Pubdate: Wed, 06 Apr 2005
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2005 Independent Media Institute
Author: Martin A. Lee, Razor
Note: Martin A. Lee is the author of Acid Dreams: The Complete Social 
History of LSD -- The CIA, the Sixties and Beyond (Grove Press). He is 
co-founder of the media watch group FAIR.
Cited: Renee Boje
Cited: Steve Kubby
Bookmark: (Boje, Renee)
Bookmark: (Kubby, Steve)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


No American Has Ever Been Granted Canadian Refugee Status Because of the 
War on Drugs, but the Times They May Be Changing.

To shirts at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), she's a dangerous 
criminal on the run from justice, a big-time narcotics dealer who should be 
punished more severely than rapists and murderers. To her friends and 
supporters, she's a symbol of the drug war run amok, a political victim of 
the U.S. government's vendetta against medical marijuana.

Her name is Renee Boje (pronounced Boz-shay) and she's an international 
fugitive who is wanted in the United States where she faces a 
mandatory-minimum of 10 years in jail for allegedly watering pot plants at 
the Los Angeles home of an ailing friend who had a state license to grow 
and consume cannabis.

Boje is one of several Americans who have requested political asylum in 
Canada, claiming they face persecution by the U.S. government because of 
their use and advocacy of medicinal hemp. Boje, 35, notes that Canada has a 
long history of welcoming American refugees -- from Sitting Bull's Lakota 
Indians and runaway slaves in the 19th century to the Vietnam-era draft 
resisters who came to Canada to avoid military service.

"My deepest hope is that Canada will again open its heart and help American 
citizens who are being abused by their own government because of their 
association with a healing herb," says Boje.

If Canada, which legalized medical marijuana in the summer of 2001, grants 
refugee status to Boje or any other U.S. drug war expatriate, it would have 
major legal and political ramifications, delivering an unprecedented rebuke 
to the U.S. criminal justice system and to America's self-image as a beacon 
of human rights. In addition to sending a pointed message that Canada 
believes U.S. drug policies are too harsh, such a landmark decision could 
significantly affect U.S.-Canadian relations by providing sanctuary to 
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pot-smoking Americans.

The Bust and the Battle

The seeds of the battle currently being played out in the Canadian courts 
were planted back in 1996 when Californians approved by a wide margin 
Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, which authorized the 
possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana for personal medical 
use under a doctor's supervision. Ten states have followed California's 
lead and enacted similar measures. These initiatives, however, conflict 
with U.S. federal legislation that bans marijuana across the board, making 
no exceptions despite compelling evidence that cannabis helps to relieve 
nausea and restore the appetite of cancer and AIDS patients.

A versatile plant with "clear medicinal benefits," according to a recent 
article in Scientific American, cannabis has been used for centuries to 
reduce pain and improve the lives of people with a variety of ailments, 
including migraines, menstrual cramps, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, 
epilepsy, insomnia, anorexia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the feds said nope to medicinal dope and launched a crackdown. Renee 
Boje, fresh out of college, was busted in July 1997 along with eight other 
people in the first federal raid of a medical marijuana garden after 
Proposition 215 became California law. Four thousand plants (mostly 
seedlings) were seized at the Bel Air estate of cancer patient Todd 
McCormick, who maintained he was breeding different strains of cannabis to 
test their effects on different symptoms. He had hired Boje to illustrate a 
book on how to grow medical marijuana, her first job as a freelance artist.

DEA agents grabbed Boje and brought her to the federal prison for women in 
downtown Los Angeles, where they pressured her to testify against her 
cohorts. When she refused, she was charged with growing and conspiring to 
sell marijuana. But neither she nor any of her alleged co-conspirators 
would be allowed to mention state law sanctioning medical marijuana as part 
of their criminal defense.

Traumatized by her treatment in jail and unwilling to submit to a show 
trial in which she would not be able to present her side of the story, Boje 
heeded the advice of an American lawyer and fled to British Columbia in May 
1998. She's been on an emotional rollercoaster ever since she slipped 
across the border with $50 in her pocket and began a precarious new life on 
the lam. "I realized that I probably would never be able to return, but 
that was okay with me," Boje explained, "because I would rather be free in 
Canada than in prison in the United States."

Boje eventually settled in the Vancouver area, where a flourishing ganja 
subculture had taken root. With its permissive ambience and a city council 
that favors pot legalization, "Vansterdam," as it's known among the 
cannabis cognoscenti, is probably the only urban center in North America 
where people ask in earnest whether a no-smoking sign at a restaurant 
applies only to tobacco or to reefer as well. Hip strips with hemp stores 
and cannabis cafes are both tourist attractions and essential hang-outs for 
local tokers.

