HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Looser Laws On Medical Pot Draw Americans To Canada
Pubdate: Fri, 26 Apr 2002
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Contact:  2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Author: Chris McGann
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


GIBSONS, B.C. -- In the 1960s, Americans dodging the draft settled in along
the remote and rocky shores of Canada's Sunshine Coast.

It was here where they began cultivating marijuana that would eventually
become known as some of the most potent in the world.

Nearly four decades later, Americans are once again migrating to the handful
of small communities along the Sunshine Coast, drawn here not only by the
ocean air and the stunning views of the snowcapped mountains, but by the
very thing that lured the draft dodgers here: their frustration and
disillusionment with the United States government.

The marijuana has something to do with it, too.

While the United States has taken a hard stand against marijuana use, even
for medicinal purposes, Canada appears to be moving in a much more lenient

Although it remains illegal to buy or sell the drug in Canada, the country
has set up a program under which the chronically ill could grow -- and use
- -- marijuana for medical purposes.

All of this might explain why more than 100 Americans who say they have
chronic illnesses have moved to this part of Canada in the past year.

Steve Kubby is among them.

"I came up here because I have life-or-death medical necessity for
cannabis," said Kubby, a former Californian who says he has adrenal cancer.

"It inevitably sparks problems with the authorities (in the United States),
and I wanted to find a place that was more tolerant," he said. "I'm just a
guy that's trying to stay alive."

Last year, one month before Canada announced the start of its medical
marijuana program, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal law superseded
similar exemptions that had been set up in nine American states, including

That ruling means medical marijuana users in the United States could face
drug charges -- and jail time.

In this country, even in a state that acknowledges medical need, under a
federal law, a first-time conviction for possession is punishable by up to
one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000; repeat offenders face up to
three years in prison.

"I feel freer up here," said John Kirkman, who came to western British
Columbia from North Carolina in January. "I feel less afraid of the cops."

Kirkman said he suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, a
poorly understood condition associated with muscle stiffness and pain.
Smoking marijuana, he said, helps him relax before he puts on a breathing
apparatus that keeps him from waking up during the night.

"I could live here the rest of my life," he said. "It's so nice."

'Here, It's Chill'

In Gibsons, B.C., pop. 3,895, the Sunshine Coast Compassion Society Club
provides a potent drug for chronically ill members, one they can't buy at
the corner pharmacy.

It's one of more than a dozen compassion society clubs throughout British
Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

Step inside and the aroma of green "B.C. bud" hits you in the face.

"Without these guys here, I don't know what I'd do," said Janet Martell, a
compassion club member who said she suffers from the effects of lupus,
fibromyalgia, hepatitis C and other ailments.

"This is better than anything I've ever taken as medicine. And it's too bad
your government doesn't realize that," said Martell, referring to the policy
in the United States.

Americans who share her sentiments and envy the no-hassle access to
marijuana are increasingly drawn to the slightly remote and picturesque
Canadian towns such as Gibsons; the compassion club here operates within a
half mile of the town's Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment.

To qualify for a medical marijuana allowance sanctioned by the government,
applicants must provide proof that they are terminally ill or suffer from
symptoms associated with diseases such as cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis
and arthritis.

For those with prolonged diseases, medical specialists must confirm that
other treatments have been tried or considered.

Medical marijuana users say the drug helps alleviate disease symptoms or
side affects of medicines they're taking and helps keep up their appetite.

Although the United States is conducting limited research on the therapeutic
value of marijuana, it is far from setting up a standardized system for
regulating the legal use of the drug.

And, as part of his war on terrorism, President Bush recently stepped up the
crackdown on drugs, maintaining that terror groups finance their operations
with drug money.

In February, the president launched a $180 million anti-drug ad campaign --
and kicked it off with $10 million worth of Super Bowl commercials that ran
several weeks.

"In the States, you guys are hard-core, man. Here, it's chill," said Matt
Bastien, 23, who has spent the past five years hitchhiking and backpacking
around Canada.

But Bastien proves that the system is less than perfect. He'd been smoking
compassion club marijuana that he said he bought from a cancer patient.

'Times Are Changing Here'

Lisa Kirkman, the proprietor of the compassion club in Gibsons, knows that
her operation is technically illegal.

But when she announced her intentions at a community policing meeting, she
says the police told her they had much more pressing matters to attend to.

"At any given time the RCMP can change their mind and bust us," Kirkman

Cpl. Mike McVicar, a spokesman for the local RCMP detachment, said he is
fully aware of the club and why it's there.

"It gets to be a medical thing, not a policing issue," McVicar said. "We
understand sort of why some of these people are doing what they do. ...
Times are changing here."

Police in Gibsons have received no complaints about the compassion club from
the community.

Nonetheless, selling marijuana is still illegal.

"Most of our dealings here are people who are growing marijuana," McVicar
said. "A lot of those that we deal with are not the ones that are growing it
for the medicinal purposes -- more the people that are cultivating for
financial gain."

Marijuana Arrests Increase

Since last year, Health Canada, the nation's health agency, has authorized
205 people to use marijuana under the new medical-use regulations. Another
657 Canadians had been granted exemptions earlier.

Martell, the compassion club member suffering from lupus and fibromyalgia,
is not among them.

Her compassion club card makes her relatively confident that police will
leave her alone. The influx of Americans, however, does not.

"Personally, I'm afraid that all these Americans who are running from the
law are going to screw up our club," said Martell.

Most of the compassion clubs do not require the official Canadian health
documents, though they do mandate some form of documentation of the illness
of the illness.

So far, neither Martell nor Lisa Kirkman, the proprietor of the compassion
club in Gibsons, have had any legal trouble. 

Back in California, Steve Kubby and his wife, Michele, had a different

They felt persecuted even after a hard-fought victory for California's
medical marijuana legislation.

"Then they tried to gut it," he said. "We publicly upheld our cultivation
rights and were arrested." 

Kubby said he was later acquitted. Today, he and his wife feel more
comfortable in Canada.

"The federal government recognizes medical marijuana and when you go into a
courtroom, you can use that as a defense," Michele Kubby said. "Your life is
more important than the laws regarding the drugs."

Since she's been here, she, too, has seen the influx of Americans.

"People are not coming in bus loads, but they are coming up one and two at a

Canadian law enforcement officials, though, are not completely looking the
other direction.

Across the bay, Vancouver Police cited 1,091 people for marijuana-related
offenses in 2000. Last year, they arrested 1,280.

"Our mandate is not to specifically target people for possession," said
Detective Scott Driemel, a Vancouver police spokesman. "But we are after
people that are involved in the trafficking and possession for the purpose
of trafficking. "We're after a lot bigger fish."

It's a small risk that Edward Aubut, a 38-year-old disabled U.S. Army
veteran, is willing to take. And it's less risky here than in the United
States, he said.

"I'm a patriotic person. I'd rather be in my own country," said Aubut, who
smokes marijuana to ease post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I didn't want to risk 20 years in jail just for having a joint."
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