(Article originally ran in CC #16, Jan/Feb 1999) Marc Emery is Canada’s most well-known marijuana activist. He came to Vancouver in 1994, and immediately opened Hemp BC, which has grown into a world-famous marijuana and hemp superstore. In the following three years Marc also founded the Hemp BC Legal Assistance Centre, the Little Grow Store, the Cannabis Cafe, and Cannabis Culture Magazine. Before coming to Vancouver, Marc owned bookstores in London, Ontario, using them as economic engines to finance his various “freedom crusades”, on issues ranging from tax-revolts, censorship, Sunday shopping, garbage strikes, and of course marijuana.
Hemp BC was hit by police raids twice while Marc was the owner, and the second raid made him decide the store would survive better if he sold it. Hemp BC is now owner by Marc’s former manager, Sister Icee.
Marc continued on selling marijuana seeds by mail-order, as well as some over-the-counter sales from a private office. However, after another raid and court injunction in September 1998, Marc was forced to disassociate himself from his former employees and restrict his seed sales to mail-order only.
I first met Marc just before he opened Hemp BC, and had soon taken over running his newsletter, then called “Marijuana and Hemp”. That four-page photocopied news-sheet eventually evolved into the fine publication you hold in your hands.
I interviewed Marc in his seed office, through a constant barrage of overlapping phone queries, cash deals with seed breeders, stuffing of envelopes and numerous non-sequiturs. Marc loves to talk, and he usually has a lot to say to anyone who will listen.
When did you first smoke marijuana?
That would be in 1981. The woman I had just got involved with liked to smoke pot before sex and she said, “try a bit.” I found out, boy, you can have some bodily experiences with sex and pot. To this day that’s still usually when I smoke it.
Sounds like a classic combination: sex and pot.
I think sex and marijuana have always been intertwined, and that’s why marijuana consumption is so personal and so individual and so different for all people.
Were you a freedom fighter as a kid?
I have been strongly in favour of freedom of speech from a very young age. I had an underground newspaper in high school. I published three newspapers eventually, and of course I have a magazine now, this one.
I was always an anarchist in my classes, always bringing disorder to the teachers’ design of order. I really didn’t like my schooling, but never argued with my parents at all. I just didn’t like people telling me what to do.
I got midway through grade 12 and then quit school and started my own mainstream bookshop when I was 16, in downtown London, Ontario. I haven’t finished high school.
So your first business was when you were 16?
Actually, my first business was when I was 9. I had a mail-order business called “stamp-treasure.” I would buy stamps cheaply, and I would sell them for more money to people by mail.
When I was 11 years old, I had another business. It was really my first true, serious business, and it was called “Marc’s Comic Room.” By the time I was finished I had 29,000 comic books, all numbered in bags and 256 boxes that dominated the entire downstairs of my parents’ home.
I sold that for $6,000 in 1975 when I was 16 to start the antiquarian bookshop in downtown London, Ontario. I sold every kind of rare book and manuscript and comic book and baseball card for the 18 years I was there.
Does your skill in business run in your family?
Nope. My father was a lifelong employee as a worker and a supervisor at a 3M company in London, Ontario, for over 30 years. My older brother is a Christian minister, and my younger brother is a small businessman. So no, business doesn’t run in the family at all.
What does your minister brother think of you being the Prince of Pot?
My family is neither supportive nor critical. They simply live too far away to really have an idea of what goes on out here in British Columbia, other than, “if Marc’s involved, it’s bound to be interesting.”
They are certainly used to me causing controversy and I never get criticized for it. I’ve never had the family say, “Geez, can’t you just quieten down or tone down.” That never happens. But on the other hand I rarely see or speak to them, so it’s just, well? family is not a significant thing when you’re 3,000 miles away.
Tell me about your freedom crusades when you were running the bookstore.
The book shop was called “City Lights Book Shop.” I thought the centre of all culture was New York, so I named my store after the skyline of New York City.
I did dozens of freedom crusades. That was the whole idea of the bookshop; to allow me to forward all sorts of unusual civil rights and individual liberties issues that no one else seemed to do. I soon realized why. They were all endlessly time consuming, money consuming and very discouraging.
From the period of 1965 to 1975 I was a socialist, so I tended to participate in “pre-enlightened” activities, like working the NDP election trail.
In 1980 I read Ayn Rand’s books, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and they totally changed the way I looked at how social systems worked. I became an opponent of government, and a real believer in individual liberty as the ultimate social value.
