You are punched in the kidneys or choked into submission because you were speaking your mind in a peaceful way. You are tortured with a stun gun. You are shot in the street for carrying a candy bar or shot dead while driving your car. It would be better if there were no police to protect you, because they are the ones doing the punching, choking, torturing and shooting.
All of these experiences have happened to people in Canada and the United States. Not only innocent marijuana activists, but schoolchildren, mothers and fathers who have committed no crimes, but who are somehow suspected of being involved with marijuana or other euphoric substances. At the highest levels of government, the war against drugs is becoming a war against rights and freedoms.
Hemp BC under attack
It was September 30, 1998, and Hemp BC was being raided for the fourth time. Between 40 and 80 officers were in attendance, more than at any previous hemp store raid in Canada. There was also a large crowd of protestors, about 60 of whom joined the crowd from public transit that had been caught in traffic as a result of the growing protest.
Like many others, local resident Seus was exercising his freedom of speech, telling the police what he thought of them raiding Hemp BC and busily videotaping their activities. He had just seen Tracy, a former store employee, get grabbed by a police officer and body-slammed to the ground, then held with a knee in her back and handcuffed. Her crime: peaceful protesting. She had refused to leave a couch that was placed on the sidewalk in front of the store.
David Malmo-Levine, who had already been forced to vacate a similar post at the store’s back door, was also sitting on the couch, being hugged ? to prevent his arrest ? by Chris Hill, another store employee. Police punched Hill in the kidneys three times, until he let go of Malmo-Levine. Seus watched as Levine was then also tackled by officers, dragged by his handcuffs over thirty metres of sidewalk.
Seus went to a nearby store and bought some eggs. He came out and other bystanders took the eggs from him. He returned to the store for more eggs, came out, and put the eggs down on the ground. Although Seus didn’t throw any eggs, some police officers did get pelted, including cop spokesperson Anne Drennan. After yelling at the cops Seus was suddenly assaulted by between 5-8 undercover officers.
The police did not identify themselves, and Seus resisted going with them. They tried to force him into a paddywagon but he used his feet to almost walk up the side of the truck as they held him. They threw him on the ground and then tried again, but they still couldn’t get him into the truck.
While six officers held Seus, one officer grabbed him by the neck, strangling him until Seus passed out. When he went limp they applied handcuffs and leg-cuffs to the unconscious photographer. Eyewitnesses describe how the cop who strangled Seus continued to hold his head tightly against his chest so that he couldn’t breathe and would remain unconscious. Asphyxiation tactics of this variety are such a widespread form of police abuse that their use by police officers has recently been criticized by Amnesty International, which reports that asphyxiation holds are a common cause of death during arrest.
Once Seus was in the police vehicle he was driven to the nearby station. Seus described how, still dazed and having trouble breathing from his attack, he was forced to hop in leg manacles from the van to the booking room, under threat of being dragged by his cuffs if he didn’t. Seus fell unconscious during the booking process, and he was rolled around, searched and questioned while unconscious and semi-conscious. After being held for two hours, Seus was released into an ambulance where he was taken to a local hospital.
“Stand up, tell the truth, be beat up and put in jail. Then you’ll shut up,” states Seus, speculating on police mentality after the raid, “If not we’ll beat you some more and put you in jail longer.”
David Malmo-Levine and Tracy were held for a few hours and then released without charges. Ironically, there was no need for police to move the couch or the protestors at all, as they unloaded the Hemp BC merchandise into the back alley. The couch and protestors were not causing any disruption to police activities.
In armed-robbery style, police also searched Hemp BC owner Sister Icee, took all of the money from her pockets, and emptied the till. In total, about $10-15,000 in merchandise was seized. Hemp BC opened for business immediately after the police left, and opened the next day as usual.
Vancouver Police spokesperson Anne Drennan was on the scene, and she justified the raid by telling the media that “We have, in the past, dealt with situations where there has been major trafficking of marijuana seeds from these locations, and that’s something we feel very strongly about.” Of course, Drennan didn’t mention that no marijuana seeds had been sold from Hemp BC for over seven months, since Marc Emery sold it to Sister Icee. During the last April 30 raid there was no evidence of marijuana seed sales. This kind of misinformation is typical of Anne Drennan, who is the subject of a defamation lawsuit from Sister Icee, along with Vancouver City Hall.
During the last week of October, police brought a heavy daily presence to the 300 block of West Hastings, which has become a locus for businesses catering to different aspects of pot-culture.
