Ken Hayes

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Ken Hayes

Postby palmspringsbum » Mon Jun 29, 2009 12:42 pm

THE DAILY JOURNAL, dtd. 06/15/2009 wrote:<small>The San Mateo Daily Journal</small>

<span class="postbigbold">A long strange trip: Pot advocate facing federal charges</span>

June 15, 2009, By Bill Silverfarb

<span class="postbold">Pot advocate facing federal charges after living the life of a fugitive</span>

It was a chilly January morning in 2002 when Ken Hayes Jr., his partner Cheryl and their toddler Madeline finished packing up a U-Haul truck ready to leave their cozy Petaluma farm for a new life in Canada.

The family was desperate to leave as Hayes feared an imminent arrest by Federal Drug Enforcement Agency officers.

He sensed they were coming. He just didn’t know when.

As the three hopped in the truck with their parrot Romeo, ready to take the long drive to Vancouver, a car rolled into the driveway.

It wasn’t the DEA. It was Hayes’ mother and father.

They showed up unannounced to convince the family to stay. But it was too late. Their son’s mind was set. He was leaving and there was a real chance he was never coming back.

Hayes founded the now-defunct Harm Reduction Center in San Francisco in 2000. He dispensed cannabis to sick and dying people and offered counseling to heroin and crack addicts. For a while, he was one of the most respected medical marijuana advocates in San Francisco, having the support of former District Attorney Terence Hallinan, and then Supervisor Mark Leno and current Supervisor Chris Daly.

Hallinan, in fact, testified on Hayes’ behalf in Sonoma County on charges of cultivating and distributing up to 1,000 marijuana plants. Hayes was represented at the time by attorney Bill Panzer, the man who helped write Proposition 215, The Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act passed by state voters in 1996.

A jury acquitted him and another defendant in the fall of 2001. The courtroom victory left Hayes feeling triumphant and righteous.

Then the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 hit and the world changed for everyone. Hayes thought, however, the federal government might take it easy on cannabis dispensaries in California since there were much more pressing matters at hand.

He was wrong.

The Drug Enforcement Agency actually stepped up its efforts to close down cannabis dispensaries across the state following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Hayes knew he would be a target by the DEA because he had made himself a figurehead in San Francisco’s pot club industry. He organized patients’ rights rallies frequently and donated time and money to politicians sympathetic to the cause. He knew his court victory in Sonoma County was also likely to bring on the DEA’s fury.

He had a choice that chilly morning on his farm in 2002. Stay and face the music, or leave and start a new life.

He chose to leave and become a runaway from the law.

It was a decision that would nearly tear his family apart.

<span class="postbold">Traveling the world</span>

Getting into Canada wasn’t exactly easy. It’s a long story that left his daughter and partner safe across the border into Canada and Hayes stuck in Washington state with 53 cents in his pocket. He made it in somehow just as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency was preparing an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

In Canada, Hayes filed for refugee status on the grounds he couldn’t get a fair trial in the United States. The process took 18 months and was finally denied. The family lived happily in Vancouver, however, running an alternative medicine shop called “The Spirit Within.” After three years, though, Canada had its share of Hayes. He was given a “departure order.” He didn’t have to go back to the United States, but he couldn’t stay in Canada.

His daughter Maddie’s mother, though, decided it was time to come back home to the Bay Area and a more stable life.

Hayes would now be alone in his flight for freedom of prosecution.

Meanwhile, the DEA listed Hayes as a dangerous cocaine trafficker on its Web site.

This was an obstacle for the fugitive since he could face extradition depending on what foreign land he ended up in.

He traveled to many foreign lands over the next three years. There was his trip to Thailand where he went to offer assistance after a tsunami devastated parts of Southeast Asia. There was his year in Cambodia where he worked in a medical clinic and offered HIV outreach to remote villages.

<span class="postbold">From San Bruno to marijuana advocacy</span>

Hayes had always wanted to be a doctor since his days as a young man growing up in San Bruno. It was his Halloween costume when he was vice president of the Associated Students at Skyline College. At the University of California Santa Cruz in the late 1980s he studied psychobiology, pre-med. But he never made it to medical school, there were other distractions. Hayes was a Deadhead with the Volkswagen van to prove it.

He embraced the hippie gatherings at Dead shows and partook in its counterculture debauchery.

At Dead gatherings, Hayes met marijuana advocates who helped him forge his own beliefs on the plant’s effectiveness as a medical option.

Medical marijuana advocacy would become his life’s pursuit, a pursuit that didn’t exactly thrill his conservative parents.

His parents, however, remained supportive of their son through the years even while he trotted the globe as a federal fugitive where he finally ended up enrolled in Ovidius University of Constanta Medical School in Romania. His mother even brought Madeline to see her father in Eastern Europe. It was a brief visit that left Hayes longing for his daughter’s company.

Maddie would ultimately take a long plane trip all by herself from San Francisco to Europe to reunite and live with her father. She was barely 8 at the time.

Hayes had his daughter and was enrolled in medical school. Life was good. Until, that is, he got in trouble in Romania.

<span class="postbold">Locked up</span>

Hayes was accused of growing ayahuasca, a plant containing the psychedelic drug dimethyltryptamine or DMT, used in spiritual practices by shamans in South America.

Romania didn’t take too kindly to the foreigner, however, threatening him with up to 24 years in prison, and locking him up in what amounted to a dungeon for more than seven months. On the day he was arrested in Romania, his daughter Maddie was studying the country’s language in school. She, too was taken into Romanian custody and sent to an orphanage. Hayes’ quest for a happy life with his daughter had come to an end. The worry consumed him and the dank, dark room he sat in each day with only a bucket for company left him nearly mad.

Fortunately, Maddie’s mom came quick to her daughter’s aid, sweeping her back to the safe confines of the Portola Highlands in San Bruno within days of Hayes’ arrest.

Meanwhile, confinement left Hayes suicidal.

He was ready for extradition. He’d rather come home to the United States and face federal charges than languish in a Romanian jail. He was a skinny, disheveled man by the time Romania turned him over to the United States.

<span class="postbold">Coming home</span>

But he was finally ready to face the music. After all, there was a new president now with an administration hinting at making marijuana crimes less of a priority for prosecutors.

U.S. prosecutors, however, would not relent in Hayes’ case. Rather than face those prosecutors in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Hayes pleaded guilty recently, with attorney Bill Panzer representing him, to felony charges of cultivating up to 99 marijuana plants for distribution and for not claiming $25,000 in income from 2001.

He now awaits sentencing. The maximum punishment for the crime is 20 years but prosecutors are only seeking a 16-month sentence. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer presides over the case, however, and has a history of leniency in sentencing marijuana crimes.

He sentenced pot guru Ed Rosenthal to only one day following his conviction on similar charges in 2003.

In fact, the charges Hayes pleaded guilty to nearly mirror Rosenthal’s case.

His sentencing is Aug. 5.

“I don’t want to go to jail. If I end up in jail I’m not going to complain about it. I’ll accept my fate,” he said.

At 41, the former pot advocate, fugitive and Deadhead is living with his parents at his childhood San Bruno home.

His daughter Maddie lives across the street with her mom. They get to see each other every day. Hayes walks Maddie to and from school most days and volunteers in her class teaching 10 year olds long division.

He thinks back on that chilly morning in Petaluma in 2002 when his parents asked him to stay. He knows he could have put all this trouble behind him years ago and save himself and family lots of heartache.

But he takes great joy in his daughter’s presence and cherishes who she’s become through it all. Her long strange trip with dad has turned her into a person who stands up for change, a person who knows sometimes things in this world aren’t right.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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