana, however, produces the purely mental responses of alertness, clarity, and creativity. These strains might be best for nausea, depression, and pain.
Yes, pain relief appears on both lists, as pain relief is one of the many medical benefits of marijuana that appear in just about every strain. Medical marijuana has the unique ability to filter out pain—either emotional or physical—while allowing pleasure and the sense of touch to pass through. This was scientifically confirmed in October 1997 by a report from the Society for Neuroscience.
(Please see the Medical Marijuana Magazine Online—for more details on this report and other medical uses of marijuana.)
Todd had edited a magazine called HempLife in Holland. He had hoped to start a United States edition, but I persuaded him to write a book first.
I gave Todd an advance and he used it to rent the ugliest house in Bel Air, California, dubbed by the press Medical Marijuana Mansion, but known to Todd’s friends as Liberty Castle. It was built to resemble a castle; a castle made of stucco. Nuveau mediaeval, I called it. It had as much charm as Janet Reno.
There, awash in Reno Rococo, Todd set up his research facility. He gathered dozens of strains of marijuana. The house became an ad hoc university of medical marijuana—cultivation being but one of many subjects discussed. Everyday all day there were new sick people or caregivers of sick people. Todd would enthusiastically answer all questions. Todd credits medical marijuana with his life, so he is highly sympathetic to those in medical need.
Todd's mother started giving him medical marijuana for the nausea of chemotherapy and radiation when Todd was nine. Todd feels he never would have survived that bout with chemotherapy—his eighth—without medical marijuana. Kids on his ward were dying of malnutrition and dehydration brought on by nausea, yet Todd retained a healthy appetite and—as importantly, he thinks—a healthy attitude.
His mother couldn’t tell the other mothers in the cancer ward—if word got out she was giving a nine-year-old marijuana the government would have taken Todd from her, as well as her other two children, one of whom has Down’s syndrome.
On July 29, 1997—after an exhaustive five-day investigation—the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Narcotics Bureau raided Todd’s home.
Fifty agents, flack jacketed and guns drawn, stormed the house as though they were capturing San Juan Hill—or, more accurately, the compound in Waco, Texas.
They found no money, no evidence of drug sales, just Todd’s research material—every plant carefully labeled with its botanical history. The next day at a press conference, the government claimed the white identification tags were used to indicate the intended buyer of the plant.
Completely ignoring Todd’s plea to just seize the plants and not destroy them, the DEA & company hacked to death genetic strains that may not exist anywhere else in the world. Todd had one plant that had been continuously alive since 1976.
Gone, all gone.
Todd was charged with "manufacturing a controlled substance" that carries a mandatory-minimum ten-year sentence in federal prison—possibly life—and a $4 million fine. "They want to put my son in jail for gardening!" Todd’s mother said on hearing the news.
Bail was set at an outrageous $500,000. (Murder suspects are released on $50,000 bonds all the time). Todd’s friend, Woody Harrelson, rode to the rescue just like the movie hero he is and put up the money to bail Todd out.
Way to go, Woody.
If you and I are in a room alone and I say to you, "Let’s grow medical marijuana and sell it," and you say, "Sure," in that moment, without making a single move to do anything about our decision, both of us are guilty of conspiracy. "Conspiracy to manufacturer a controlled substance," "conspiracy to possess a controlled substance," "conspiracy to posess with intent to distribute a controlled substance," and so on. Under current law, for our simple conversation, we could spend the rest of our lives in federal prison.
Because of my book advance, which Todd used to finance his project, the DEA and the IRS decided that I am the lead conspirator, a drug kingpin, the head of the Medical Marijuana Mafia, commander-in-chief of the Medical Marijuana Malitia, and the mastermind behind the Mediciné Cartel. If found guilty of conspiracy, I’d be confined to a federal prison for life which, considering my AIDS and the medical treatment available in federal prison, would not be a long one.
On December 17, 1997, nine DEA and IRS Special Agents (and friends) came into my home, handcuffed me, and spent three hours going through every piece of paper I own. They clearly weren’t looking for drugs. They continued the search at my brother’s house and the offices of my publishing company. While at the publishing company, they announced to my employees, "The DEA will own this place within six months. You’d better find other jobs."
Of eight computers to choose from, including one in the accounting office that would most likely have the financial records of "drug dealing" they claimed to be looking for, they only confiscated my personal computer, the one I use to write books. It contained two years of unpublished work, including several books on medical marijuana and a book critical of the DEA. (This has since turned into three books critical of the DEA.)
The next eight months were filled with federal Grand Jury subpoenas, one after another, for records, records, records. Every current employee and an unknown number of past employees were called in to testify. Even my neighbor received a summons.
I got the Starr treatment.
Although the DEA, IRS, and federal prosecutors found no evidence of drug dealing whatsoever—which is not surprising as I have never sold a drug in my life—and found no more than three ounces of medical marijuana in my possession, on July 23, 1998, I was arrested on nine counts, including manufacturing, distribution, conspiracy, and so on. Todd and seven others were included in the indictment. I was pleased, however, to receive top billing. The case is officially known as "The United States of America vs. Peter McWilliams, et. al."
