A cruel prohibitionist hoax
February 15, 1999, at about 12:30. Renee Boje and a friend are hiding in the closet of a Canadian home while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) search the house for medicinal marijuana. Boje is afraid for her life. She has been arrested before, by DEA officers in July of 1997, after a visit to what has been called the “marijuana mansion” in Bel Air, California. She knows how depraved and ill-educated the guardians of the legal system are. After her Bel Air arrest, she was strip searched 15 times, while male guards peeped through the windows, making lude gestures, lolling their tongues and promising to “finish her off.”
With a shy smile, Boje is the typical ganja-girl next door. Drawing artistic faeries with marijuana leaves for wings and happily smoked-up dragons, she likely dreams that reality could be more like her artwork. Her face tightens with fear as she remembers her stay in a US prison.
“They shackled me with ankle cuffs and hand cuffs,” recalls Boje, “They didn’t give me food, water or blankets for 72 hours. I felt violated and afraid and angry. I was just praying that I would get out, that a miracle would happen or an angel would come.”
Boje’s experience is not unique. On March 4, 1999, Amnesty International (AI) released a report that found that male guards in US prisons routinely rape and sexually molest female prisoners, ogle them in showers and sometimes sell them as unwilling prostitutes to male prisoners. According to William Schultz, AI’s executive director, “Sexual abuse is virtually a fact of life for incarcerated women in the United States.” AI found that many of the women, like Boje, were incarcerated because of the US war on drugs.
US federal prosecutors want Boje back, so that they can force her to testify against Todd McCormick, a medical marijuana grower, in a highly political trial. Boje had been practicing her art at McCormick’s home, and was driving away from his place when she was arrested. Although charges against her from the raid on McCormick’s home were dropped soon after she was released, US prosecutors reinstated charges when the DEA decided that it could use them to intimidate her to testify against McCormick in court… at a trial which could have huge repercussions for medical marijuana users in California (see related story).
Dragged out of the closet by the RCMP and locked up in a Canadian jail, Renee Boje was released 72 hours later, only to face the threat of US extradition. While fighting extradition to the US, Boje is also seeking refugee status here in Canada. She faces charges of intent to distribute, possession of, and conspiracy to cultivate cannabis.
For one of these charges alone Boje could spend a minimum of ten years being raped and abused by US prison guards. At Boje’s refugee inquiry hearing on May 10, the adjudicator reluctantly issued her a conditional deportation order, which awaits the outcome of her refugee claim hearing, for which a date will be set in June.
The Health Blight
“I would compare the capture of the whales to the capture of medical marijuana growers,” says Jeffrey Jones Bloom. “Innocent beings are being taken from their families and homes and held captive and isolated from nature.”
A self-described animal-rights educator/entertainer, Bloom rented the house where Renee Boje was arrested, and where marijuana was grown for the Vancouver Compassion Club. Bloom is a fragile life caught in a war against medicine, a musician that becomes to tense to play his guitar when he talks about his recent experiences with police. Jeffrey Bloom was charged shortly after the raid. His court date was set at an arraignment hearing on May 21.
Bill Small, a member of the Compassion Club’s Board of Directors, was at Bloom’s home with Renee Boje during the raid. Small faces previous charges from an earlier raid on a Compassion Club medical marijuana grow operation.
Since it opened in 1996, the Compassion Club has become a centre for medical marijuana activity in Canada. It has been visited by marijuana luminaries from across the country, including Bernard Bigras, Bloc Quebecois MP; Alan Young and John Conroy, famous marijuana-case lawyers; Brian Taylor, the hemp-growing mayor of Grand Forks, BC; Dr Lester Grinspoon, author of the seminal Marijuana Reconsidered; and Chris Clay.
Freeing the pleasure
Besides masterminding the largest legal challenges to Canada’s anti-marijuana laws ever seen in the Supreme Court, Alan Young is a professor of law at Toronto’s York University, and possessor of a sardonic wit.
“What intrigued me originally was our society’s interest in prohibiting pleasure-seeking activities on the basis that vice leads to uncontrollable, decadent behaviour,” says Young. “The conservative mentality has always been that the fall of great civilizations is the result of pleasure-seeking activity, and that the Roman Empire itself imploded because Romans were humping themselves to death. My goal as a lawyer is to reverse this trend of over-criminalization, to allow people to construct their own heaven and hell.”