I began zealousy involving myself in tax-revolts and freedom of speech campaigns. I was involved in any number of tax revolts for years. For two years I went out four or five nights a week to distribute pamphlets in the city, to get people against a tax-paid sports event or what have you.
I was also constantly defending variety stores that sold explicit literature. I defended hate literature and pornography, I sold 2 Live Crew music. Every kind of culture or information that was under assault, our store would defend it or go to court, or do something to draw attention to it.
What other kinds of things did you do?
I broke Ontario’s Sunday shopping laws for eight weeks, a different way each time. One Sunday we gave away books for free and still got charged.
After eight weeks of breaking the Sunday shopping laws and being charged each time, we got convicted. I refused to pay the fine, and I was sent to jail.
You get $30 a day off the fine for every day you spend in jail, and the public raised $380 of the $500 fine, so that was enough to get me out of jail after 4 days. They dropped the other 7 charges because I was getting too much publicity.
I also tried to get charged for marijuana literature. I brought up Paul Mavrides of the Freak Brothers and Steve Hagar of High Times to sign copies. Remember, this was way back in the dark ages when this was all still unavailable and illegal. Yet I was unsuccessful in getting charged there.
We even gave away High Times magazine in front of the police department. Hundreds of people rallied to get charged for that, but we didn’t. They refused to charge me.
I also ran a 23 day emergency garbage service during a garbage strike in 1986. That was a very revealing and interesting experience. The city garbage workers were on strike. I don’t like unions and I don’t like strikes, and I didn’t want people to feel that they were helpless under such circumstances.
I got a big truck, and with two volunteers we picked up two to three thousand pounds of garbage a day, took it to a private landfill site, and buried it legally. We disposed of 72,000 pounds of garbage, just to show people not to be intimidated or blackmailed by unions or strikers.
The union was very threatening. I got a death threat every day. One guy would call up and say “maybe there’ll be some battery acid in one of the bags you pick up tomorrow,” but nothing ever transpired.
Get any death threats these days?
This is the least controversial thing I’ve ever done, when it comes to the public. I don’t ever get people stopping me on the stret saying they object to what I’m doing. I don’t get any nasty letters or phone calls.
As far as the public is concerned, my time in BC has been the quietest, most peaceful time in my life. In London, I used to get Christains and feminists picketing my bookstore on the same day, literally opposite each other! The feminists would picket us for the pornography, and the Christians because we were an “anti-christian” bookshop.
Why did you leave London?
In a snit, a pout, I had come to the conclusion that Canadians weren’t worth saving and that my effort was wasted on them.
This may or may not be true, but that’s not really a good compass to guide you in an activity anyway. Whether people reward you or not, or even think particularly well of you, isn’t really important in the long run. If you value an idea then it shouldn’t matter. That’s your priority, not theirs.
But anyways I had decided, “fine, I’m just going to withdraw from society and go native.” So in 1992 we sold our house and my car, a brand new car, and I sold the three book shops that I had, and we moved to India.
The idea was to live in Asia for ten years on the earnings I would get from selling my bookshops. I also had $30,000 in savings that I was receiving interest from. Between these things we had about $35,000 a year income in India, which we thought should make it all easy to do. Well, it wasn’t that easy to do at all.
What happened to you in Asia?
After two years of living in Asia in search of Shangra-La, I had built this house on a volcano-crator lake on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. I spent all my savings, $30,000 into it, which I was getting income from. The idea was, we would build this beautiful house on these people’s property and we would live there, and after 6 years it would automatically revert to their ownership. It was part of the deal, they just had to wait 6 years and they had this house.
This house was a beautiful, large chalet overlooking this extraordinary, mythical lake. In fact to get to this place, you have to go around 44 hair-pin bends on the side of this most gorgeous, spectacular scenery and greenery, which Indonesia does have a lot of. This was just the nicest place that I had seen on earth. So I thought I’d build a house there.
It took four months to build. I designed it myself. Yet ultimately it was a mistake to throw my lot in with this Indonesian family. The day the house was completed, they wouldn’t let me take possession of it, and to this day are renting it out to wealthy tourists.
I had lost $30,000 dollars. This led to a series of escalating events which caused me to completely run out of money. Instead of staying in Asia for ten years, we were barely able to afford to stay there for two years. I had to come back for a job to work to somehow get money.
What made you decide to come to Vancouver?