I was in federal custody for a month while my mother and brother arranged to put up their homes to meet the $250,000 bail. While in jail I was not given my AIDS medication for the first nine days.
Todd was also being mistreated. Because he failed a urine test, he was held for 12 days without a hearing. This is illegal. His lawyers had to go before a federal judge, who asked the lead federal prosecutor, Fernando Aenlle-Rocha, "Is there a case law I am not aware of under which we can hold Mr. McCormick until his hearing?"
"Not that I am aware of," prosecutor Aenlle-Rocha answered.
How could this man watch Todd led away in tears two weeks earlier when he knew all along that what the government was doing was illegal? There are four Federal Prosecutors working on Todd’s case. Over 12 days, not one of them said, "Wait a minute. We’ve locked up this guy illegally." Todd was locked up simply because the government had asked for it. That’s the state of our personal freedoms thanks to the War on Drugs.
When Todd’s hearing on failing his urine test finally took place, he was found innocent of all charges.
While I was in federal custody, I got to see on TV President Clinton declare that his affair with Monica Lewinski "isn’t anybody’s business but my own." As the author of Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do, being held on charges by his Justice Department, for a crimes he admits to doing (sans inhaling), I found this more than ironic. I spent my 49th birthday in Clinton’s prison. Clinton spent my 49th birthday vacationing on Martha’s Vinyard.
Later, Fernando Aenlle-Rocha, who also led my inquisition, I mean, investigation, went into private practice with Monica Lewinski’s first attorney, Mr. Ginsberg—the one who kissed the infant Monica on her "inner thigh."
And the federal ironies just keep on coming: The U.S. Senator from California, Diane Feinstein, whom I helped get into office (in 1994 I spilled the beans about Arianna Huffington’s connection with the same alternate religious group I had belonged to which caused a scandal—"gurugate" Newsweek dubbed it—which took Michael Huffington from 21 points ahead in September to less than 2 points behind on election day), has introduced federal legislation that would make the publication of this very book punishable by 10 years in prison and a hefty fine. Read all about it in my forthcoming book, UnLady Di & I.
One of the conditions of my release on bail was that I not use marijuana. Like Todd, I am urine tested to make sure I don’t use any. If I fail the test, my brother’s and mother’s homes will be forfeited and I will be returned to jail.
As none of the prescription anti-nausea medications work for me, I am unable to keep down my nausea-producing AIDS medications. During the time I was able to use medical marijuana to keep down the AIDS combination therapy (March 1996 to my arrest in July 1998), my viral load—the measure of active AIDS
virus in the body—was "undetectable." By November 1998, my viral load had risen to more than 250,000. AIDS doctors become concerned with the viral load tops 10,000. In my own case, by the time my viral load reached 12,500 in March 1996, I had already developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
For the past 14 months (I write this in September 1999) I have lived the life of a hermit. I leave the house only for court appearances and medical appointments. Unable to work, my publishing company and I are nearing bankruptcy. (The publication of this book, for example, was held up for more than a year due to lack of funds.) I sleep 18 hours a day, which leaves me very few little productive time during the day. As my condition worsens, I wonder if I will be alive for trial.
But enough moaning. Let me tell you the funniest part of the arrest. Just after being taken into custody, while I was throwing up, one of the DEA agents said—with genuine concern—"Don’t you have anything to settle your stomach?" I gave him my best Clifton Webb look. He said, "Oh, yeah," and I returned to vomiting.
People ask, looking back on the endless attacks on California medical marijuana patients that have occurred since Todd’s arrest, "Why did any of you do what you did? Were you all crazy?"
The answer is, yes, we were (and continue to be) crazy and, no, we were not insane. There were several practical reasons in March 1997, when Todd set up his research facility, to think medical marijuana patients growing their own medicine in California was perfectly legal.
First, there was Proposition 215, now the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, passed by an overwhelming majority in November 1996. More Californians voted for Proposition 215 than voted for Bill Clinton in the same election. The Proposition permitted medical marijuana patients and their caregivers to "cultivate" medical marijuana.
Second, it was the duty of California’s then-Attorney General, Dan Lungren, to challenge Proposition 215 in court if he felt it legally improper. Lungren did not do this. Indeed, California’s Attorney General said it was all right to break federal law and grow "1 to 2 plants". (You can grow one plant, you can grow two plants, but how on Earth can you possibly grow "1 to 2 plants"?) Besides, even if AG Lungren didn’t like medical marijuana, the Constitution of California said "It shall be the duty of the Attorney General to see that the laws of the State are uniformly and adequately enforced." It also says the AG "has no power . . . to declare a statute unenforceable or to refuse to enforce a statute on the basis that federal law or federal regulations prohibit the enforcement of such statute..." Those, and other admonitions of the California Constitution, we thought, would keep the AG in line. That is, we were foolish enough to believe Dan Lungren would follow the Constitution of the State of California.
