The Los Angeles Times
Ex-Candidate Faces Trial
in Medical Marijuana Case
Libertarian entrant in last year's governor race
claims that smoking pot has controlled his rare cancer
By: ERIC BAILEY
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Thursday, April 15, 1999
Before the bust, Steve Kubby's claim to fame was political trivia at best:
Just who was last year's Libertarian candidate for governor?
Then came the January day that narcotics officers raided Kubby's home on a
scenic slope near the Squaw Valley ski resort. Agents confiscated 265 marijuana
plants growing in the basement and arrested the politician and his wife.
The drug case has thrust Kubby, who said he smokes pot daily to control a rare
form of cancer, into the forefront of the roiling battle over medical marijuana.
It comes at a pivotal juncture in the fight.
Last month, a federal advisory panel declared that pot has therapeutic merits
for patients with AIDS or cancer. Meanwhile, advocates are hopeful that last
year's Democratic political sweep in California--and the departure of Republican
drug warrior Dan Lungren as attorney general--will yield a friendlier
environment for patients who smoke marijuana.
That hasn't been the case even with approval of Proposition 215,
California's landmark 1996 medical marijuana initiative. Despite the new law,
drug agents closed cannabis clubs in numerous cities. Overall, marijuana arrests
statewide jumped to a record 57,677 in 1997, the law's first year of life.
Dozens of people have tried to use the law as a shield against prosecution,
but few have succeeded. Kubby's case promises an unusual test. Although other
patients say the drug helps them cope with illness, Kubby goes farther.
Marijuana, he contends, has kept him alive.
Kubby was diagnosed in the 1970s with a type of cancer that attacks the
adrenal glands and typically kills within five years. Early on, he suffered
through operations, chemotherapy and radiation. But for the last 20 years his
most regular form of treatment has been cannabis.
"As long as I have pot, I can lead an active and healthy life,"
said Kubby, 52. "I can be as physical and intellectual as any other adult.
Without this medicine, I would drop dead in a few days."
Prosecutors aren't even debating Kubby's tale of herbal success. Instead,
they contend the number of plants Kubby and his 33-year-old wife, Michele,
cultivated were too many for personal medical use.
Authorities have charged the couple with possession of pot for sale as well
as other felony counts for small amounts of hashish, psychedelic mushrooms and
peyote buttons found at their home.
"If the jury feels 265 plants is sufficient for medical use, then
justice is done," said Christopher Cattran, a Placer County deputy district
attorney. "If they decide 265 plants is too much, then justice is done,
The case is set for trial May 18 in Auburn. Kubby refuses to plea bargain,
though he could face a decade in prison if convicted on all charges. He claims
he is a victim of political persecution by the district attorney and said his
case will be "the Scopes monkey trial of medical marijuana," a
pronouncement that has even some allies rolling their eyes.
In Kubby's corner is Dr. Vincent DeQuattro, a USC medical school professor.
A cardiologist who specializes in hypertension illnesses, DeQuattro treated
Kubby more than two decades ago, but eventually referred him to cancer
specialists in the Midwest and lost track of him. The doctor figured Kubby, like
most others with the rare illness, had died.
Then he saw Kubby's picture--smiling and looking quite well--in the voters
pamphlet for last November's election. DeQuattro said he was "flabbergasted
Steve was still alive."
He contacted the politician and performed tests, discovering lethal levels
of adrenal fluids--10 to 20 times normal--coursing through Kubby's system. Under
such conditions a patient usually has blood pressure that skyrockets and faces
the risk of heart attack or stroke. Kubby's system remains somehow in check.
"I have no other way to deduce but that marijuana is controlling
it," said DeQuattro, who is continuing to study Kubby. "I've never
prescribed medical marijuana, I'm not an advocate, I don't use it. But in some
way his therapy has kept him alive." Sophisticated Growing Area
Kubby said he began growing pot soon after voters approved the state's
medical marijuana law, which he helped to promote. He developed a sophisticated
little plantation in the basement of his sprawling rental house.
Though now stripped clean by drug agents, it once featured blowers, a carbon
dioxide generator, special air filters and grow lights hard-wired to timers. At
the time of the arrest, narcotics agents said, 107 plants were capable of
producing smokable marijuana. The rest were immature plants, some just
The bounty of his basement garden will be a key issue in his upcoming trial.
During a preliminary hearing last month, a state drug agent testified that the
size of Kubby's crop indicated he was operating a "commercial grow"
that could have produced 20 pounds of finished product.
Kubby, however, said his indoor operation was yielding far less than that,
and all of it was for himself and his wife, who smokes pot to control pain
caused by a bowel condition she has suffered for more than five years.