On the south end of Commercial Drive, the Compassion Club Society offers a 
variety of marijuana medicaments to 3,000 regular clients with a doctor's 
note. (People with permission to use medicinal pot are often too ill to 
grow their own; hence the need for buyers' clubs.) For those unable to 
visit the office, the daily menu is also accessible via recorded phone 
message with a cheerful voice that occasionally breaks into song: "We have 
Queen Jane, an indica sativa, tasty, fragrant, and good for appetite ... 
Purple Pine Berry, good for pain relief ... ."

Boje quietly found her niche within Vancouver's cannabis community. When 
American officials got wind of her whereabouts, they filed a fast-track 
extradition request, a special procedure usually reserved for the most 
serious criminal suspects. "They want to scare people by making an example 
of me," contends Boje. "They want to show what happens if you get involved 
with medical marijuana."

Boje threw down the gauntlet and challenged authorities on both sides of 
the border by launching a historic campaign for political asylum. No one 
had ever been granted refugee status in Canada because of the war on drugs. 
Boje's attorney, John Conroy, warned that she faced an uphill battle. After 
an initial hearing, Canadian immigration officials ordered that she be 
deported to the United States, but a final decision is conditional on the 
outcome of her asylum claim, which is now before the Canadian Justice Ministry.

Conroy has argued that Boje's supposed role in the L.A. pot-growing 
operation, then permitted under California law (which did not put a ceiling 
on the number of plants that patients can cultivate), was peripheral at 
most, and a mandatory 10-year prison term for Boje, who had no prior record 
of criminal activity, constitutes outrageously cruel and unusual 
punishment. Conroy also cited reports by Amnesty International and other 
human rights organizations that document the abuse of women in U.S. 
prisons, and he drew attention to the fact that Norway had recently refused 
to extradite an American charged with smuggling hashish, citing "inhumane" 
conditions in U.S. jails.

Boje felt like a torch had been passed to her. Though innately shy and 
soft-spoken, she embraced her role as a catalyst for change, a crusader for 
medicinal marijuana, and became the poster gal of Vancouver's pro-pot 
movement. She organized rallies, gave speeches, and drummed up letters of 
support for her legal case from the likes of actor/hemp-activist Woody 
Harrelson and social critic Noam Chomsky. "I saw that I had an opportunity 
to do something really great," Boje said. "I felt empowered to speak out 
for others who were under attack by the U.S. government because of their 
commitment to medical cannabis."

Conscientious Objection

Among American conscientious objectors to the drug war, perhaps none has a 
stronger case for winning asylum in Canada than Steve Kubby, who has been 
battling a rare and highly aggressive form of adrenal cancer. It's not a 
stretch to say that his quest for refugee status is a matter of life and death.

Kubby always had a voracious appetite for living on the edge. This rugged 
American individualist was a ski racer, a mountain-climber, a deep-sea 
diver, and a pilot with top secret security clearance who broke the sound 
barrier flying an F-5 fighter jet. But Kubby's world caved in when he 
learned that his body was riddled with cancer. When they opened him up, the 
doctors found that malignant tumors had spread to his bladder, stomach, 
liver and spleen. Kubby underwent four major surgeries, chemotherapy, and 
several debilitating rounds of radiation, but nothing worked. Medical 
experts pronounced his condition terminal and said he would not live for 
much longer than a year.

Kubby's energy was draining away when his former college roommate, Richard 
"Cheech" Marin dropped by to cheer him up. Cheech lit a joint for old 
time's sake and told his companero, hey if you're going to die, then why 
not die happy? Kubby took a few hits, and, wow, he hadn't felt this good in 
a while. He started to self-medicate with marijuana on a regular basis. 
That was 30 years ago.

A miracle of pre-modern medicine, Kubby, now 58, credits his survival to 
smoking up to an ounce of cannabis every day. Adhering to a strict dietary 
regimen, he supplements his steady intake of THC (the main psychoactive 
ingredient of marijuana) with generous swabs of cholesterol-lowering 
hempseed oil -- super-rich in protein and essential fatty acids -- which he 
spreads on toast. "I don't have a medicine cabinet. I don't take any 
pharmaceutical drugs, except for a rare dose of antibiotics. I don't drink 
coffee, tea or soda," says Kubby, who likens his use of marijuana to a 
diabetic's use of insulin.

In 1999, Dr. Vincent DeQuattro, one of the world's leading specialists on 
adrenal cancer, examined Kubby and concluded that cannabis stabilized his 
adrenal function, which is perpetually on the verge of overdrive, and 
inhibited the growth of various tumors that remain in his body to this day. 
(Recent studies conducted by Spanish scientists in Madrid have shown that 
THC injections destroyed malignant brain tumors in rats.) If Kubby is 
deprived of cannabis, according to DeQuattro, adrenaline will overwhelm his 
system and his blood pressure will spike to dangerous levels, which could 
cause excruciating headaches, blindness, a heart attack, kidney failure or 
a fatal seizure.

