HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html 'Pot Refugee' May Be Forced To Leave Canada
Pubdate: Thu, 06 Mar 2003
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Los Angeles Times
Author: Lynn Marshall and Eric Bailey
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Kubby, Steve)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


VANCOUVER, Canada -- He had to flee, or so he insists. The land where he 
was born and ran for political office and beat back cancer would no longer 
tolerate the man or his medicine. Jail awaited for drug crimes.

So it was that Steve Kubby, Californian and medical marijuana patient, 
journeyed north to British Columbia and a new home that seemed accepting of 
the pot he insists he needs to stay alive.

But now Canada may withdraw its welcome.

Immigration officials are pushing to deport Kubby for drug violations 
stemming from a 1999 bust of his medical marijuana garden in Squaw Valley, 
Calif. Kubby, 56 and still wrestling with adrenal cancer, countered by 
seeking to become a political refugee. If he is returned to America, Kubby 
contends, he will face persecution and death.

On Wednesday, a hearing began in Vancouver to decide if this American -- 
one of four U.S. medical marijuana expatriates seeking to become refugees 
- -- will be turned out by his adopted homeland.

His case appears to be a longshot: Canadian immigration officials say only 
one U.S. citizen has ever won refugee status. But it has stoked memories in 
western Canada of Vietnam-era draft resisters who fled the United States 
decades ago. It also has caused a stir in government offices on both sides 
of the border.

Kubby, ever pugnacious, is representing himself -- and being allowed to 
take regular breaks to smoke marijuana. Procedural matters took up much of 
Wednesday, but Kubby vowed in his opening statement to put America's drug 
war on trial.

The U.S. government, Kubby said, is intent on undercutting Proposition 215, 
California's landmark 1996 medical marijuana initiative, and persecuting 
"anyone who attempts to show leadership on this issue."

Gordon Starr, one of two government immigration attorneys opposing Kubby, 
expressed confidence in the checks and balances of the U.S. justice system 
and insisted that the medical marijuana advocate and his family would face 
"no threat to their lives or cruel and unusual punishment."

Kubby's refugee application has outraged conservative leaders in Canada. 
Randy White, a member of Parliament from British Columbia, said before the 
hearing that a Kubby victory would create a land rush of American drug 
criminals. He called it "a very slippery slope" that threatens to make 
Canada "the marijuana sanctuary for every medically suffering pot smoker on 
the planet."

U.S. officials also have voiced grave concerns. In recent years, more than 
100 medical marijuana activists and patients -- some of them bearing the 
scars of the drug war -- have joined Kubby to seek asylum in Canada.

John Walters, President Bush's U.S. drug policy chief, has warned Canadian 
officials against legalizing marijuana and going soft on Americans seeking 
sanctuary. Richard Meyer, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman, 
said American drug expatriates are abusing the Canadian system.

The refugee hearing, scheduled to last eight days, comes as Canada's 
Parliament and courts are edging ever closer toward decriminalizing 
marijuana's recreational use. Canada legalized medical cannabis two years ago.

"I think this case says a lot about Canada, and a lot about the U.S.," said 
Dan Toley, 39, a Kubby supporter waiting to get into the hearing. Toley 
said he frequently meets U.S. expatriates who have been "hounded by their 
federal government.... We have to keep this madness south of the border."

In the U.S., meanwhile, federal drug agents and prosecutors continue to 
press charges against high-profile medical cannabis advocates in 
California. It's one of nine states that have passed medical cannabis laws 
conflicting with federal statutes that prohibit pot possession for any purpose.

Recently, several drug cases have turned into public embarrassments for 
federal officials -- and Kubby has promised to cite them during the hearing 
as proof that American drug agents are persecuting leaders of a movement.

In September, a raid on a medical pot dispensary in Santa Cruz prompted 
council members to protest on the steps of City Hall, where activists 
distributed marijuana to patients.

In February, four jurors in the San Francisco trial of Ed Rosenthal took 
the unusual step of publicly disavowing the verdict and criticizing the 
trial judge for not allowing evidence that the activist was growing 
marijuana for a dispensary.

"If Steve Kubby is returned to the U.S., he would be selected out for 
punishment because of his prominence and advocacy and resistance to the 
U.S. justice system," said Rosenthal, who will testify by telephone on 
Kubby's behalf. "In California, anyone who is an advocate is a target. It's 
a means to squelch the political end of this movement, and it's a very 
dangerous precedent for all of society."

Diagnosed with adrenal cancer in the late 1960s, Kubby underwent four 
surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, but nothing helped. Unchecked, 
adrenal cancer usually spreads through vital organs and kills within five 

Kubby says he discovered by accident that marijuana helped blunt the 
effects of the illness. His armchair diagnosis was backed up by two 
well-regarded cancer specialists in the United States and Canada.

Last year, at the request of immigration officials, Dr. Joseph Connors of 
the BC Cancer Agency examined Kubby and concluded that the pot was somehow 
muzzling the worst symptoms. Without marijuana, Connors said, Kubby could 
have a fatal heart attack.

Medical marijuana was a centerpiece of Kubby's 1998 run for California 
governor on the Libertarian ticket. But candor cost him, and drug agents 
arrested him a few weeks after election day. During three days behind bars, 
Kubby says, he nearly died as his blood pressure soared.

Though a jury declared Kubby not guilty of the marijuana charges, it 
convicted him of two misdemeanors for possessing a peyote button and a 
psilocybin mushroom stem confiscated during the raid.

Sentenced to four months in jail, Kubby headed to Canada with his wife and 
two young children. They have settled in a community on the rugged coast 
north of Vancouver, and Kubby has remained an advocate for medical marijuana.

Canadian immigration officials arrested him last spring, citing his U.S. 
conviction for the mushroom stem (peyote possession is legal in Canada and 
therefore not a cause for deportation). "This is all over a mushroom stem," 
Kubby said.

Despite the immigration wrangling, Kubby in September won a medical 
marijuana exemption from Canada's national health agency to grow a garage 
full of pot plants for medical use.
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