Update, July 27: William Leonard Pickard was released from prison earlier today, according to Michael Dupler, a campaigner for Pickard’s release.
Longstanding members of the psychedelic community received one of 2020’s most uncharacteristically pleasant surprises when psychiatrist Julie Holland announced the impending release of incarcerated underground chemist William Leonard Pickard on Friday.
In 2000, Pickard was convicted by the DEA in what the agency called the largest LSD bust in history. As first reported by Psymposia, Pickard’s legendary status in the psychedelic underground was likely enhanced by the DEA’s claim that in the two years after his arrest, “LSD availability in the United States was reduced by 95%,” though Pickard denied this assertion. Pickard and a devoted group of supporters have been campaigning for a reduction of his punishment ever since.
Even before his well-publicized arrest alongside computer consultant Clyde Apperson at a former nuclear missile base in Wamego, Kansas, Pickard led a colorful life which put him in contact with Ivy League drug scholars, wealthy Midwestern failsons, Russian law enforcement and California LSD utopians. Born to an upper class family in Northwestern Atlanta, Pickard was a precocious science student who won a Westinghouse Talent Search at 17 and enrolled in Princeton a year later, only to drop out and enter into the hippie counterculture.
Pickard had served time on two separate occasions, once in 1978 for attempting to manufacture a controlled substance, and ten years later in connection with a psychedelic lab in Mountain View, California. After his release in 1992, Pickard became a Buddhist monk, resuming his academic career and studying under the late drug policy expert Mark A.E. Kleiman at Harvard. There he researched emerging drug markets in Russia, and accurately predicted the eventual ascension of fentanyl in the worldwide drug markets. Attempting to raise money for his research, he connected with Gordon Todd Skinner, the owner of the Wamego missile silo.
Since his arrest, Pickard has continued to tweet under several handles about culture, science, drug policy and his case, and has corresponds with many sympathizers, including Netflix’s The Midnight Gospel showrunner Duncan Trussell. He also published The Rose of Paracelsus: On Secrets and Sacraments, his reflections on psychedelics.
Throughout this time, Pickard has continually appealed his case, including the RIS/CR petition which eventually won his release. The petition, alongside changes to sentencing guidelines, Pickard’s advancing age, and COVID-19, were most likely factors in Pickard’s release, according to Michael Dupler, a longtime friend of Pickard who has campaigned for his release. “Leonard’s sentence has been reduced to ‘time served’ with five years of supervised release. The actual release will happen within the next 14 days, but probably sooner,” he reports.
The Memorandum and Order, filed in the United States District Court of Kansas on July 24, emphasizes the health risks Pickard faces, saying that he “is at greater risk than the average inmate of suffering a severe illness should he contract COVID-19, and further that he faces some risk of exposure to the virus.”
Pickard has yet to issue a statement, but Dupler says he will likely issue one shortly.
Holland has known Pickard since 1994 and referred to him as a “colleague” in letters to President Obama and Judge J. Thomas Martin advocating for his release shared with Lucid News. The letters also suggested several potential places of future employment, including ACLU’s mass incarceration project, the Drug Policy Alliance, and NYU’s Marron Institute. At 74, with enough activity for several lifetimes behind him, it remains to be seen what Pickard will pursue next.
This story has been updated to reflect that Psymposia first broke the information about the DEA’s claim regarding Pickard’s influence on LSD availability in the U.S. and Pickard’s denial of this claim.