As I watch my wife out of the corner of my eye with my 2-year-old son almost asleep at her breast, I can think of nothing that has weighed more heavily over my heart than the US extradition order against her for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to life.
Renee’s plight began in California, shortly after the state passed Proposition 215, which had legalized cannabis for medical use. Renee, who had just received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the time, began working for cancer patient Todd McCormick as an artist for a book he was writing on the production of medical quality marijuana.
McCormick and best-selling author Peter McWilliams, who suffered from both cancer and AIDS, began growing medical quality marijuana for both research purposes and for distribution to other patients. In the first federal raid on a state-approved medical marijuana garden, McCormick, Renee and others were arrested by the DEA.
Despite the apparent illnesses of the men involved and the state of California’s passing of a medical marijuana statute, the federal government disallowed any medical defense in the case. Peter McWilliams ended up choking on his own vomit when he was prevented from using the medical cannabis he used to control the nausea he received from cancer and Aids treatments. Todd McCormick spent five years in jail suffering with the pain from a fused neck and hip without the medicine which eased his pain and which he felt kept his cancer at bay. During his five-year stay, he was repeatedly thrown into solitary confinement for weeks at a time, because the prison guards tested him for THC and claim he was using cannabis while in prison.
The federal government claims to have witnesses who saw Renee watering plants. On the basis of this testimony and Renee’s refusal to testify against the other people involved, she is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to life.
Twists of fate
It is curious how life works. I started hearing about Renee at least a couple of years before we ever actually met. Likewise, in California, Renee read my first book, Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion which she in turn had received from Todd McCormick who gave it to her after Renee expressed a spiritual interest in cannabis. Later, I was a phone-in radio guest on a show she was also a guest on at the same time and we finally met in person in the summer of 2000 when I took a job with Pot-TV, an internet station which Renee was also working at. We quickly became friends and that blossomed into a love affair which resulted in our marriage and the birth of our 2-year-old son, Shiva. Nothing has brought me more joy in my life so far than my family, and nothing has caused me more distress than the thought of my family being torn apart.
Throughout our marriage Renee has had to suffer indecency after indecency. Initially, she had to report into probation once a week to face the scrutiny of people who held her freedom at hand. Finally, Renee’s lawyer was able to have these visits reduced to once a month. To have to go into a Vancouver probation office, sometimes with an infant in her arms, and have to face the judgmental eyes of those who would oppress our culture is much more than just humiliating. As well, Renee has to appear in court every six months to have her bail renewed, always under the constant threat of losing her freedom through the arbitrary decision of a potentially unsympathetic judge.
My own use of cannabis took on a spiritual tone in 1990, during a religious experience I had one evening after smoking a joint and reading the Book of Revelation. I was left with the distinct impression that cannabis was the “Tree of Life” as described in Revelation: 22, and that the identification of the Tree of Life’s leaves being for the “healing of the nations” was not only a reference to the medical uses of this plant but also an indication that all historical traditions all over the globe and throughout history which used cannabis could be brought together again under its banner.
Some short time after this event in 1991, I learned of the Gnostic sect of religion known as the Church of the Universe and it’s identical recognition of cannabis as the Tree of Life. I joined the Church on the basis of this and became a Reverend, all the while collecting and documenting the history of the spiritual use of cannabis. I felt that this task was bestowed upon me during my original revelation about cannabis being the Tree of Life. Now, after 15 years of research, a dozen or more articles and two books on the subject of cannabis and religion I have documented that case historically.
When Renee and I met, we began using cannabis as a sacrament together and performed various Gnostic cannabis rituals together. Not long after, as a Reverend of the Church of the Universe, I helped to officially convert Renee into the Gnostic sect. Only a few years ago, over 300 people gathered together to celebrate with Renee and I as we performed a Gnostic wedding ceremony which celebrated cannabis as the Tree of Life and its relationship to continued fertility. This was particularly fitting because on the day of our sacred marriage ceremony, Renee was seven months pregnant. She gave birth to our son a couple of months later, under a great big yellow Shiva moon. We named our son Shiva after the Hindu lord of cannabis. This holy plant has played the most pivotal role in our spiritual lives.
As a Canadian, I would hope that my country would stand at my aid and defense in this situation. But I have very real fears that the same government that sold out the will of its own people to move toward a more progressive drug policy under American pressures, will too easily decide to send my American-born wife to face 10 years to life for allegedly watering a forbidden sacred plant. Moreover, as my own two-year-old son begins to make his words into sentences, I wonder how I could ever answer the inevitable questions: Where is my Mommy? Was she bad? Why did you let them take her away?
Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has just released disclosure on Renee’s US extradition order, after the case has been before the Canadian Justice Department for five years now. At a time when Canada is restructuring its own cannabis laws, a process hindered by an overbearing American influence, Cotler seems eager to make a decision on a case which his predecessors were reluctant to decide upon. In this disclosure package, Renee and I discovered a disturbing letter to the Minister of Justice from officials at Immigration Canada, indicating that they support Renee being extradited to a US prison.
In this letter they state that they do not feel Renee will receive cruel and inhumane treatment if she is sent back to a US prison and that if she does suffer any abuse she will be able to fight these abuses from within prison. This is a complete lie. It is obvious that these Canadian Immigration officials do not wish to upset the political balance between Canada and the US and that they would rather sacrifice my wife than to do the right thing and stand up for her freedom.
These Canadian officials read report after report submitted to the Justice Minister from Renee and her lawyer about the violent, cruel and inhumane conditions which women must endure in US prisons today. The situation is not unlike what women faced in the dungeons of the dark ages for their association with plants like cannabis. The reports submitted to the Justice Minister on this matter were from Amnesty International, the UN, and Human Rights Watch. All of these human rights organizations have