Canada: Refugee Status For Criminals Part 3

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Mar 27, 2005
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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 expatriate.

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 path."

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."

AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2005 Independent Media Institute
Contact: [email protected]

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