On some days one or two police cars would park in the bus zone in front of Hemp BC for an hour at a time, with a half-dozen officers or more walking up and down the block, harassing people and giving out tickets for jay-walking. Sister Icee refused to allow the officers into Hemp BC, despite their mad dashes for the door and arrogant attempts to bully their way inside without a warrant.
Police arbitrarily stopped and questioned people parking in the area, including Cannabis Culture editor Dana Larsen, who was parking his van behind the nearby magazine office.
When City Hall filed for an injunction to have Hemp BC closed down, the BC Civil Liberties Association stepped into the fray, coming down to Hemp BC on October 30 to hold a joint press conference with Sister Icee.
Vancouver Police couldn’t have timed it better if they had been in on a coordinated plan. Just before the press conference began, a lone bicycle cop decided to arrest well-known local activist David Malmo-Levine for playing hackey-sack in Victory Square Park without identification.
As the police officer handcuffed him, Malmo-Levine cried out for help, and soon he was surrounded by dozens of local residents, store owners, and patrons of their businesses. Sister Icee wrapped her arms around Malmo-Levine to prevent his being taken away.
Over a dozen officers, six police cars and a paddy-wagon were soon on the scene, and although they might be used to community solidarity in the face of harassment, they did not expect to be immediately confronted with a bevy of lawyers, the head of the BC Civil Liberties Association, and reporters and cameras from TV, radio and print media.
After some tense moments the handcuffs were removed and Malmo-Levine went back to playing hackey-sack. The police and crowd slowly dispersed.
Ironically, this entire conflict was played out under a monument to peace and liberty. Victory Square Park (renamed by local residents to Hemp-for-Victory Park) is named for the freedom won by Canadian soldiers in World War 2. The words “Does it mean nothing to you?” hovered over police as they tried to justify their abuse of power to the assembled media and angry masses.
On September 15, police in Oregon broke down Bill Conde’s door, tore his house apart and terrorized his family until they found what they claim was just over an ounce of marijuana. They arrested him for felony possession.
“I have to take my wife into the hospital next week, because she has a heart problem, one that doctors said she would probably live with until she was 50-60, but now? I also have a 4 year old daughter that has been having nightmares for the last week. She had nightmares that the police came down and killed her brothers and sisters and all her family.”
Police later asserted that the grounds for their search were that Conde had organized that year’s “Cannabis Carnival Unity Fair,” and that people had smoked marijuana there. Sheriff Dave Burright blustered that his department had “eyewitness accounts of multiple, multiple illegal drug transactions and drug use, just a total disregard for the law.”
Maybe Conde’s support of Bill 67, the recently successful Oregon medical marijuana initiative, and his lobbying against Bill 57, an attempt to recriminalize possession of less than an ounce in that state, were also grounds for tearing his home apart. In court, Conde’s lawyer, Brian Michaels, pointed out that the raid against Conde was “political intimidation at its worst” and, at best, “overbroad”.
During the raid on Conde’s home, police seized all of his computers, in which he stores political action committee records. Police were looking for names of people who worked at the festival.
“There’s a lot of people who ought to be watching over their shoulders,” said Sheriff Burright, after the raid.
It would seem that anyone who exercises their freedom of speech, or who “interferes” in anti-drug politics, should be watching over their shoulders, even those who attend festivals.
In the City of Boston, police announced that they would be making widespread arrests at the 9th Annual Freedom Rall on October 3, 1998. The intimidation was intended to dampen marijuana users’ enthusiasm for exercising right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of speech. Yet despite police threats only 40 people were arrested for marijuana-related offences, down from 150 last year.
The reason for decreased arrests? Perhaps bravery is the best defence of all. At the Boston rally, undercover police were identified and followed by a person wearing a pig nose and shouting “OINK OINK!” Despite police intimidation, 40,000 attended the rally.
It should be heartening for marijuanaphiles to hear of 40,000 people finding the courage to attend such a rally. The police may claim that they are busting marijuana enthusiasts for selling a pipe or growing marijuana, but police are really busting cannabis culturites for speaking out and getting public attention. Hemp stores are no exception to the pattern of abuse against marijuana activists. Almost every raid on Hemp BC has been precipitated by American mainstream media attention. Yet sometimes your constitutional rights get violated for simply walking down the street.
Government sponsored oppression
Andre Burgess, a 17 year old high school student, was walking down the street, about to pull a candy-bar from his pocket, when he was shot in the leg by a Federal Marshal. The Federal Marshal was in the area looking for someone twice Burgess’ age. Later, the officer claimed that he thought Burgess was a drug dealer, pulling a gun from his pocket. The officer was acquitted of all charges before a Grand Jury, leaving Andre Burgess to seek justice in civil court. Burgess’ crime? He’s a black kid living in a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. That’s enough for a cop to justify shooting you in the leg when a nation’s constitution is prized less highly than toilet paper.