Kubby was living near Squaw Valley, the California ski resort, in 1995 when 
he met and married Michele Nelson, who worked at a San Francisco securities 
firm. "I was a total Reaganite, a young Republican," said Michele, who had 
grown weary of business and politics as usual. But the campaign for 
Proposition 215, which the Kubbys helped launch, was anything but usual.

When the Kubbys saw that the federal government was hell-bent on trashing 
California's medical marijuana law, Steve ran for governor on the 
Libertarian Party ticket in 1998 to highlight this issue. Kubby stood on 
the steps of the state capital in Sacramento, held up a bottle of aspirin 
and a big bud of home-grown cannabis, and asked which was more dangerous, 
the aspirin that kills more than 2,000 Americans a year, or marijuana, 
which has never been known to kill anyone.

Law enforcement did not take kindly to his antics. Shortly after the 
election, 20 heavily armed SWAT team members battered down the Kubbys' 
door, confiscated their 265-plant marijuana garden, and hauled Steve and 
Michele off to Placer County jail. Three days in the slammer without reefer 
nearly did him in. His captors mocked his requests for medicinal cannabis 
and went out of their way to punish him. "I was forced to attend breakfast 
where my repeated bouts of vomiting could be witnessed by the rest of the 
inmates who were trying to eat their meal," recounted Kubby, who believes 
that he and his wife (who is also a prescription cannabis user) were 
arrested because of their outspoken roles as med-pot advocates.

The police, meanwhile, had taken nearly everything the Kubbys owned, 
including their office equipment, which they used to operate an online 
sports magazine. (Real estate, cash, securities, and any other property 
allegedly linked to a marijuana offense are subject to immediate seizure 
under civil forfeiture statutes enacted in the mid-1980s.) As a result, the 
Kubbys lost their business and were forced into bankruptcy. They also had 
to deal with the hassle and expense of obtaining enough cannabis on the 
black market for their medical needs. And a costly wrangle in court loomed 
as both Kubbys were charged with conspiring to cultivate and sell marijuana.

Fearful of another life-threatening stint in jail and tired of tangling 
with G-men who sought to prevent them from exercising their legal right to 
use medical marijuana, Kubby and his wife decided to leave the country. In 
the spring of 2001, they drove to British Columbia with their two young 
daughters and applied for asylum on the grounds that they have a 
"well-founded fear of persecution" by drug warriors in the United States, 
where there's a warrant outstanding for Kubby's arrest.

The Kubbys now reside in Sun Peaks, a mountain town five hours northeast of 
Vancouver. Like Boje, they hover in legal limbo while Canadian justice 
officials weigh their petitions. Michele Kubby took it upon herself to 
learn the law and develop her skills as a self-taught attorney. She 
recently argued the couple's immigration case before a federal appeals 
court in Canada and is waiting for a ruling from the judge. If the Kubbys 
succeed in getting asylum, it would be a big boost for Renee Boje and 
others seeking relief from U.S. drug policies.

Theological Police

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he opined that medical marijuana 
was an issue for each state to deal with. But Bush flip-flopped when he 
became president and made med-pot a top law enforcement priority. Barely a 
month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft 
unleashed his theological police against state-mandated cannabis clubs in 
California, while the IRS took aim at physicians who prescribed reefer. The 
feds' anti-marijuana pogrom escalated nationwide, yielding an all-time 
record of more than 750,000 pot arrests (mainly for possession) in 2003, 
which vastly exceeded the number of arrests for all violent crimes combined 
that year in the United States. The DEA even tried to ban food products 
containing non-psychoactive hemp.

"The draconian policies of the Bush administration triggered an exodus of 
reefer refugees to Vancouver," says Boje, who currently runs Urban Shaman, 
a store specializing in artifacts and information about peyote, iboga, 
ayahuasca, and other entheogenic (vision-inducing) plants that are 
copasetic in Canada but illegal south of the border. "I've heard from many 
people who want to leave the United States," Boje says. "They come into the 
store and ask for advice about how to claim refugee status in Canada."

Not everyone who flees to Canada wants to be high-profile like Boje and the 
Kubbys. Some find the means to stay and blend in with Vancouver's 
burgeoning ganja scene, while others hitch a ride on the underground reefer 
railway (an elusive network of safe-houses and sympathetic contacts) that 
transports them further up the coast or into the mountains of British 
Columbia where they can lie low and, if need be, disappear.

"I've met lots of Americans coming through," says David Malmo-Levine, a 
prominent Vancouver pot activist. "Several Americans have slept on my 
couch. I know many of my friends have similar stories. It's an act of 
resistance to aid and abet fleeing refugees. Canadians have a 
responsibility to help American dissidents if they can."

