A Petaluma man facing federal charges that his medical marijuana club is a
front for drug dealing said Wednesday he will seek political asylum in
Canada if the United States tries to extradite him.

Speaking from Vancouver, British Columbia, Kenneth E. Hayes characterized
prosecution of medical marijuana activists as "vindictive" and, invoking
Benjamin Franklin, said: "Wherever liberty dwells, there be my country."

Hayes, who was acquitted last year in a similar case in Sonoma County,
called the federal charges "crazy."

He also faces drug-related charges in Canada.

Hayes was arrested Feb. 12 in Vancouver as federal agents culminated a
10-month investigation with raids at his San Francisco pot club and seven
other locations, including his Petaluma home.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents said Hayes, 34, heads an organization
that grows "large quantities" of marijuana in Canada and the United States,
and sells it through the club.

Matt Jacobs, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, declined to
say whether the government would press for Hayes' extradition.

"We would certainly like him to come here and face the charges," DEA
spokesman Richard Meyer said.

Hayes' Vancouver attorney, John Conroy, said any claim for political refugee
status will be based on Hayes' "well founded fear of persecution by the U.S.
government."

Hayes, who moved to Vancouver in January with his girlfriend and 3-year-old
daughter, faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted of the U.S.
charges.

Conroy said the U.S. government hasn't asked Canada to return Hayes nor have
Canadian officials moved to deport him.

"If we get any inkling or suggestion of returning him to the U.S.," he said,
"we will assert his refugee claim."

Conroy also represents a Santa Monica woman, Renee Boje, who has fought
extradition on similar charges since 1999.

The Feb. 12 raids resulted in the arrest of three men and the seizure of
8,130 marijuana plants and $58,500 in cash.

Hayes denied smuggling and said any marijuana he has grown, bought or sold
has been for "medical use by sick and dying people."


He also said $900,000 that federal agents tracked over a 16-month period
moving through accounts controlled by Hayes and his club, the Harm Reduction
Center, were "operating expenses" similar to those incurred by any
businesses.

Hayes insists he is innocent of the charges but doesn't want to fight them
because federal courts have barred defense strategies based on medical uses
for marijuana.

The federal government doesn't recognize Proposition 215 or similar
voter-approved laws in other states that allow medical use of marijuana.

Hayes based his successful defense of Sonoma County marijuana charges on the
1996 ballot initiative.

As for the federal courts, he said, "if they're going to not tell the truth,
why should I come back to face injustice?"

Hayes said he uses marijuana to cope with chronic pain from a congenital hip
disorder.

Canadian authorities, who seized several hundred pot plants from Hayes'
Vancouver home, have charged him with growing marijuana with intent to
traffic it.

Conroy said Canadian courts, particularly in British Columbia -- where pot
clubs operate with government cooperation -- have tended to go gently on
medical marijuana cases.

"In a number of instances they have made it clear that it's a waste of
taxpayer money to pursue these cases," he said.


By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT