On July 27, 2020, at 3:00 pm PST, the United States justice system released William Leonard Pickard, a longtime LSD specialist and warrior against injustice, after 20 years of confinement. Reports published three days earlier on July 24, 2020, prompted evidence of Pickard’s upcoming historic release from prison. For 20 years, Pickard adjusted to the life of a prison inmate. In 2000, the U.S. government slandered Pickard and sentenced him two life sentences without parole. However, the government granted his request for compassionate release.
At age 74, Pickard’s deteriorating mental and physical health, and the rise in COVID-19 cases made him a high-risk prisoner. Leonard’s LSD producing partner, Clyde Apperson, received a sentence of thirty years without any possibility of parole. He had no previous criminal history and remains imprisoned.
In 2000, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) raided Pickard’s LSD super-lab. It was operating inside of an abandoned Atlas E nuclear missile silo site near Wamego, Kansas. And it wasn’t just any old, decommissioned missile silo. The courts pointed out that Pickard’s counterpart, Gordon Todd Skinner, owned the operation’s location. While the government gave Pickard one of the harshest possible punishments, Skinner received immunity in exchange for testimony.
In 2003, Pickard was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. The charge was conspiracy to manufacture and distribute bulk amounts of LSD at a decommissioned nuclear missile silo. In 2005, two years after admission to prison, Pickard became a passionate Freedom of Information Activist (FOIA). In 2006, he filed an FOIA lawsuit against the DEA, digging up dirt on Skinner. While representing himself in court, Pickard’s ultimate objective was to reveal to the court that Skinner was secretly a DEA informant. There was no hard evidence Skinner was an informant. Justice Department attorneys claimed the DEA could no longer confirm nor deny Skinner was a government informant.
After ten years of government stonewalling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the DEA’s reasoning. The court argued that, since Skinner had testified in an open and public trial, the government had admitted his affiliation as an informant for the purposes of FOIA. Although the DOJ told the court Skinner had only been an informant for one year, Pickard and his pro bono defense attorney, Mark Thomas Rumold, discovered the government was lying. Rumold proved Skinner had worked as a DEA informant during five or six different occurrences. However, the court decided for whatever reason to acknowledge and dismiss Skinner’s lies and crimes.
The court eventually sentenced Skinner to 30 years in jail after learning he was later convicted of kidnapping, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a hypodermic needle) for abducting an 18-year-old for six days. But the court did not serve Pickard justice until 2020, with the aid of FAMM. Their Compassionate Release program program grants certain inmates approval for release from prison early due to extraordinary circumstances. Although Pickard spent years in jail, the ruling on behalf of this former LSD giant offers hope for drug war transparency and ending the drug war.
Before his sentencing, Pickard was a dedicated researcher and writer within the psychedelic space. He came from a well-to-do family and earned a scholarship to Princeton University. He later studied at UCLA and Harvard University. This researcher, gifted chemist, ordained Buddhist priest, and acid-king-behind-bars lost 20 years of his life with his family. Although mainstream society didn’t widely know it 10–20 years ago, psychedelics can be effective mental health treatments when managed responsibly. Let Pickard’s prison release serve as a catalyst for the psychedelic community, establishing a stronger path towards acceptance and destigmatization of these powerful substances that can help to raise human consciousness and heal our lives.