For Malmo-Levine, founder of what he calls the "School of Drug War History 
and Organic Cultivation" in a ramshackle storefront in downtown Vancouver, 
marijuana is not just an herb or a medicine, but a political cause, a 
revolutionary sacrament. "We're here, we're high, we're out of the closet," 
he declares, while stocking bins of bat-excrement-enriched fertilizer he 
says is great for growing reefer. The bat guano will be sold at his 
museum-school, where some of the leading lights of the cannabis community 
recently gathered to bid farewell to Ken Hayes, another American drug war 

With tired eyes and hunched shoulders, Hayes looks older than his 37 years. 
Yet he has always managed to stay one step ahead of U.S. law enforcement. A 
legend in medical marijuana lore for his copious gardens in northern 
California, Hayes supplied Bay Area cannabis clubs with large amounts of 
high-quality organic weed. He was executive director of Cannabis Helping 
Alleviate Medical Problems (CHAMP), a San Francisco med-pot dispensary, 
which was officially honored by the S.F. Board of Supervisors.

But trouble was brewing. In 2001, Hayes beat a rap for growing 900 
medicinal pot plants after San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan 
appeared as a star witness on his behalf. Exoneration in state court, 
however, didn't stop the feds from training their sights on Hayes. He fled 
to Vancouver in January 2002, just before the U.S. Attorney was going to 
press charges against him that carried the obligatory minimum of 10 years 
to life.

"I came here because American authorities wanted to put me in jail for 
growing medicine for sick and dying people," Hayes asserted. He also 
applied for political asylum, but got an initial thumbs-down from Canadian 
officials. After two and a half years in British Columbia, he did not 
intend to wait for an official announcement as to when he would be sent 
back to the United States. "I'll only return when they decide to restore 
the Bill of Rights," said Hayes, who was preparing to skip town once again.

But vanishing is not an option for Renee Boje, who lives in a modest 
Vancouver apartment with her Canadian husband Chris Bennett, and their 
3-year-old son. Bennett is the manager of Pot-TV, a web-based video channel 
that caters to an international pot-smoking audience. "I have put roots 
down here," Boje explains. "My family is here. I have a business here. I 
have no intention of running. I don't want to go into hiding. That's not my 

For the moment, Boje remains at the mercy of the Canadian Justice Ministry, 
which is expected to rule on her case in early 2005. One more legal appeal 
is possible if the decision doesn't go her way. The most difficult 
challenge she faces is grappling with the possibility that her son might 
lose his mother. "I could be fearless about it all until I had a child. 
Then I suddenly felt very vulnerable," says Boje. "I know that if I lose, I 
lose big. But if I win, everybody wins."

Pot Protestors

Boje's feisty spirit endeared her to millionaire Marc Emery, Vancouver's 
notorious "prince of pot," who has been a mainstay of moral and financial 
support for several U.S. drug war refugees. Emery, the godfather of Boje's 
son, runs a lucrative mail order enterprise selling cannabis seeds to a 
worldwide cliental. ("Overgrow the government!" is one of his mottos.) An 
inveterate rabble-rouser, he led a Puff-In on Parliament Hill during 
President Bush's diplomatic visit to Ottawa in December 2004. It was 
Emery's way of lampooning the prohibitionist ideology that holds sway in 
the White House. He proudly sucked on a cigar-sized doob, while 500 
pot-puffing protestors gathered in front of a phalanx of Canadian cops.

Not surprisingly, U.S. authorities take a dim view of the in-your-face 
cannabis culture that thrives in Vancouver, where the DEA has set up shop 
to monitor local developments. A U.S. narcotics control emissary recently 
criticized Ottawa for being "soft on drugs" and threatened a slowdown in 
cross-border traffic if Canada resisted American demands. While neither the 
DEA nor Canadian justice officials will comment on pending cases, American 
authorities continue to pressure Canadian law enforcement agencies to send 
Boje and other pot fugitives back to the United States.

A large majority of U.S. citizens favor the use of marijuana for medicinal 
purposes and according to a 2003 Medscape poll, so do 75 percent of 
American doctors. Dr. Jerome Kassirer, editor-in-chief of the prestigious 
New England Journal of Medicine, called federal policy on medical marijuana 
"misguided, heavy-handed and inhumane."

For years the DEA has habitually ignored scientific and medical data on 
marijuana, including a 1988 report by its own administrative law judge, 
Francis Young, who confounded expectations by concluding that cannabis "in 
its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances 
known to man."

A potent symbol of cultural conflict, cannabis rarely gets a sober 
appraisal from U.S. lawmakers. Drug czar John Walters has referred to the 
war on drugs as "a conservative cultural revolution." This is also the 
assessment of Steve Kubby and other American "reefer refugees" who maintain 
that the war against pot has long been a driving force of the culture war 
in the United States. "Make no mistake," says Kubby, "this issue is no more 
about marijuana than the Boston Tea Party was about tea." 
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