In the last few years, British Colombia has replaced Amsterdam as the refuge of choice for cannabis culture refugees fleeing oppression in the United States. Lured by the scenic beauty, civilized popular attitudes toward marijuana, and a government that generally reflects those attitudes, the flow of American expatriates into British Colombia has steadily increased. But a series of arrests of prominent medical marijuana refugees in the last two weeks suggests that the Canadian government, feeling the heat from its southern neighbor, is ready to crack down on the growing colony of Americans who have settled in British Colombia.
On April 17, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested Humboldt County, CA, marijuana grower Steve Tuck and prominent medical marijuana patient and former California Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Steve Kubby at their respective homes on BC's Sunshine Coast, just north of Vancouver. The next day, the RCMP detained Steve Hayes, one of the men sought by the DEA after its February raid on San Francisco's Sixth Street Harm Reduction Center. All three are now out on bond, paid for by British Columbia pot-seed entrepreneur Marc Emery, Kubby told DRCNet.
All three now face hearings to determine whether they are "inadmissable to Canada" because of their marijuana-related legal problems. Kubby and his family moved to BC after his trial on medical marijuana charges in Placer County. Kubby won the medical marijuana case, but was found guilty of possessing a peyote button and a psychedelic mushroom stem. He had been sentenced to 120 days in jail on those charges, but refused to serve what he called a "death sentence." Kubby suffers from a rare form of adrenal cancer and marijuana is the only substance that fends off the disease's potentially fatal symptoms. Steven Tuck faces six felony marijuana counts in Humboldt County, and Hayes faces federal indictments growing out of the Sixth Street raid.
Kubby was jailed for three days before being released on bond by Canadian officials. "By the end of the first day, I was having blood pressure attacks," Kubby told DRCNet. "I was having vomiting and diarrhea and lost 20 pounds in three days. If I had had to stay in jail another day, I might have been dead. But once the Canadian officials realized I was really sick, they were pretty cool about it," he said. "I didn't feel the kind of fear and personal intimidation I felt in the United States."
But Canadian kindness notwithstanding, Kubby and the others now find themselves facing a protracted and potentially expensive sojourn in the Canadian immigration courts. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will review all three cases at an Immigration Refugee Board hearing, which will seek to determine if they are inadmissable to Canada, deportable, or extraditable. Under Canadian immigration law, persons fleeing criminal prosecution or who have past criminal convictions may be barred entry to the country. But that law is enforced erratically at border checkpoints.
According to CIC spokeswoman Angela Battiston, Canadian customs inspectors have the option of inquiring about criminal records or other evidence of inadmissability, but do not necessarily query each American arriving at the border. "In all three of these cases, the immigration warrants alleging potential violations of the immigration act were related to criminal convictions in the US that did not come to light at the time of entry," she told DRCNet.
In the event that they lose at the Immigration Refugee Board, the Americans have indicated that they will apply for political asylum.
The cases will raise strains between the Canadian and US governments. In the last couple of years, the DEA has grown increasingly concerned about BC marijuana production and the lax attitude of Canadian authorities. There is some evidence to suggest that pressure from the US may be behind the recent raids. Battison danced around questions about DEA involvement in the raids. "We get information from a variety of sources," she said. "With an ongoing investigation, it's not appropriate to comment about the DEA, but in general, CIC does work with foreign and domestic police agencies."
The DEA opened an office in Vancouver earlier this year, and Canadian drug reformers such as Eugene Oscapella of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy (http://www.cfdp.ca) were warning last week that the US law enforcement agency is increasingly active north of the border. "The DEA is doing missions in Canada, paying informants, going after grow ops," Oscapella told the NORML conference in San Francisco last weekend.
But the Canadian government may also have been feeling the heat because of a series of high-profile news stories profiling the growing American expatriate community. According to Kubby, the media attention played a key role. "There is no question that those news stories put the Canadian government in a position where they felt they had to act to placate the Americans and to block any future migration," he said.
As Kubby, Hayes, Tuck and their families settle in for a protracted legal battle, they have the small comfort of being surrounded by a sympathetic and powerful marijuana community in BC, where the herb is a multi-billion dollar industry. As noted above, marijuana maven Marc Emery paid their bail; they have received public support in letters to the editor and in the alternative media, and fellow emigres and the BC medical marijuana community have also stood up for them.
"We're all really concerned for the Tucks, the Kubbys, and the Hayes," said Renee Boje, one of the most well-known marijuana refugees in British Columbia. "They're all like family to us. Not only are they at risk, their families are at risk too," she told DRCNet. "If they are sent back to the US, they will be sent to prison. We don't want to see their children taken away. We hope the Canadian government will do the right thing and allow them to stay. They all face long prison sentences. What is happening is pretty disgusting," she said. Boje should know. She is now two years into an immigration battle in Canada, where she fled to avoid a possible prison sentence in the Todd McCormick-Peter McWilliams case in Los Angeles.
Despite his travails, Kubby expressed optimism and respect for the Canadian government. "It's not like the US," said Kubby. "The Canadian justice system isn't necessarily lenient, but it's fair. They only want to find a just outcome. Even the prosecutors are only looking for a just outcome," said Kubby, sounding somewhat pleasantly surprised.
All three Americans need financial help for their defenses. Contact Steve Kubby at http://www.kubby.org for further details.