The orders to destroy the constitutional guarantees of marijuana users comes from the highest levels of world government. The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is advocating the destruction of democracy and freedom of speech as a final solution to their failing drug war. According to the INCB’s 1997 report, countries should create laws to oppress anyone who “shows illicit use in a favourable light” or who lobbies for “a change in the drug law.” The INCB would also like to see countries prohibit political campaigns which advocate de-escalation of the war on drugs.
Other organizations are busy defending constitutional guarantees. In the fall of this year, Amnesty International, an organization sworn to protect human rights and freedoms, announced a campaign targeted at rampant police abuses against American citizens, abuses which often stem from drug busts.
According to Amnesty International’s report on the US, “Across the country thousands of people are subjected to sustained and deliberate brutality at the hands of police officers. Cruel, degrading and sometimes life-threatening methods of constraint continue to be a feature of the US criminal justice system.”
Amnesty International in New York
Amnesty International’s (AI) 1998 campaign against police abuse in the US stems from a 1996 investigation AI made into police brutality in New York. Although the New York Police Department (NYPD) publicly claimed that incidents of brutality were on the decline, AI found that misconduct had actually increased.
Many of the cases which focussed AI’s attention on the NYPD involved drugs. In April of 1985, New York police zapped three suspects with a stun gun, torturing them until they confessed to having sold tiny amounts of marijuana. After an inquiry, three of the officers were sent to prison, and even a few police commanders were fired. As the case seemed endemic of widespread police abuse, a commission of enquiry was appointed, known as the Curran commission. Apparently, however, the commission was just a ploy to satisfy public anger over the incident, because after two years of investigation, the Curran Commission found no problem with the NY legal system.
Other cases which focussed AI’s attention on NY included the case of Ann Hamilton, a 71-year-old woman and wife of a church minister, who was dragged from her car and beaten by police for swallowing her diabetes medication in the mid-80’s. Police later said that they believed she was swallowing illegal drugs.
Yet another case mentioned in the 1996 AI report on NY is that of Lydia Ferraro, who was shot dead by NYPD officers in her car in 1988, because they believed she was driving to Harlem to buy drugs, perhaps marijuana.
A subsequent NY Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) investigation found widespread police abuse problems as well. NY Mayor Guilliani tried to divert blame for the AI and NYCLU reports by instating another “commission”. But Guilliani eventually refused to follow the recommendations of the commission, and dropped the whole matter once public attention was focussed elsewhere.
After the announcement of AI’s campaign against police abuse in the US, Pierre Sane, secretary general of AI, explained that, “We felt it was ironic that the most powerful country in the world uses international human rights laws to criticize others, but does not apply the same standards at home. It seems to me that the international community, in terms of standards, is moving really ahead of the standards obtained in the United States today.”
Hands across the border
If officials in the US had their way, AI’s secretary general would be wrong about standards in other countries being superior to those in the US. The unconstitutional war against innocent pot-smokers is being exported from the US into Canada, where the border seems to have grown as wide as the entire country, with American customs agents searching and arresting Canadian citizens on their own sovereign soil.
On October 15, in New Westminister, a satellite city of Vancouver, BC, the welfare department, the immigration department, the fire department, city police and US customs agents went to 20 Canadian homes and asked to search without warrants. As a result of their searches, six people were arrested for drugs, including marijuana.
Marc Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture, has also been the target of “extra-territorial” action on the part of US Customs. He recently went to court to defend himself against charges that he gave one third of a gram of hash to American tourists visiting the Cannabis Cafe, who were later nabbed at the border, and threatened with prosecution by Customs unless they testified against Emery.
“Two of the American tourists showed: the father and his girlfriend. They were escorted from the US by police. I pleaded guilty of trafficking on 2 counts of hash and was fined $750. The prosecution originally wanted to put me in jail for three months.”
Now that Marc Emery has a criminal record, penalties for the charges he has yet to face in court will likely be more severe.
Canadian airports are another environment in which US customs agents make themselves at home. In Calgary and Toronto airports, US agents have illegally held Canadians for possessing minor amounts of marijuana and for suspicion of possessing marijuana. Canadians kidnapped by US customs bandits are escorted to their bank machines, were they are instructed to remove $500 in administrative charges, or face prosecution from Canadian authorities. Often the process involves a strip search.
One woman, who asked not to be identified, was singled out at the Toronto airport by a dog trained to smell drugs. When US officials demanded she pay the $500 fee, she refused. They searched her and found nothing, and she was later released. Other travellers have also reported being squeezed by American authorities for the $500 pay-off.
