U.S. Drug War Refugee

This week, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said he will soon introduce legislation to decriminalize the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana; the commanding officer of the Vancouver Police Department's Vice and Drug Section believes marijuana should be legalized; and Renee Boje, an American citizen, continues to fight for refugee status in Canada, as a victim of U.S. drug war extremism.

April 30 -- The New Zealand Herald reports: Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, setting the stage for another clash with the United States, said he would soon introduce legislation to decriminalise the possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana.

The announcement was the strongest indication yet that Ottawa would follow through on a promise it made last year to relax laws so that people found guilty of possessing small amounts of marijuana would not get a criminal record.

Chretien told a fund-raising dinner for the ruling Liberal Party that he did not intend to legalise marijuana and said he would press ahead with strategies designed to crack down on drug traffickers.

"We are not afraid to take on controversial issues. It is the right thing to do. For example, we will soon introduce legislation to decriminalise possession of small amounts of marijuana,'' he said to applause from the audience.

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, who was also at the dinner, told Reuters the new draft law would be introduced "as soon as possible'' and definitely before Parliament broke for its summer recess in mid-June.

April 30 -- The Toronto Sun reports: The commanding officer of the Vancouver Police Department's Vice and Drug Section, the man who is on the front line of the country's fiercest battle against marijuana growers, believes the drug should be legalized.

Not an easy position for one of Canada's top cops.

But Insp. Kash Heed has rarely done anything the easy way. He is one of a select few on the prosecution side of the drug war who is willing to think outside the box, conventional wisdom be damned.

"Sometimes it's not appreciated by others, people in policing. Sometimes I even have problems convincing people in my own organization. But the prohibition of marijuana use has been a failure." Heed has sided with pro-marijuana lobby groups in a belief that the only way to stop the organized crime associated with marijuana is to legalize it.

There is a powerful majority behind Heed. A recent Sun-Leger poll on pot-smoking habits of Canadians shows a whopping 91% of British Columbians think marijuana laws should be less stringent while 53% said they had smoked marijuana.

May 1 -- The Edmonton Sun reports: For Renee Boje, Canada Is Freedom.

Facing charges in the U.S. of conspiracy to cultivate and distribute grass, she fled to Canada five years ago where she has built a blissful life with a husband and a baby. "But I have nightmares that haunt me, nightmares that I will be forced to go back to the U.S.," Boje said.

Boje was arrested in California in 1997 for cultivating medical marijuana plants. Initially, her charges were dropped. But in May of 1998, nearly 10 months after she was first arrested, Renee's lawyer Kenneth Kahn told her the charges against her would most likely be reinstated. He advised her to flee to Canada.

"Canada has opened its arms to me," Boje said. "I love the people here. I love the country. I just never want to go back home."

On Feb. 9, 2000, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered Boje to surrender herself for extradition. If convicted, she faces a minimum sentence of 10 years. She is out on bail in Vancouver and is appealing to the public to write to federal Minister of Health Anne McLellan asking her to intervene. Recently, Woody Harrelson added his support to the campaign.

In fighting extradition, Boje is arguing that U.S. prisons have become so brutal that placing her in one for marijuana cultivation constitutes punishment that is too harsh by Canadian standards.

Boje is one of a growing number of "drug war refugees" who are begging Canada for asylum, asking for something which is rare for citizens of First-World countries: Political refugee status.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelso.

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