Pubdate: Sun, 08 Sep 2002
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2002 The Register-Guard
Author: Clifford Krauss, The New York Times
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


VANCOUVER, B.C. - Four decades ago, a wave of U.S. 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 now 
booming across British Columbia.

Over the last 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.

A handful who face drug charges and convictions in the United States have 
applied for political asylum. Hundreds more American marijuana smokers live 
underground existences here, local marijuana 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 of the Americans here do not face charges at home, marijuana advocates 
say, but came because they can get the drug more cheaply and easily here 
now since the American clubs were shut down. "Compassion clubs" thrive in 
several Canadian communities to serve what they say are the medical needs 
of severe pain sufferers.

"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 the Americans. He estimated that the number of recent 
arrivals was "in the hundreds."

Some of them work on farms, living a countercultural life not very 
different from that of the previous generation of American refugees. Others 
are living on the street, or moving from couch to couch in homes of 
Canadian marijuana users. Some have gone into businesses like herbal 
medicine stores or work in marijuana cultivation.

To Bush administration officials, the American fugitives are simply 

"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.

He said that there was no evidence that smoking marijuana was an effective 
medicine, and that the agenda of many who argue for medicinal marijuana is 
to legalize drugs.

The Canadian Justice Ministry will not discuss the fugitive cases. To grant 
asylum, Canada would have to determine that the Americans would face 
unwarranted persecution at home.

The cases come at a time when the Cabinet and Parliament are discussing 
whether to decriminalize marijuana, with many Canadians arguing that U.S. 
attitudes are overly restrictive. (On Sept. 4, a Canadian Senate committee 
recommended that the country legalize marijuana use for people over 16.) 
The most prominent American fugitive here 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 British Columbia town of Sechelt 
after the 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 in which he would be denied the marijuana that he says he needs 
to treat his adrenal cancer.

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

Meanwhile, he applied for permission to cultivate and possess marijuana for 
his own medical use. He provided Canadian authorities with a letter from a 
University of British Columbia doctor who substantiated his need "to 
continue to use cannabis to control the symptoms caused by his disease."

The government recently granted him the right to grow and possess a limited 
amount for a year, which advocates viewed as a major victory.
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