U.S. jail sentence awaits failed pot refugee

January 26, 2006

Terri Theodore, Canadian Press

There was an emotional farewell Thursday at Vancouver International Airport as medical marijuana crusader Steve Kubby reluctantly returned to the United States to face a jail sentence.

Kubby's supporters and family were on hand as he boarded a flight to California escorted by his American lawyer, who worried he could die without access to pot in jail.

"The officials in Canada might be sending him back to a death sentence," said Bill McPike.

Kubby said he was concerned about heading back to a place that doesn't understand his medicinal need for pot.

"The thought of people having an open animosity towards me, people that want to harm me, that want to bury their mistakes, that's very distressing," he said.

Kubby, 58, and his wife Michele had been fighting to stay in Canada almost since they arrived from the United States in 2001.

Kubby attempted to claim Canadian refugee status on the basis of persecution, both for his political opinion and his medicinal use of pot.

He said he smokes the drug to alleviate symptoms of a rare cancer called pheochromocytoma, which causes the adrenal glands to produce massive amounts of adrenaline.

Kubby, who ran for governor of California in 1998 under the Libertarian party banner, was diagnosed 20 years ago and is believed to be longest-lived survivor of the disease.

He credits the use of marijuana for controlling his adrenaline levels and claims the drug is the only thing keeping death at bay.

Kubby was supposed to serve a 120-day sentence for a drug conviction handed down by a court in Placer County, near Sacramento, Calif.

He faced marijuana charges but they were dropped after he successfully argued medical necessity.

However the court found him guilty of possessing peyote and a magic mushroom stem and ordered him jailed.

In rejecting the refugee claim, Paulah Dauns of the Immigration and Refugee Board agreed marijuana helps to control Kubby's cancer symptoms. But she didn't believe his life was at risk if Kubby was returned to the United States.

"He has not established there is a risk to his life, or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment," Dauns ruled in 2003.

"I didn't think the officials from Canada would do that because from what I understand, Canada has no death penalty," said McPike, who expects Kubby to be arrested when he appears at the Placer County courthouse Tuesday.

It's not clear whether Kubby will face additional charges for fleeing the country, the lawyer added.

In the final hours before Kubby was due to get on a plane, his Canadian lawyer, Kirk Tousaw, was petitioning a B.C. Supreme Court judge for an injunction to prevent the minister of immigration from removing the Kubby family from Canada.

Tousaw argued the Kubbys still have an appeal pending in the Federal Court of Canada but the argument was rejected.

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