Young was speaking to a packed house at Vancouver’s Cannabis Compassion Club on February 23, 1999. He lectures with mental precision, and when he is turning a humorous phrase, he has the smile of a school boy. When he recalls the injustices that the system has heaped upon his clients, he becomes visibly agitated. He is a rare personality in the legal world, a lawyer with both a sense of humour and a conscience.
Alan Young is shepherding such landmark legal events as the Chris Clay constitutional challenge, which will be heard by Canada’s Supreme Court this summer.
In Alan Young’s latest case, he worked with an AIDS sufferer, Jim Wakeford, to sue the government for a constitutional exemption to grow, possess and use medicinal marijuana. Young won the case.
On August 5, 1997, Young argued in the Ontario Court of Justice that if the court wouldn’t let Wakeford grow it, the government should grow it for him. Wakeford needs the herb to relieve the nausea associated with his AIDS medications.
Suffering under Section 56
Wakeford waited a long time for the judge’s ruling. Originally, Justice LaForme attempted to pass the buck, ruling that Wakeford could not sue because there exists a little-known and never used process for applying to the Health Minister for legal marijuana. But when Wakeford applied and didn’t hear back from the Health Minister for months, the judge agreed to rehear the case.
Wakeford’s application was made under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), which reads, “The Minister [of Health]may, on such terms and conditions as the Minister deems necessary, exempt any person or class of persons or any controlled substance… if, in the opinion of the Minister, the exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose…”
The judge also told Wakeford, essentially, that he would rehear his case if Section 56 was a dead end. Which it literally could have been for Wakeford, given his failing health.
On May 10, at the rehearing of Wakeford’s case, the Minister of Health showed the judge new guidelines for applying for medical marijuana. Would Wakeford be told to reapply to the government yet again, and wait more months for a decision? No. Even the judge believed that the minister was stalling, calling the guidelines “unfair.” Then the judge ruled that Wakeford would be allowed to possess and use marijuana for medicinal purposes … but only until the Minister of Health decides Wakeford’s case himself. Which means that the minister can effectively veto the judge’s decision.
Even after the ruling, Minister of Health Rock attempted to keep a lid on the medical marijuana business, claiming that the Wakeford ruling applies to only to Wakeford, and not to anyone else with AIDS who might need marijuana.
Because of the Health Ministry’s obvious delay tactics and reluctance to actually make medical marijuana available, many are skeptical of Rock’s sincerity to do clinical trials and establish a compassionate-use program.
Alan Young is considering a class-action suit against the government for all section 56 applicants.
“All you have to do for a section 56 application,” says Young, “is to send a letter saying ‘I want an exemption under section 56, so that I can’t be charged under the criminal code,’ and include a letter from your doctor.”
MP Bernard Bigras agrees with Young that Rock’s consessions to the medical marijuana movement are only delay tactics. In Bigras’ case, he believes that Rock’s March 3 announcement of upcoming clinical trials for medical marijuana was an attempt to derail his own motion for an all-out vote on medical marijuana by the Canadian government sometime in June (see “Clinical cannabis in Canada?“,CC#18). Bigras vows to continue with the motion.
Meanwhile, under public orders from the Ministry of Health, medical-marijuana busts continue.
Busted by crotch-grabbers
On April 6, 1999, only a month after Rock’s announcement of impending clinical trials, Terry Parker, the only Canadian to ever be granted the use of medical marijuana by the courts, was busted again … for possession. This was despite an Ontario lower court ruling in 1987 which found that Parker was allowed to possess and use marijuana as medicine for his severe epilepsy. This deicision was reaffirmed and expanded ten years later when Parker was again charged, this time with cultivation. In this case the judge confirmed that Parker could possess and grow marijuana, and even ordered police to return the plants they had seized during that raid, an order which the police simply ignored (see “Canada’s first legal marijuana user,” CC#12).
The government continues to appeal Parker’s case and it must go to Canada’s Supreme Court. Alan Young is involved in the defence, and the Terry Parker and Chris Clay cases are being combined and heard together this summer.
Terry Parker’s latest arrest came about while he was visiting the US consulate. He was there to inquire about funeral arrangements for an American friend and neighbour who had passed away.
“The metal detector by the door went off,” Parker recalls. “The guy said to empty your pockets, and then the pot fell out of my leather pouch. I just didn’t think about having it on me. I was still mesmerized about my friend passing away. It was about an eighth.”
