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California Medical Marijuana Activist Charged With Marijuana Cultivation


August 1997

Todd Patrick McCormick, 27, who suffers from bone marrow cancer, was arrested in a rented 5-story Belair mansion on July 29 for cultivating an alleged 4,116 high-grade marijuana plants. (John M. Glionna and Tina Daunt, "Some Claim `Pot Palace' Was Used to Grow Cancer Drugs," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), July 31, 1997, p. B1; "Suspect uses pot as medicine, allies say," Denver Post, July 31, 1997, p. 14A; John Hill, "Marijuana grower's arrest may test legality of medical-use law," Providence Sunday Journal, August 3, 1997, p. C1).

Some medical marijuana supporters say McCormick's case could help set a legal precedent defining the limits of California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996. However, others fear it could endanger public support of the new medical marijuana law because of the large number of plants involved. "It comes down to what the voters intended," says Chuck Thomas, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "There are a lot of questions on what is a reasonable number of plants." Ann McCormick, Todd's mother, says her son grows the marijuana to supply cannabis clubs throughout California. According to family members and some medical marijuana activists, McCormick is a talented scientist who has been experimenting with the genetic engineering of marijuana plants for years.

McCormick became interested in marijuana as a teenager when he learned that the plant could help relieve the pain inflicted on him by histiocytosis X, a bone marrow cancer he had been diagnosed with at age two. Dennis Peron, director of the San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators Club, said that McCormick "pure-breeds plants." "He's an amazingly intelligent person and the kind of genetics he does, he needs a lot of plants. He isolates them and combines them for newer and better strains. He's into marijuana horticulture in a big way," Peron said. Richard Cowen, former national director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said, "Todd is one of the most knowledgeable people in the area of cannabis in the world."

McCormick's mansion, which he rented for $6,000 a month, was filled with marijuana plants and growing equipment. Each of his plants were tagged and illuminated. "It is a very, very significant seizure," Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block said. McCormick faces a minimum ten years in Federal prison.

Actor Woody Harrelson, a longtime hemp activist, posted bail for McCormick. Harrelson sent a $500,000 check to obtain McCormick's release from Australia where he was on location filming a movie. "Woody does not advocate legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but he is absolutely an advocate for medical use," Simon Halls, Harrelson's publicist, said (Sue McAllister, "Actor Woody Harrelson May Post Bail for Pot Activist," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), August 8, 1997, p. B3).

On August 14, McCormick, released on bail, held a news conference on the patio of his mansion. "This is a situation that I find absurd," he said, "I'm growing a flower here, and I'm going to suffer a decade in jail? It's just amazing." McCormick's lawyers said federal prosecutors have delayed asking for an indictment while both sides discuss the charges (Associated Press, "Pot Grower, Says He's Only a Gardener," San Francisco Chronicle, August 15, 1997).