HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Ill Americans Seek Marijuana's Relief in Canada
Pubdate: Sun, 08 Sep 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Author: Clifford Krauss
Bookmarks: (Boje, Renee) (Marc Emery) (Kubby, Steve) (Steve Tuck) (Walters, John) (Hutchinson, Asa) (Ashcroft, John) (Cannabis - Medicinal)


VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- 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 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, particularly
in California.

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

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 slaves."

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.

Attorney General John Ashcroft and the 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. Asserting the superiority of federal antidrug laws,
federal agencies have raided some clubs, and others have closed or
gone underground.

Steven W. Tuck, a 35-year-old disabled veteran of the Army, fled to
Canada pretending he was going fishing after his club was repeatedly
raided 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 smoking
marijuana is allowed, he was sweating and shaking awaiting a friend
who had gone out to buy some. "I have to have marijuana to stay
alive," said Mr. Tuck, who said his torment began in 1987 with an Army
parachuting accident that caused spinal and brain injuries.

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

The Canadian Justice Ministry will not discuss refugee 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 American attitudes are overly restrictive. [On Sept. 4, a
Canadian Senate committee recommended that the country legalize
marijuana use for people over 16.]

There is also a cabinet debate over 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 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

They fled California last year for the rural British Columbia town of
Sechelt after the police found 265 marijuana plants, a mushroom stem
and some peyote buttons in their house. Mr. Kubby had been sentenced
to four months of house arrest and three months of probation, which he
feared might eventually lead to a prison term in which he would be
denied 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 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.

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