When asked what it was, Parker told the guard it was marijuana, and that he was the first Canadian to have the right to use it for medical necessity.
“He gave me one of those ‘you’re full of shit’ looks, out of the corner of his eye,” says Parker. “And said ‘let’s see if the police believe this.’ They called an RCMP officer over, put the gloves on and did a body search, all of that. I kept telling them I had a right to use it for a medical necessity but they wouldn’t believe me.”
Parker appears in court in late May, shortly after deadline, but he expected to have the charges dropped and his property returned.
On April 23, Bloc Quebecois MP Bernard Bigras crossed the country to do what no BC politician has dared to do, publicly visit the Vancouver Compassion Club.
Bigras confounds all expectations. He is youthful, slim, a little timid with his english, but not with his concerns about a difficult political subject… medical marijuana.
“We may not have victory today,” said Bigras, “but we will have victory.”
What may seem like a simple political event was actually a significant public statement. In visiting the club, Bigras lent his name to further establishing the club’s legitimacy.
“What I’ve seen today is striking,” said Bigras. “The experience of the Compassion Club of Vancouver proves that the therapeutic use of marijuana in a controlled and safe framework helps to improve sick people’s quality of life.”
Bigras is scornful toward laws that make the drug war possible, calling for immediate change, not the long, drawn-out clinical trials proposed by the Minister of Health.
The federal law shows a total lack of understanding and compassion toward people with chronic illnesses, who ask nothing more than to live in some dignity,” said Bigras. “The situation is urgent because each day of suffering is one day too many!”
After his speeches, which were covered by Global TV, CBC, and various other major media, Bigras retired to the Compassion Club’s smoking room to talk personally with clients who use marijuana to alleviate their illnesses.
The Weeds of Change
The expanding whirlpool of court challenges, patient protests, public awareness and the opening of compassion clubs has created tremendous pressure on the federal government. Bigras introduced Motion M-381 into Parliament, a call for the outright legalization of medical marijuana. Since Bigras’ motion, the Reform Party, the Canadian Council of Chiefs of Police and the RCMP have all come out in favour of various forms of decriminalization. Under pressure from politicians and bureaucrats alike, the Canadian government finally took action.
On May 25, a weaker version of Bigras’ motion was passed by the Liberal government. The approved version passed with 204 MPs voting in favour and only 29 against, and calls for the Canadian government to “take steps” in the direction of legalizing marijuana for medical users.
Bigras’ watered-down motion has become nothing more than a simple affirmation that the Ministry of Health will continue with clinical trials, and with the compassionate distribution of marijuana to medical users, by the end of June. Bigras remains skeptical.
“I’m sure I’ll have ill people coming to see me in the coming days, saying that these clinical trials won’t give them access to marijuana for three years. So what we’re saying is we favour clinical tests, but we need immediate access to marijuana,” said Bigras.
With continued activism and education, and with more politicians like Taylor and Bigras leading municipalities and districts, Canadians will see a day when employment and health are supplied by marijuana operations across the nation, growing cheap, organic bud for medical users.
Grand Forks gro-ops
Brian Taylor is the Mayor of Grand Forks, BC, and also has plans to help legalize medical marijuana. He ran for Mayor after being busted for planting low-THC hemp on his lawn in the shape of the word “hemp”, and won a stunning victory. Since becoming Mayor he has continued to promote Grand Forks as an excellent region to cultivate cannabis, both for industrial and medicinal use.
“We are going to apply for a retraining grant for marijuana growers, under the Forest Practices Act,” says Mayor Taylor, “for pot growers who want out of the bush and into growing hemp and medicinal pot.”
Taylor’s company is called “Brown Bear Medicinals” (BBM) and according to their literature, it is a registered cooperative “committed to providing safe natural medicines to prevent disease, treat illness, reduce pain, and to promote health.” BBM is also committed to “protection of the environment, and organic and sustainable farming.”
“A number of small acreages and plots of various sizes are available for custom growing,” reads another flyer. BBM is currently applying for a federal licence to grow and experiment with medical marijuana.
Taylor asserts that the community supports him, and that he is beginning to get significant support from his counsel as well.
In other BC cities, mayors are beginning to warm to the idea. Taylor’s idea is to tax the co-ops on a city level, thus putting more money directly back into the communities that are currently suffering from government cutbacks.
“I think there is solid support for keeping the extraordinary revenues from medical marijuana in the hands of communities,” explains Taylor.
