Pubdate: Tue, 23 Jul 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A1
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Jane Armstrong


VANCOUVER -- They say they're the political casualties of America's 
so-called war on drugs, and they want Canada's Immigration Department to 
make it official.

Citing persecution in their homeland because of attempts to grow, cultivate 
or use marijuana for medical purposes, at least three Americans living in 
B.C. have made refugee claims to stay in Canada.

Observers say the persecution allegations made by Steve Kubby, Ken Hayes 
and Renee Boje, all Californians who were embroiled in high-profile court 
cases in the United States, could bring a flood of would-be refugees.

"It's a war zone down there," said Ms. Boje, an illustrator who fled Los 
Angeles three years ago after she was charged with growing and possessing 
pot with the intent to distribute it. "It's a real political war against 
people who are sick and people who are poor."

Ms. Boje, 32, said many other Americans are hiding out in Canada, waiting 
to see how the refugee panel rules on these initial cases.

If the claimants are successful, Ms. Boje predicted a flood of similar claims.

Ms. Boje is fighting extradition to face drug charges in the United States 
and has launched a refugee claim in the meantime. Last year, she married a 
Canadian and now has a five-month-old baby. She said she never wants to 
return to the U.S.

There have been reports that hundreds of Americans have crossed the border 
into Canada in recent months after U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft 
ordered clampdowns on medicinal marijuana clubs in states where voters have 
passed measures approving them.

Particularly hard hit has been California, where Proposition 215 in 1996 
allowed marijuana use with a doctor's recommendation.

Mr. Hayes, of Petaluma, Calif., last year won a court case in Sonoma 
County, where he was acquitted of marijuana trafficking charges concerning 
a buyers club he co-owned.

But right after his acquittal, federal drug agents began investigating the 
club. He faces drug-trafficking charges that could put him behind bars for 
life. In January, he fled to B.C. with his girlfriend and three-year-old 
daughter. The United States has requested his extradition.

Mr. Kubby, who is a host of Pot TV, a Web site with breaking news about 
marijuana issues, once ran for governor of California as a Libertarian 
candidate. He was diagnosed with adrenal cancer in 1975 and has been 
smoking cannabis "heavily" since the early 1980s to curb symptoms, said 
Alex Stojicevic, his lawyer.

Mr. Kubby was flagrant about his pot use and eventually was charged with 11 
counts of possession and trafficking. He was acquitted on all but two 
possession charges, for which he was sentenced to four months.

Mr. Kubby fled to Canada before serving his sentence to take the job with 
Pot TV. His refugee claim states that he smokes pot for medical reasons. 
The United States has requested his return also.

Mr. Stojicevic, who is handling claims for Mr. Kubby and Mr. Hayes, said 
the U.S. government has made it clear that it does not support marijuana 
use for medicinal purposes. The lawyer predicted that many who use pot and 
who are involved in growing and cultivation will seek asylum in Canada.

In the past, similar refugee claims haven't fared well, Mr. Stojicevic 
said. He said he knew of three or four that were successful, but were 
overturned by the federal court.

Hilary Black, a spokeswoman for the B.C. Compassion Club Society, said 
Canada should accept the claims.

As Canada appears to be moving toward greater liberalization of its 
marijuana laws, it's only logical that it should grant asylum to people who 
are fleeing years of imprisonment south of the border, she said.

Ms. Boje likened the crackdown on marijuana users to other events in U.S. 
history that prompted waves of immigration to Canada, such as the Vietnam 
War and the slave trade.

"Canada has a history of protecting people in the United States from their 
own government," Ms. Boje said.
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