Canadian authorities have denounced the American cash grab as unconstitutional. Apparently, US customs officials have no right to hold Canadian Citizens in our airports. Sean Rowan, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department asserted that “you can get up and walk out ? withdraw your declaration.”
In practice, however, you don’t even have to be travelling to find yourself being sniffed by the intrusive nose of US Customs. Rebecca Wolfchild was accused by a US customs dog while doing renovations at the Calgary airport. She told the agents to search her, so as to could clear herself of suspicion, but they refused, saying “the dog is never wrong.” She was then denied access to restricted areas of the airport, where she was working, which caused her to lose three weeks of pay. Wolfchild later speculated that the ceremonial sweetgrass she burns for spiritual cleansing may have been mistaken for marijuana.
Crossing the border is becoming more dangerous on the ground, as well. In particular, US Customs have stepped up efforts to find marijuana on people crossing from British Columbia into Washington. More than just innocent marijuana smugglers and smokers are captured in the crossfire. Canadians who have never even touched a joint are being punished.
Carla Fry, a doctor of psychology at the Vancouver Childrens’ Hospital, has never smoked marijuana. Neither has her husband. But when she attempted to cross the border to visit her family last July 1, US customs agents tested for residue in her vehicle ? which she had bought used ? and found traces of marijuana. Apparently, US Customs has taken to swabbing windshields and cutting pieces of fabric from the inside of vehicles crossing the border. When they searched Fry’s pockets and found a hemp business card, agents became highly irritated.
“This card turned the ice-cold stares of the agents from disgust to hatred,” says Carla Fry.
As a result of the Frys’ ordeals, Carla’s husband was searched and fingerprinted, then permanently barred from the US, unable to visit family for the holidays or, indeed, ever again.
“We were allowed to choose between being arrested for the dreaded marijuana residue, or signing a form that admitted that they had taken marijuana residue from our vehicle. We were very nervous about signing, but did not want to get arrested either ? we signed,” Carla Fry recounts.
Americans face similar intimidations at their own border. Earlier this year, an American woman, Amanda Buritica, was strip searched, body-cavity searched, x-rayed and then was brought to a hospital, under guard by US Customs agents, and forced to eat laxatives until she produced a total of twenty-eight bowel movements. There was never any indication that Buritica was carrying marijuana or any other illegal substance. A judge has since awarded her $451,002 in damages against US Customs.
There are sinister implications to US customs agents searching Canadians and even their own citizens in places other than the border. Traditionally, the US border has been considered a place where constitutional rights are more limited in application than anywhere else in the country. Authorities justify such constitutional limitations by saying the border needs to be specially protected. But the laws which allow border authorities special privileges at the border do not extend to anywhere else in the States or in Canada ? not into airports, not into cities and not into hospitals.
Former assistant US attorney Ivan Abrams explains, “Border Patrol claims broad rights of search and seizure that go far beyond what the Constitution allows. But [when away from the border]a Border Patrol agent can ask you your citizenship and that’s about it.”
In Canada, more medical marijuana growers and activists are being acquitted of charges. Even those who cannot afford to plead innocent, however, are finding mercy in the courts in the form of punishment by fines.
Grant Krieger, who was once nabbed by Netherlander authorities after announcing he was importing marijuana to Canada from Holland to treat his Multiple Sclerosis (MS), set a precedent in a Calgary court in October. He was facing charges from last June when he handed a fellow medical marijuana user some herb on the Calgary court steps. Trafficking charges usually result in jail time for Albertans, but Calgary Provincial Court Judge Robert Davie recognized Kreiger’s medical situation as “exceptional”.
“I received a $500 fine with a $50 victim surcharge or 12 days in jail, with no conditions on my release. I’m thinking about doing the time.
Kreiger has since been inspired to help others in need of the medicinal plant: “I’m busy working on opening compassion clubs across Canada now, for the distribution of medical cannabis.”
Since Kreiger’s case, an Ontario man with MS has also received a fine for trafficking in medicinal marijuana. David Jamieson was originally arrested for the cultivation of 250 plants and the sale of their buds, but walked out of Ontario Provincial Court after being fined $1,000.
Judge Collins read a letter from Jamieson’s doctor before sentencing. “I see why a fine rather than jail term,” the judge said.
The willingness of Canadian courts to deal more honourably with medical marijuana users reflects a growing awareness that the healing herb is useful for treating certain ailments. In the past few years since the landmark Terry Parker decision, courts have been particularly favourable toward people who argue that they use marijuana for medical purposes.
