Freed Medical Marijuana Activist Voices New Praise for Jail Staff

Times Staff Writer

Steve Kubby, a California medical marijuana pioneer who was forced to return from Canada earlier this year and was thrown into jail, earned his freedom Monday after serving a third of the four-month sentence his doctor predicted might kill him.

Placer County jail officials said Kubby’s release after 40 days came because of his good behavior in custody and their need to reduce crowding under a federal court order.

Kubby has spent the last six years vociferously fighting Placer County authorities over his conviction for possession of a peyote button and a psychedelic mushroom. But his early release underscored a sudden shift in his once bitter attitude toward law enforcement authorities.

In jail, Kubby lost 25 pounds, yet said he gained respect for his jailers and the medical staff who tended to the rare -- and typically terminal -- form of adrenal cancer he has been treating with marijuana for three decades.

“I realized the taunting and skepticism about my condition that I experienced when I was first jailed here in 1999 was not present with any of the jail staff this time,” said Kubby, a onetime Libertarian gubernatorial candidate and early backer of California’s watershed 1996 medical marijuana initiative. “I realized that these guys were getting heat over me, and they didn’t deserve it.”


The first days of his incarceration were marked by loud criticism of Placer County officials by medical marijuana activists who worried that Kubby might die in jail without access to marijuana. His blood pressure, normally 120 over 80, jumped to 170 over 120 and blood appeared in his urine.

But soon after he arrived in the Placer County jail, Kubby started using Marinol -- a legal, synthetic form of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient -- to thwart increases in his blood pressure that doctors say could be lethal.

His condition stabilized, and Kubby wrote to his jailers and the medical staff apologizing for negative publicity during the first days of his incarceration. In the letter, Kubby said he had “developed a profound respect for the professional and highly dedicated staff and officers here.”

The short note eventually found its way to Placer County Sheriff Ed Bonner, who met with Kubby last week.

“He said it was an honor to meet me,” Kubby said Monday after his release. “I was floored. I got the feeling he was sincere, genuine, and got it. He said he wanted to talk to prosecutors about burying the hatchet.”

Kubby’s travails date back to the weeks after his failed run for governor in November 1998. Spurred by a tip that Kubby had been selling marijuana to finance his gubernatorial campaign, a drug enforcement task force raided his home near the Squaw Valley ski area.

Kubby beat the marijuana sales charges after his attorneys argued that his 265-plant basement garden was necessary to produce the crop he needed to control the cancer. But the jury convicted Kubby on two counts of possessing a psychedelic mushroom and a peyote button.

Before his sentencing in 2001, Kubby moved to Canada with his wife and two young children. In Canada, Kubby won permission to grow a huge medical marijuana garden but failed to win his bid to become a political refugee. His appeals to stay were exhausted early this year. Kubby flew back to California on Jan. 26 and was whisked off the jet by police at San Francisco International Airport.

Although a free man Monday, Kubby still faces a March 14 hearing for failing to appear at his original sentencing five years ago.

When his legal issues are finally resolved, Kubby said, he intends to settle in South Lake Tahoe, where he hopes his two daughters can continue to pursue their amateur skiing careers.

He also plans to continue using pot as his medicine.

“The sooner I get the whole plant the better,” Kubby said. “You can’t argue with 30 years of medical success.”