Pubdate: Tue, 28 May 2002
Source: Newsday (NY)
Copyright: 2002 Newsday Inc
Author: Thomas D. Elias


Vancouver, British Columbia - American medical marijuana activists have 
been heading to Canada in the past year, joining a fast-growing expatriate 
community reminiscent of the draft dodgers of the 1960s and '70s.

Most of the medipot users have come since July 30, when Canada instituted 
new regulations that allow users of medipot to grow and smoke a specified 
amount of marijuana after they demonstrate a medical necessity and get 
permits from local authorities. The amount each is allowed to use varies 
from case to case.

Canadian authorities say they are unsure exactly how many new immigrants 
from America are medipot refugees. "They don't usually list that on our 
paperwork as their reason for coming here," says An-gela Battiston of the 
Canadian immigration service.

But so-called "compassion clubs" of pot users say the number of medipot 
refugees probably is in the hundreds.

"We have several here and we're just a small town," said an officer of the 
Sunshine Coast Compassion Club, located in Sechelt, British Columbia, a 
town of 18,000 reachable only by a one-hour ferry from Vancouver.

Some of the activists as well as their Canadian supporters have compared 
the immigrants to the young Americans who fled to Canada during the Vietnam 
War seeking refuge from a draft law they opposed.

"Canada has a history of protecting people from their own governments," 
said Renee Boje, a medical marijuana user fighting extradition from British 
Columbia to California on drug charges.

"We're really not like draft dodgers fleeing the Vietnam War," says Steve 
Kubby, the 1998 Libertarian Party candidate for governor of California. 
"For many of us, this is a matter of life and death."

Kubby, who moved to Sechelt last winter, was acquitted last year of 
marijuana possession and possession-for-sale charges after a highly 
publicized trial in Auburn, Calif. But he was nevertheless convicted on one 
misdemeanor count of possessing a hallucino-genic mushroom and sentenced to 
120 days in jail.

Kubby moved to Sechelt a few months after having partial success using 
California's 1996 Proposition 215 as a defense, even though a series of 
attorneys general and the U.S. Supreme Court have held that federal 
narcotics laws override the ballot initiative, which allows use of 
marijuana for medical reasons with a physician's approval.

At his trial, Kubby produced testimony from a University of Southern 
California doctor who said steady pot smoking is the only reason he is 
alive 25 years after being diagnosed with a rare form of adrenal cancer.

He fled to Canada after learning he would not be allowed to use marijuana 
in jail. "The 120 days amounts to a death sentence," he said.

Kubby is one of three medipot refugees from California arrested by Canadian 
immigration officers this spring. All face possible deportation after 
hearings in Vancouver during the next two months. All are free on bail.

"We believe his U.S. conviction classes him as criminally inadmissible as 
an immigrant to Canada," said Battiston.

Others now threatened with deportation include Steve Tuck, 35, with six 
felony pot charges against him in Humboldt County, Calif., and Ken Hayes, 
wanted on federal charges of growing pot for sale through a medical 
marijuana users club in San Francisco.

Using Proposition 215 as a defense, Hayes was acquitted in 1999 on previous 
charges of possessing 899 pot plants he said he was growing for use by the 
same medipot club. Tuck also maintains he was growing marijuana to control 
pain and muscle spasms arising from a spinal injury.

All three contend their immigration woes are a form of continuing 
harassment by California and U.S. authorities.
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