Smokey the lamb
In the battle to legalize marijuana’s potent medicine, medical marijuana activists claim the moral high ground. But those who argue to free the weed for all take the boldest and bravest of positions against the war on drugs. Risking his very life, AIDS sufferer Ernest Standing has taken just such a stand.
“Recreation is re-creation… to restore one’s self,” says Standing. “Everything we do recreationally, within reason, benefits our being and body.”
A former member of the Compassion Club’s board of directors, Standing has moved on to reclaim violence-ridden dealer territory that sprang up across from Hemp BC at a coffee-house/deli suggestively named “Crosstown Traffic.” The store has been bought by Standing, and renamed “The Lamb’s Breath.” It offers both medicinal and recreational cannabis in a violence-free environment.
Over-the-counter pot sales puts Lamb’s Breath at the leading edge of retail pot-activism on Vancouver’s most-famous block. The Hemp BC store leads the way in bong and paraphernalia sales, while the Cannabis Cafe, the Amsterdam and the Blunt Brothers all cater to the smoking set on the same block, but none will admit to any sort of actual pot sales, over-the-counter or otherwise.
With dreadlocks and an ever-present spliff between his lips, quoting the bible and offering spiritual healing through marijuana, Standing comes across as a white Rastafarian. “All I do ? straight out ? is what my faith in God brings my way,” Standing says. “I just don’t trust pharmaceuticals. Since I was a kid I didn’t trust anyone that would claim they could do better than God and Mother Earth in 50 million years.”
According to Standing, in the Summer of ’96 he dumped a “huge pile of bud, cut into quarters” on the desk of the Port Coquitlam Police Department, and they refused to arrest him. In October of ’98, he was pulled over at a routine drunk-driving road check and asked if he had any marijuana on him. He was arrested when he told them the truth. He told them that he had HIV and a half-pound of medical marijuana in his car. He was arrested and shortly released.
“This whole thing is about people and what’s right and what’s the truth,” Standing says. “I don’t want marijuana legalized, nor decriminalized… I want it freed.”
Standing has had full-blown AIDS twice. A third encounter could likely be fatal, and a prolonged stay in jail could trigger his demise. Yet still he was undeterred. After his stay in a Port Coquitlam jail, he and his partners opened the Lamb’s Breath.
On April 16, the Lamb’s Breath was raided. The raid was largely uneventful, with the usual emptying of everyone’s pockets and the till ($2,000 worth) into the officers’ beer fund. The Lamb’s Breath also lost $1800 worth of medbud. The worst part of the raid was Standing’s arrest.
Standing was held in jail for 24 hours, during which time he was brought to the hospital with a “cloud” on his left lung. He had been denied marijuana, and was getting sick. When they let him out the next morning, the first thing he did was smoke some kind bud.
Standing has been charged with two counts of trafficking, and one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking in marijuana. One of his floor managers, Michael Nichol was also charged with a count of trafficking. No court dates have been set.
The Lamb’s Breath remains open and continues to do brisk business. There has been some continued police presence and harassment but no further arrests have been made as of this writing.
? Mayor Brian Taylor: tel (250) 442-5166; fax (250) 442-5167; [email protected]
? MP Bernard Bigras: Confederation Building, Rm 318, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6; tel (613) 992-0423; fax (613) 992-0878; email [email protected]; web www.blocquebecois.parl.gc.ca/medicale
? Minister of Health Allan Rock (Contact for section 56 exemptions): Tunney’s Pasture, Brooke Claxton Building, Postal Locator 0916A, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0K9; tel (613) 957-0200; fax (613) 952-1154; web [email protected]
? Rene Bojee (Buy her cool art): PO Box 35, Gibsons, BC, Canada, V0N 1V0; email [email protected]; web www.thecompassionclub.org/renee
? Jeffrey Bloom (Buy his CD “Spirit of the Islands”): (604) 886-4639; email [email protected]
? Bill Small: (604) 875-0448
? Terry Parker: (416) 533-7756
? Jim Wakeford (Buy t-shirts to support his case, or send donations to): 540 Church St, # 311, Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 2E1; tel (416) 922-3337; email [email protected]
? Chris Clay: (604) 875-0448; email [email protected]
? Contact lawyers only if you wish to retain them for marijuana-related charges; no general questions please.
? Lawyer John Conroy: (604) 852-5110; email [email protected]
? Lawyer Alan Young: (416) 736-5595; email [email protected]