U.S. 'POT' REFUGEE ORDERED DEPORTED
But 'Gnostic' Renee Boje Is Free On Bail And Preparing To Ask B.C. Appeal Court To Reverse Decision
Renee Boje, the 34-year-old U.S. marijuana refugee, checked herself in and out of jail at the B.C. Law Courts Friday after federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler ordered her out of the country.
She surrendered to sheriffs at about 8:30 a.m. and was granted bail about 90 minutes later after a five-minute hearing in a packed B.C. Supreme Court.
A motley throng of supporters -- a who's who of the B.C. cannabis and local drug policy world -- milled outside the courtroom because there were not enough seats.
Until sheriffs silenced them, they cheered and clapped upon hearing Boje would be free until her appeal in the fall.
"I'm not hopeful," said her husband Chris Bennett, who clutched their three-year-old son Shiva amid a media scrum after the brief appearance.
"This isn't a drug war. It's a witch hunt and it's got to stop. ... It's purely a political decision."
The crowd hooted and shouted: "Free Renee."
In a closely argued, single-spaced, 19-page letter delivered Thursday, Cotler rejected Boje's plea to be allowed to stay in Canada because she faces a 10-year minimum prison term in the U.S. if convicted of several drug charges.
The maximum she faces is life and a $4-million fine.
He waved aside compassionate considerations such as Boje's marriage to a Canadian and her being the mother of a Canadian child.
Despite her personal circumstances, Cotler said the country's international commitments must come first.
The Liberal minister said he carefully reviewed arguments Boje faced cruel and unusual punishment, that her rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be infringed, that the prosecution was political, and other points raised by her lawyers.
"I have determined that there are no other considerations that would justify a refusal to surrender and I have, therefore, signed the warrants ordering the surrender of Ms. Boje to the U.S. of America to stand trial,"
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said his findings flew in the face of public opinion -- most Canadians want marijuana legalized and an overwhelming majority want medical marijuana available to needy patients.
Cotler's decision, however, comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American federal district attorneys could continue to charge patients for smoking pot in spite of medical marijuana laws in 10 states designed to protect the sick from prosecution.
Boje was caught as part of a high-profile U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency raid in July 1997 on two prominent American medical marijuana advocates.
Inspired by the passage of California's medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, activists Todd McCormick and Peter McWilliams were arrested growing thousands of pot plants in a rented California home dubbed the cannabis mansion.
They said it was research for a book, How to Grow Medical Marijuana.
McWilliams has since died of AIDS complications and McCormick spent five years in a U.S. federal prison.
Boje, who uses pot as part of her religious practices as a Gnostic -- someone who claims to have special knowledge, particularly of a religious nature -- was arrested eight years ago along with several other people in the swanky Los Angeles suburb of Bel-Air and in 1998 she fled to the Sunshine Coast, claiming refugee status.
The U.S. requested her extradition in 1999 and in February 2000 she was ordered deported by the B.C. Supreme Court.
She is one of several U.S. citizens who have fled to Canada seeking protection from U.S. prosecution on marijuana charges.
Boje said she was devastated by Cotler's decision.
She now will pursue a two-pronged appeal process -- she will ask the B.C.
Court of Appeal to reverse the minister's decision; at the same time, she will ask it to also reverse the B.C. Supreme Court decision she be sent back to the U.S.
That process will begin this fall and probably will take several months or longer.