Nick Gillespie notes that Peter McWilliams died ten years ago today. McWilliams was a resister of the War On Drugs. He was also one of its casualties.
McWilliams was very sick with AIDS and cancer, and the medicines he used made him nauseated, which he was able to ameliorate by smoking marijuana. The DEA charged McWilliams with various crimes in connection with a medical marijuana operation. Forbidden by the judge from mentioning his medical condition in court, he was forced to plead guilty and hope for leniency. While out on $250,000 bond for sentencing, and refraining from using marijuana as a condition of the bond secured by his mother’s house, he apparently vomited and choked to death.
I only know of McWilliams through his amazing book, Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Country. It’s a passionate cry for freedom, the simple human freedom to do what we want as long as no one else gets hurt. Go ahead and click the link. That’s not an Amazon page, that’s the entire book, posted online for free the way McWilliams wanted it.
This book has been a huge influence on my personal moral philosophy. I had already come to an intellectual conclusion that things like the War on Drugs were wrong, but I hadn’t really internalized the idea. Then I read a section in Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do where McWilliams describes getting a ticket for a traffic violation and later getting busted for smoking marijuana. He points out that the traffic violation presented a genuine danger to his fellow human beings, but using drugs harmed no one other than perhaps the user, so despite what the cops and the legislature and almost everyone thought, the traffic violation was the greater crime. In fact, using drugs was no crime at all. I realized that this crazy idea was something I could believe. And it changed everything.
The other thing I remember about McWillaims is his astonishment at the types of people who fought on the dark side:
I write these things and feel myself in mortal combat with a gnarly monster; then I remember the human faces of the kind people who tried to make me comfortable with small talk as they went through my belongings as neatly as they could. Then I remember, painfully, that the War on Drugs is a war fought by decent Americans against other decent Americans, and these people rifling through my belongings really were America’s best — bright young people willing to die for their country in covert action. It takes a special kind of person for that, and every Republic must have a generous number of them in order to survive.
But instead of our best and our brightest being trained to hunt down terrorist bombs or child abductors — to mention but two useful examples — our misguided government is using all that talent to harass and arrest Blacks, Hispanics, the poor, and the sick — the casualties in the War on Drugs, the ones that, to quote Leonard Cohen again, “sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.” It is the heart of the evil of a prohibition law in a free country. After all, picking on someone with AIDS and cancer is a little redundant, don’t you think?
On the way out, one of the DEA agents said, “Have a nice day.”
I believe the comment was sincere.
I never know what to make of that. Oh, I understand what McWilliams was saying, and I think it’s probably true. It’s a mistake to think these people are stupid, and it’s probably unhelpful to think of them as evil. But sometimes that just makes it all the more hopeless: How can these “decent Americans” not understand that they are hurting people for no reason?
Peter’s gone now, but in his short time on earth he influenced a lot of people, and his ideals live on in so many of us. I wish he was still here to see some of it.