Pubdate: Sun, 08 Sep 2002
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2002 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Clifford Krauss, The New York Times


VANCOUVER, B.C. - Four decades ago, a wave of American draft dodgers fled 
to Canada rather than fight in Vietnam. Some turned to planting marijuana 
seeds to make a living and spurred an underground industry that is booming 
across British Columbia.

Over the past year or so, a new generation of Americans has flocked into 
western Canada, fleeing the Bush administration's crackdown on the clubs 
that say they provide marijuana to sick people, particularly in California.

A few who face drug charges and convictions in the United States have 
applied for political asylum. Hundreds more live underground existences in 
British Columbia, local advocates say.

Canada is in the awkward position in which it either must stand up to the 
United States - and encourage more refugees and asylum applications - or 
evict people who say they suffer from cancer and other deadly diseases.

While general use of marijuana is illegal in both countries, Canada has 
been far more tolerant of its use for medical purposes.

"It's an exodus," said Renee Boje, 32, a California fugitive from drug 
charges who has applied for refugee status. "Canada has a history of 
protecting the American people from its own government like during the 
Vietnam War, and the Underground Railroad that protected American runaway 

Most American marijuana smokers in Canada do not face charges at home, 
advocates say, but came because they can get the drug more cheaply and 
easily. "Compassion clubs" thrive in several Canadian communities to serve 
what they say are the medical needs of those in severe pain.

"In the last year the number of Americans coming and intending to stay has 
skyrocketed," said Marc Emery, president of the B.C. Marijuana Party, who 
provides legal aid to Americans. He estimated that the number of recent 
arrivals was "in the hundreds."

Some work on farms, living a countercultural life not unlike that of the 
previous generation of American refugees. Others live on the street or move 
from couch to couch in homes of Canadian marijuana users. Some have gone 
into businesses such as herbal medicine stores or work in marijuana 

To Bush administration officials, the fugitives are lawbreakers.

"It's regrettable that people who are charged with criminal offenses in the 
United States don't face justice here and put a burden on another country," 
said John Walters, President Bush's drug policy chief.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and Drug Enforcement Administration Director 
Asa Hutchinson have stiffened enforcement against marijuana clubs that had 
grown around California after an initiative called Proposition 215 passed 
in 1996, making marijuana legal for treating some sick people. Four other 
states, including Washington, permit marijuana for medicinal use.

Steven Tuck, 35, a disabled Army veteran, fled to Canada after his club was 
raided repeatedly and he faced drug charges. He was arrested for 
overstaying his visa and, fearing deportation, applied for refugee status.

Sitting recently in Vancouver's Amsterdam Cafe, where pot smoking is 
allowed, he was sweating and shaking while awaiting a friend who had gone 
out to buy some. "I have to have marijuana to stay alive," said Tuck, who 
said his torment began in 1987 when an Army parachuting accident caused 
spinal and brain injuries.

If sent home and denied marijuana, Tuck said, he fears he will die "choking 
on my vomit in jail."

The refugee cases come at a time when the Cabinet and Parliament are 
discussing whether to decriminalize marijuana. (A Canadian Senate committee 
Wednesday recommended that the country legalize marijuana use for people 
older than 16.)

The Cabinet is debating whether the government should provide marijuana to 
chronically ill Canadians or conduct clinical trials first.

"We can't base our policy on social issues like this on American standards, 
especially in an area where they're very conservative," said Industry 
Minister Allan Rock, a former health minister who believes that chronically 
ill patients should have access to quality- controlled marijuana.

The most prominent American fugitive in Canada is Steve Kubby, 55, the 
Libertarian Party candidate for governor of California in 1998. He and his 
wife, Michele, have an Internet news program on marijuana issues.

They fled California last year for the rural British Columbia town of 
Sechelt after police found 265 marijuana plants, a mushroom stem and some 
peyote buttons in their house. Kubby had been sentenced to four months of 
house arrest and three months of probation, which he feared might lead to a 
prison term that would deny him the marijuana that he says he needs to 
treat his adrenal cancer.

"If I don't smoke pot," he said, "my blood pressure goes through the roof 
and would either burst a blood vessel or cause a heart attack."

He appealed, then brought his family to Canada. He was arrested and could 
be deported.

Meanwhile, he applied for - and received - permission to cultivate and 
possess marijuana for his medical use after providing a letter from a 
University of British Columbia doctor who substantiated his need "to 
continue to use cannabis." Advocates viewed it as a major victory.

"It's threatening to the whole ideology of prohibition," Kubby said, "which 
says any marijuana use is criminal."
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