He said he regularly throws away a lot of his crop, winnowing out inferior
strains, and that he usually smokes only half a joint, reasoning the drug's
medicinal effects are best when drawn through unburned cannabis.
"I was trying to grow the absolute best medicine possible," Kubby
said. "I figured the better the medicine, the less I have to grow and
smoke. I was working for stuff that didn't make me stupid or stoned or have the
Kubby also has an explanation for the mushrooms and other drugs found in his
home: he said he had them on hand because of a book he wrote on drugs and
politics. The Kubbys said they are undergoing tests to prove they only consumed
Like his brand of medicine, Kubby's career path has been anything but
In his 20s, he ran an outdoor camp teaching wilderness living to teenagers.
Later, while fighting the cancer, Kubby founded a ski magazine and got into
politics. Michele Kubby worked at a San Francisco brokerage house before the
couple's 3-year-old daughter was born. Several years ago, they started an
Internet magazine, Alpine World, which they edited from home.
The Kubbys first came to the attention of narcotics agents last summer, as
he campaigned at the top of the Libertarian ticket. Tahoe drug agents got an
anonymous letter containing a provocative tip. Kubby, it said, was growing pot
to finance his campaign for governor.
Kubby denies the allegation, suggesting it was dreamed up by some foe
troubled by his pro-pot stance on the stump. He talked openly about his own use
of marijuana for cancer during the campaign. On election day he finished fourth,
with 1% of the vote.
Off and on during the campaign, drug agents were keeping an eye on the Kubby
home. They picked through the family's garbage, peered through open windows and
interviewed friends. Cattran, the prosecutor, said agents discovered marijuana
seeds, leafy residue and other signs that Kubby was growing plants.
Along with the garbage were notes from Kubby. Tipped off about the
surveillance early on, Kubby began leaving letters in his trash bin telling drug
agents that he was a medical marijuana patient protected by Proposition 215.
Those missives didn't help. Two months after election day, agents outfitted
in bulletproof vests raided the couple's home. Steve and Michele Kubby were
jailed for several days after the Jan. 19 arrest before being released on their
During his incarceration, Kubby said, his blood pressure soared, as jailers
scoffed at the notion he be allowed to smoke pot to control the condition.
Officers, he recalled, "told us repeatedly: Proposition 215 may be fine in
San Francisco, but it doesn't fly in Placer County."
In recent weeks, the couple have vacated the Tahoe rental house--too many
bad memories, they say--and moved in with relatives in Orange County. Kubby said
he and his wife recently declared bankruptcy. They say they have been hamstrung
to publish their Internet ski magazine because agents seized computer software
"He's not a pot millionaire," said Dale Gieringer, California
coordinator for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws. "The
guy's broke." Putting Muscle Behind Prop. 215
The politician's plight has outraged others in the Libertarian Party, who
awarded him their "Sons of Liberty Award" at a recent state
convention. Party elders are feeling battered, noting that Los Angeles author
and medical marijuana proponent Peter McWilliams was arrested in July after a
speech at the Libertarian national convention blasting national drug policy.
Kubby's legal prospects remain uncertain. Many medical marijuana defendants
have been found guilty in court, despite Proposition 215.
An exception was the case of Charles Lepp, a 46-year-old Vietnam War veteran
acquitted in December of charges that he grew marijuana for sale in rural Lake
County. Lepp said his 131 plants provided pot for a variety of ailments,
including chronic back pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and manic
Kubby's attorney hopes the upcoming trial will have an impact beyond the
courtroom, helping push state lawmakers to adopt cleanup legislation clarifying
Proposition 215, which has been attacked as too ambiguous by law enforcement
"Right now, nobody knows how much pot is too much," said Dale E.
Wood, Kubby's Truckee attorney. "That question just can't be answered
arbitrarily. In one county it might be a few plants is OK, in another a lot more
might be allowed."
As one of the people who helped put Proposition 215 on the ballot, Kubby
said he feels a personal responsibility to push ahead with his case. He contends
that pot patients in many parts of California now are actually at a greater risk
than before the initiative.
Since 1991, marijuana arrests statewide have jumped 72%, including a slight
increase in the year after voters passed Proposition 215, according to the state
Department of Justice.
"Our task," Kubby said, "is to win in the jury box what we
couldn't win in the ballot box."
Michele Kubby has a more basic desire--to see her husband stay alive.
"If the jury sends Steve off to jail, they'll kill him," she said.
"That's what they'll have on their conscience, that's what they'll
More about Steve Kubby's trial at The Kubby