Stand up for your rights
Freedom of speech, the right to peaceful demonstration, the right to be free from political persecution? the very principles of democracy mean nothing to a system that has turned every citizen into a suspect, an enemy. If the war on drugs is ever going to end, suspects across North America must assert their citizenship, defend their constitutions, write letters and attend protests. The only weapon against the violent, ignorant and physically more powerful force of prohibition is awareness.
Busted Up Dates
? Cannabis Culture magazine was finally given back computer disks taken by police during the January 4, 1996 raid on Hemp BC and the magazine. It took over 2 years for police to ascertain that the disks contained nothing more than magazine articles and backissues. Police have yet to return bongs and pipes taken from the CC warehouse during the April 30, 1998 raid, although they have never laid 462.2 charges.
? David Malmo-Levine faced charges of trafficking late in October for his role in founding and running the “Dutch Embassy” in Burnaby, one of two cannabis clubs run by Malmo-Levine. During the trial Malmo-Levine was denied an argument that substance orientation was similar to sexual orientation, and should be similarly protected. He was denied an argument that police had conducted an unreasonable search and seizure. He was denied expert witnesses to back up his argument that his own marijuana crimes were necessary to stop the larger crime of the drug war, based on Section 27 of the Criminal Code, and known as a “necessity” defence.
“I’m the only activist in Canada denied expert witnesses,” Malmo-Levine notes, “and I’ve been denied them twice.”
Malmo-Levine’s trial was the last jury trial in Canada for trafficking, provided for under the recently replaced Narcotics Control Act. Malmo-Levine was found guilty of trafficking, and will be sentenced on December 10.
“In no case have I given up my pot activism, as implied by the last issue of Cannabis Culture [CC 15, “Beware the Rip Off”],” asserts Malmo-Levine. “My father had to put his house up on $4,000 surety for my bail, and that is the major reason I discontinued operations at my two clubs.”
? Vancouver’s Amsterdam Cafe went to Canadian Supreme Court this summer and won the right to stay at their present location despite their landlord’s attempt to evict them.
“We felt that the decision to evict us was based more on who we were than anything else. We still have nine charges of 462.2 and selling seeds. We still have to get court dates for those,” says Sita von Windheim, one of the cafe’s owners.
? On October 29, Holy Smoke, a BC hemp store, won the right to proceed to the Supreme Court with their charges that the City of Nelson discriminated against them unfairly and unlawfully by raising their business-license fee to $1,110. Provincial law limits cities with populations under 10,000 to a maximum $500 business-license fee.
“We joined a class action suit in supreme court against the City of Nelson. We joined a group that includes all the major banks, fast food outlets, etc in the city. We have to pay the same amount for a business license as they do. They are certainly strange bedfellows.”
? Tony Rizzo of “Radical Riz”, a hemp store in Peterborough, Ontario, is facing repeated police harassment since he was found not guilty of 462.2 charges last December.
“I was trying to move and the police went to every landlord and told them that I was selling cocaine so I couldn’t find a place to stay. They have no proof whatsoever of these allegations. I’m not up on any cocaine charges.”
Police have repeatedly harangued Rizzo with a bagful of nuisance charges, including noise violations, various alleged mechanical “problems” with his car, lack of proper insurance papers, and possession of marijuana. He is presently being charged with about $6,000 worth of fines.
? Dave Simpson, of Sideshow Dave’s in Edmonton, goes to court on April 28, 1999 to face 462.2 charges for selling “illicit drug paraphernalia.”
? Bill Stevenson of Erehwon in Kingston, Ontario, goes to court on December 29, 1998 to face similar charges.
Contact one or more of the following people and offer your moral and/or financial support:
Marc Emery, Publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine: (604) 681-4690
Sister Icee, Owner of Sister Icee’s Hemp BC and
the Cannabis Caf?: (604) 681-4620
Paul Defelice, Co-owner of Holy Smoke: (250) 352-9477
Bill Conde, of the Cannabis Carnival: (541) 995-6907
Grant Kreiger, MS sufferer: (403) 235-1244
Martin Matco, Medical Marijuana user: (403) 428-0907
Brian Taylor, Mayor of Grand Forks: (604) 442-5166
Carla Fry, Border Victim: (604) 938-5146
David Malmo-Levine, activist: (604) 874-0790
Contact one of the following to express disgust with losing your constitutional rights and freedoms:
Mayor Philip Owen: (604) 873-7621; fax (604) 873-7685
Vancouver Police Department: (604) 665-3081.
RCMP Complaints: Solicitor General of Canada Public
Complaints Commission, 7337 137th St ? Suite 102, Surrey, BC, Canada, V3W 1A4; 1-800-665-6879