London cannabis seed seller Gypsy Nirvana faces extradition to US
‘Marijuana activist and advocate’ wanted for alleged activity his lawyers say is legal in UK
by Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent
A British businessman known as Gypsy Nirvana is facing extradition to the US for allegedly distributing cannabis seeds, an activity his lawyers argue is legal in the UK.
Nirvana, who escaped from what is alleged to have been a rendition-style deportation to Los Angeles in 2013, will be in the high court in London on Thursday to resist an attempt by US officials to extradite him.
The 57-year-old, who lives in south-west London, was a roadie for the Clash, drove rock stars such as Ronnie Wood and acted in films in Hong Kong.
He adopted the name Gypsy Nirvana by deed poll 15 years ago and is described by the US as a “marijuana activist and advocate”. He runs his seed-selling business from an office in London.
The extradition claim comes at a time when many US states have relaxed their laws on the production and sale of cannabis, although Donald Trump, the US president, tweeted at the weekend that drug dealers should be given the death penalty.
Westminster magistrates court threw out the first US attempt to have Nirvana extradited. The US authorities, which are represented by the Crown Prosecution Service, are appealing against that decision.
Nirvana is facing trial in the US state of Maine on charges relating to the production, distribution, possession, import and export of cannabis seeds between 2004 and 2013. He denies the charges and a further allegation of money laundering.
Dismissing the US case, the district judge at Westminster magistrates court ruled that Nirvana’s seed business was not illegal under UK law, which prohibits possession and sale of the buds and leaves of the cannabis plant.
Because lawyers for the US had failed to establish there was a similar criminal offence in both jurisdictions, the judge turned down the application.
US officials in Maine launched their legal action against Nirvana in August 2013 when he was living with his wife and children in the Philippines. He was detained there by local police and forcibly put on a flight that would have passed through LA on its way to London.
His counsel, the extradition specialist Ben Cooper of Doughty Street Chambers, told the magistrates court that it was an attempt to subject Nirvana to “disguised extradition”, deceiving him about his removal that would have led to him being detained illegally in the US.
In the event, Nirvana became suspicious of the flight plan and forced his way off the aircraft before it left Manila. He was then held for nearly two and half years in a Philippine prison before being allowed back to the UK where his father was dying. On his return, US authorities launched extradition proceedings against him.
Nirvana told the Guardian: “I have done nothing wrong. These are seeds from a medicinal plant. I have been a legal seed dealer in the UK since the 1990s.
“The seeds do not have any [active ingredient] THC in them. There’s no drug in the seeds. You can smoke the seeds all day and all you will get is a headache.
“But cannabis seeds are considered a schedule 1 narcotic in the US, the same as heroin. So if Trump gets his way they could execute me over the seeds of a medicinal plant.”
Nirvana said 29 US states have now granted some form of legal status to cannabis. He has never been to Maine but has in the past bought seeds from suppliers there.
He spent 30 months living in a cramped prison in Camp Bagong Diwa, a Philippine detention centre, while he resisted the US arrest warrant. Eventually UK embassy officials helped arranged his deportation back to the UK.
The CPS confirmed that the case will be heard on Thursday but declined to comment further. The court is likely to reserve its decision.