San Diego, CA: The NORML staff mourns the passing of longtime medical marijuana activist and patient Steve McWilliams, who took his own life earlier this week after suffering from years of ill health and federal persecution.
Friends of McWilliams, who was co-director of San Diego's Shelter from the Storm cannabis dispensary and an original member of the city's Medicinal Cannabis Task Force, report that he had grown increasingly depressed in recent weeks.
In 2003, McWilliams was sentenced to six months in federal prison for maintaining a modest 20-plant garden in his home in compliance with California law. McWilliams had been free on bond, pending appeal, but was forbidden by the terms of his probation from using medicinal cannabis, which he used under a doctor's supervision to treat chronic pain. Following last month's Supreme Court decision affirming the federal government's authority to prosecute state-authorized medical cannabis patients for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, McWilliams had become increasingly worried that he would be ordered to serve out his federal prison sentence. He had been experiencing a great deal of pain and had expressed concern to friends that he would not be able to survive his sentence because of his deteriorating health.
Responding to McWilliams' passing, NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said: "While cannabis use can't cause death, cannabis prohibition can and does. The federal government's persecution of Steve McWilliams for using medicinal cannabis was needless, cruel, and clearly played a role in his untimely death. A government for and by the people should never force sick and dying patients like Steve into confronting such a disturbing Hobson's choice."
Added California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer, "Steve was a courageous fighter for the cause and he will be sorely missed."
Evening vigils are scheduled to be held nationwide in honor of Steve McWilliams on Tuesday, July 19, 2005. McWilliams is survived by his longtime partner Barbara MacKenzie.