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June 28, 2005 - Vancouver Courier (CN BC)

U.S Drug Warriors Looking To Inflict Another Casualty

By Geoff Olson

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

"The history of the 'war on drugs,' and more specifically the well-documented history of marijuana legislation, makes it clear that the goals of the repeatedly declared 'wars' have little to do with availability and use of harmful substances, and a lot to do with what is called 'population control' in the literature of counterinsurgency. The targets are both at home and abroad-overwhelmingly the poor and defenseless... The 'war on drugs' has the dual function of eliminating the disposable people (being civilized, we lock them up rather than murdering them) and frightening the rest, and has been cynically used for these purposes. The case of Renee Boje illustrates this cynical abuse of power..." - -Noam Chomsky

Last week Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler denied North Vancouver resident Renee Boje's application to remain in Canada as a refugee. Even though she is married to a Canadian and has a three-year-old son, the slight, soft-spoken 34-year-old faces extradition to the U.S. and the possibility of a "mandatory minimum" sentence-meaning 10 years to life in a federal prison.

In 1997, the young art student approached a man smoking a joint in a Hollywood caf, and asked how he could be so bold. The conversation with writer Todd McCormick, who suffered from AIDS, led to a discussion of California's newly adopted Proposition 215, the compassionate care act, which allowed seriously ill people to purchase and use marijuana under a doctor's recommendation.

McCormick then commissioned Boje, an art student, to illustrate a book he was writing on medicinal marijuana. Renting a stucco mansion in Bel Air with proceeds from the book's advance, he gathered together assistants and activists to work on the project, breeding various marijuana strains openly on the property.

The overabundance of plants alerted authorities at the apex of the judicial pyramid. Under U.S. federal law, marijuana was and is a schedule one drug with severe penalties attached. On her way home one day from the mansion, Boje was apprehended by officers who told her they had seen her through binoculars, watering plants at the mansion.

Although she had nothing in her possession, police strip-searched Boje multiple times over the next 72 hours, and released her without charges. But the feds were determined to bring down proposition 215, and wanted a slam-dunk case against McCormick and his publisher, Peter McWilliams, an AIDS sufferer.

The duo's "cannabis castle" had become the Holy Grail of federal drug enforcement. Boje's lawyer advised her to flee up north, fearing that if Boje continued to refuse to testify against her friends, she could face the reefer madness "mandatory minimum" upon conviction. Boje had begun to research the U.S. federal-industrial prison complex, and abuse of female prisoners documented by Amnesty International. She followed his advice.

At the Canada/U.S. border, Boje's dropped marijuana charges came up on the computer. No biggie; she was in, and on her way to B.C.'s Sunshine Coast. Aided financially by local cannabis activists, Boje founded a local compassion club. The Californian native was in deep, her identity now irrevocably tied to weed. She appeared on Mark Emery's Pot TV in a show called "The Healing Herb," which broadcast updates on the fight for medicinal marijuana. Emery, head of the B.C. Marijuana Party, also put up a good deal of money to help with her legal appeals.

McCormick and McWilliams, too sick to flee anywhere, ended up in a U.S. federal court, where neither was allowed to discuss medicinal marijuana, proposition 215, or even their own illnesses. With his bail secured by his mother's house, McWilliams didn't dare use cannabis, which he usually took to keep from throwing up his AIDS medication. He was found dead in his bathroom, having choked on his own vomit.

McCormick, sentenced to five years in a federal prison, asked prison officials for access to the synthetic marijuana drug Marisol to manage his pain. The jailers didn't just refuse-they tested him for drug use, and summarily threw him into solitary after he tested positive. (The publisher claimed the result came from use prior to his imprisonment, since THC, marijuana's active ingredient, remains in the bloodstream for up to a month.)

Boje will appeal Cotler's ruling when she appears in court again on September 30. The dual irony would be comic, if it weren't so tragic. The Canadian government, which has refused refugee status to the California native, routinely does the very thing she is accused of (in our case, growing substandard weed in Flin Flon for limited medicinal use). As for the U.S. government, it appears to be itching to plant a lovely, gentle soul in the one place any convicted American can find drugs: a federal penitentiary.

(Read more about Renee Boje here.)

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