Pubdate: Tues, 2 Nov 1999
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 1999 Calgary Herald
Contact:  P.O. Box 2400, Stn. M, Calgary, Alberta T2P 0W8
Fax: (403) 235-7379


An American woman's fight against extradition to the United States to
face drug-conspiracy charges is highlighting the two countries'
differing attitudes towards medical marijuana use.

Renee Boje has claimed refugee status in Canada, claiming she's a
political pawn in the U.S. government's war on drugs.

The U.S. Justice Department is seeking Boje's extradition to Los
Angeles to face charges of conspiracy to manufacture and possession of
marijuana for the purposes of distribution.

Boje, 30, was arrested in 1997 outside the Bel Air mansion of Todd
McCormick, where police said she and another woman were seen watering
and moving some of the 4,000 pot plants being cultivated there.

Boje, a New York artist who says she was hired by McCormick to do
illustrations for a book, has not admitted handling the plants.

Still, her supporters say McCormick was entitled to grow marijuana
under a California law allowing pot possession and cultivation for
so-called compassionate uses.

McCormick, who has cancer, had two doctors' prescriptions for medical
pot, said Maury Mason, a spokesman for Boje's legal defence fund.

The plants were ostensibly for research into breeding the best strains
for medical use.

However, the U.S. government is ignoring the California law, as well
as those passed recently by other states and is pursuing people
growing pot for medical purposes, said John Conroy, Boje's Canadian

"The U.S. federal government takes the position that it's not legal,"
he said Monday.

"So there's a political dispute going on between the federal
government in the U.S. and California."

While medical marijuana is still illegal in Canada, federal Health
Minister Allan Rock has issued several ministerial permits to grow it
and his department is studying its use.

"In Canada it's an offence to cultivate without a licence but doctors
can prescribe marijuana for a medical condition," said Conroy.

Boje, who lives in the coastal town of Gibson's, near Vancouver, made
a court appearance Monday dressed in a peasant skirt and wearing
sparkling makeup.

The charges against her were initially dropped but she came to Canada
on the advice of her American lawyer who expected them to be reinstated.

"He advised me to leave the country because he didn't feel that he
could save me and I faced a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life,"
she said.

Boje was arrested in Canada last February when RCMP busted a
medical-marujuana grow operation at a house where she was staying in
Sechelt, B.C. The arrest came to the attention of U.S. authorities,
who filed for her exdradition.

Boje spent three days in custody after her 1997 arrest in

"I was strip-searched in front of male guards who watched me and made
comments and lewd gestures at me," she said. "I was afraid to be in
there, obviously."

Boje said she believes the U.S. district attorney wants her back to
force her to testify against McCormick in a trial scheduled to start
Nov. 16.

"I would never cut a deal with the DA but people that do cut deals
with the DA, they don't even get off," she said. "They have to spend
lots of time in prison."

Conroy said the case has become a cause celebre in California, where
McCormick is getting financial backing from supporters of medical
marijuana, including actor Woody Harrelson.

Boje said she is relying on legal aid and donations.

Conroy has gone to bat for others charged with marijuana possession.
He believes laws against possession for personal use are
unconstitutional because it does not harm others or society as a whole.

"I say we shouldn't be threatening people's liberty in using the big
stick of the criminal law in order to threaten people with
imprisonment, fines or whatever for conduct which is essentially
benign," said Conroy.

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