December 26, 2000
U.S. Drug War Refugee Seeks Support From Fellow Americans
It has all the
elements of a Hollywood movie thriller. A dying famous author, a mansion
in Bel Air with 4,000 marijuana plants, even an escape to another country by an
innocent young woman. But it's very real, and the story is already rife
with tragedy. Canadian justices will rule in the coming year whether to
return Renee Boje to America to face a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for
being present at a medical marijuana grow operation, or whether to grant her
political asylum in response to the severity of America's cannabis laws.
She fled the U.S. in 1998, at the advice of her lawyer.
Renee Boje is asking her fellow American citizens to urge Canada to grant her petition for refugee status. Actor Woody Harrelson recently wrote to the Canadian courts about Boje: "Please, please, show some compassion for Renee, and don't allow her to become a another statistic in a money making hypocritical war against good citizens". He went on to call her a "wonderful lady, who has never been violent or hurt anyone, (and) who simply believed what was going on in that house in Bel Air was legal."
Boje was a hired professional freelance artist in 1997 when she met Todd McCormick, who has suffered bone cancer and radiation treatments since he was a child. McCormick had hired Boje to do artwork for a book on medical marijuana he was writing with his publisher, the late author Peter McWilliams ("Life 101", "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do").
McWilliams, also a patient, was suffering from full-blown AIDS and cancer. He and McCormick had converted a mansion into a cannabis research lab. They claimed they were doing clinical research testing strains of pot for effectiveness in treating the symptoms of diseases including AIDS, cancer, and chronic pain. They assumed they were protected by California's Proposition 215, which was approved by California voters in 1996, and allows medical marijuana patients to cultivation marijuana for medical use. But a federal judge ruled out any mention of medical necessity in the case, so jurors couldn't be told that McWilliams and McCormick were seriously ill.
Boje is charged with watering and moving some plants. She admits she had knowledge of the operation, but denies assisting in it, and like McCormick and McWilliams, thought it was protected by Prop. 215. However, U.S. federal authorities that snagged her leaving the residence as they were starting a raid on the home claim she made a statement admitting guilt. She says that just isn't true. She is facing a staggering 10-year mandatory sentence in federal prison. Amnesty International decries violence that women are subjected to endure in her would-be prison as the worst in America.
McWilliams was denied his use of marijuana as an herbal appetite stimulant by U.S. District Judge George King, and died before his sentencing while choking on his own vomit in his bathroom. But not before Boje made a courageous offer to turn herself in if the charges were dropped against the dying McWilliams. Bone cancer and chronic pain patient McCormick is serving a mandatory five-year prison sentence at aptly named Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institute. Now Boje is a refugee from her country, and has been branded a dangerous criminal by U.S. authorities. Time is running out for her.
Canadian appeals lawyer John Conroy (www.johnconroy.com) says that support from fellow Americans, and more importantly, the American media, is what Boje will need if she is to persuade Canadian authorities to deliver her a victory in this precedent setting case. Boje, who has given over 300 print, radio and television interviews in Canada, is now asking the American media and public to participate in her call for justice. Washington State NORML Director Vivian McPeak calls her case, "a bellwether poster-child example of the cruelty of America's war on cannabis."
Boje will be spending this holiday season with her new friends and family in Canada. Supporters pledge to keep her out of an American prison when next year's holiday season comes. They are urging her fellow U.S. citizens to write, e-mail, and fax the Canadian government in support of her bid for political asylum.
She considers the cannabis plant "a healing herb", and can't understand how her own government can incarcerate sick and dying people in its jails and prisons because of it. Her goal is to stay in Canada, where she wants to open a holistic healing center. She sells her art in cards and certificates to help raise money for her defense. For the meantime she will live in exile, uncertain of what the future may bring.
For more information on Renee Boje's story, visit her web site at www.reneeboje.com, or call NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup at (202) 483-5500. Boje can be reached for interviews at: (604) 740-7894, or by e-mail at email@example.com. Financial contributions and letters to the Canadian government in her support can be sent to the Renee Boje Legal Defense Fund, P.O. Box 1557, Gibsons B.C. Canada V0N 1V0. Additional reference info: www.toddmccormick.com; www.petertrial.com; www.growmedicine.com.
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