Third, our national Drug Czar, General Barry McCaffrey, had pulled back from his initial assault on California’s medical marijuana users after a federal court in San Francisco told him in early 1997 to leave physicians alone. McCaffrey, having taken a beating in both the court and the press over medical marijuana, commissioned in January 1997 a $1 million study from the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine and went from attack mode to distancing himself completely from, as he called it, "the medical marijuana issue." When asked a question about medical marijuana, he would turn it aside with, "It is in the hands of science, and scientists will decide."
(The report, released in March 1999, found that (a) marijuana is medicine, (b) it is not a gateway drug, (c) there is currently no alternative to smoked marijuana for some patients, (d) patients who need medical marijuana should be able to obtain approval within 24 hours, (e) if marijuana is addictive at all it is only mildly so and any withdrawal symptoms are minimal, and (f) there is no reason to believe that medical marijuana will increase recreational marijuana use. See page 259. Since the report’s release, McCaffrey has done nothing to implement it except to grossly misrepresent its findings before Congress.)
Fourth, the press discussed the medical use, sale, and cultivation of marijuana in California as a commonplace event. For example, The New York Times Magazine featured a cover story on how well law enforcement and medical marijuana suppliers were getting along—cooperating, even—to honor the will of the people of California in getting medicine to the sick. The press universally portrayed an easy truce, growing into trust, between patients, caregivers, and law enforcement. Although arrests for recreational marijuana use continued unabated in the United States (one every 39 seconds), arrests for medical marijuana in California were, it seemed, a thing of the past.
Todd’s arrest in July 1997 was the first federal medical marijuana arrest in the nine months following the passage of Proposition 215. Why didn’t the DEA enforce federal law on the 30-or-so clubs that were openly growing and selling medical marijuana during that time, and why it pick on Todd, who wasn’t selling anything at all? Surely, we thought in mid-1997, if the federal government was going to crack down on medical marijuana, it would start with the more obvious—and more extreme—violators first.
I was emboldened to put in a garden myself. I felt like a Florence Nightingale-George Washington Carver hybrid. I had 300 plants. As you shall learn in this book, each plant produces 7 to 10 grams of medical marijuana, or three plants to the ounce. As I used medical marijuana at the rate of two ounces per week, the 100 ounces from my garden would last me a year. If I decided to make concentrated medical marijuana resin (CMMR, also known as hash), as I had decided to do, it would reduce that amount to a four-month supply.
It’s hard to imagine now, but for one brief shining moment, we were in Camelot. It was brief, all right. The Liberty Castle lasted less than four months. It was a beacon of healing, comfort, and learning.
Todd's life is his work, his work being the education about and propagation of an herb he personally knows to ease suffering and save lives.
Todd is a good person on an important mission. Todd has a compassionate heart. He also has a body broken by government incompetence—the same government that wants to put him in prison for treating the pain that the government inflicted on him in the first place; the same government that has prevented him from using his medicine of choice for more than two years now, and so he suffers daily.
And Todd is but one example of what the War on Drugs hath wrought.
In going through material about Todd to write this Introduction, I came across the transcript for Politically Incorrect the night Todd appeared as a guest. The host and creator of the show, the marvelous Bill Maher, dedicated the entire show to one topic, medical marijuana. I thought there was no better way to introduce Todd than to print the verbatim transcript of the show.
The other guests were Woody Harrelson, coming on the show to backup his buddy, Todd; Dr. Drew Pinsky, most often seen on MTV telling callers masturbation is okay as long as they wear a condom; and the leader of the band Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines.
I am certain Ms. Maines is a fine musician and composer, and to name her band Dixie Chicks shows that she’s just as gritty as heck, but Ms. Maines, unfortunately, is a perfect example of what the DARE program produces—young people with "facts" about drugs that are entirely wrong.
Dr. Pinsky’s character you will discover for yourself. In the beginning, you’ll see, he keeps returning to the fact that Histiocytosis X is not a cancer, therefore Todd is not really a cancer patient. Dr. Pensky keeps pressing this point as though he were revealing "the goods" about Todd.
Todd, as you shall see, handles himself very well during this medical Inquisition. In fact, Todd’s passion, clarity, and wisdom got him invited to be on Dr. Pinsky’s radio show, where for two hours Todd was treated by Dr. Pinsky with considerable respect—some might say admiration.
Todd’s ability to work such medical miracles is why Todd is so hated by the government.
Todd tells the truth about medical marijuana; the government tells only lies. Todd can communicate about medical marijuana; the government is as eloquent as Barry McCaffrey. Todd knows how to grow medical marijuana; the government knows, too, but it ain’t writin’ any books about it.
Todd has.
I am happy to risk life in prison for the honor of saying, "I was Todd McCormick’s first publisher."
—Peter McWilliams
September 1999
Los Angeles, California