While at a guest house in Malaka, Malasia, in 1993, I was reading the state controlled newspaper about the Canadian election. Jean Charest and Kim Campbell were contesting the Conservative party leadership, to see who would be Prime Minister, and both of them had admitted to smoking marijuana.
This was picked up in Malaysia, and there was a sidebar about all the incredible hydroponic marijuana that is being grown in this region called the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and the police were quoted as saying there’s more pot grown here than any other place in North America.
I thought that there should be one store that catered explicitly to the marijuana community in a place like Vancouver, which, according to the police, has the largest per capita number of marijuana smokers and growers. A year later when I went broke in Indosia, this became really important information to bear in mind.
What did you do when you arrived in BC?
I came to Vancouver on March 1, 1994, and by April 11 Hemp BC was formed. I was selling Grow Yer Own Stone and High Times magazine, which were banned at this time, you couldn’t buy them in the newsstands. I started selling them to variety stores, to comic shops, to actual book shops, door-to-door to anyone who would buy High Times magazine and Grow Yer Own Stone.
At this point in time marijuana literature was not available anywhere in Canada, so there was a big demand for it. In about four months we had enough money to actually pay the rent on the original location of Hemp BC at 324 West Hastings.
We had about 15 feet in from the front door by about 20 feet wide of store, and then over the next 6 months we renovated the rest of the building, small as it is, and that’s how we got started.
You actually sold High Times door-to-door?
Yup! I even sold copies at bus stops. Variety stores would buy five copies, some bookshops would buy 25 copies. I would make 80 cents a copy.
One of the unfortunate things about this for me was that I made it so pretty soon High Times could import thousands of magazines into Canada and distribute them, so they went back to their big distributors and asked them to take over. So by helping High Times get access to Canada, I lost distributorship of High Times to the serious professionals. Just as it was becoming a viable concern, and distributorship began to involve no effort whatsoever, they took it away from me.
So you opened up Hemp BC, a small store?
Even at its maximum size, the original Hemp BC location was only 20 feet wide by 60 feet long. It was a very small place. And it was only after 6 to 7 months of being open that it finally got to that size. But it was very influential, even before we moved to our big location across the street a few years later.
In an early issue of Cannabis Canada we ran a very popular article about how to open your own hemp store, and it was modelled on the original small Hemp BC. You know, you need $11,000 for inventory, $4,000 for rent and renovations, and so on. Basically how a person could build themselves a lifestyle and a business, on an extremely small budget, and help spread this revolution.
Spreading a revolution through retail is probably the niftiest idea that we ever came up with, and it’s very much what we’ve done. It inhibits a revolution to have a lack of money to operate openly to change people’s minds. With hemp stores, people are disseminating information in a self-sufficient way which puts them in the public sphere, gets them lots of media attention, access to people, retail advertising, and the business community. You get social acceptance in a completely different way that has been heretofore unknown.
Was Hemp BC Canada’s first hemp store?
There was only one before it, the Great Canadian Hemporium, in my hometown of London, Ontario. Chris Clay’s store was the first store open in Canada that was what you would call a “complete cannabis shop,” featuring the industrial, medicinal and psychoactive aspects.
And now how many are there in Canada?
Oh there’s… hundreds anyway. And now you’ve got hemp in the mainstream like Body Shop and other places, and you’ve got many environmental stores that have picked up hemp, and you’ve got a lot of alternate lifestyle clothing stores that like Hemp BC have pipes and rolling papers.
When did you first start selling marijuana seeds?
In November 1994, right after I got back from the Cannabis Cup.
I had been the Canadian representative on an international panel at the cup. I was honoured to be there because I felt that I had earned it the least. At the time, Hemp BC had only been open for 3 months.
Ben Dronkers got up, and he was just like? he was God, really. You know, Eric Clapton did the guitar in the 60’s, but Ben Dronkers to me or to anyone else in this movement is the ultimate successful revolutionary. A man who started something great, taking over the Sensi Seed bank from Neville.
Ben Dronkers in the past 15 years, has been responsible for disseminating, and this is what he said when he got up, that he has distributed millions of seeds, creating millions and millions of marijuana plants, representing millions of pounds of marijuana! I thought that even if the cops got all of them, they’d need thousands and thousands of cops, endlessly marching, tracking down pot. [laughs]
When it was my turn I got up and I said, “I love that guy!” I got really worked up about it. So the second I got onto Canadian soil, I said “that’s it, we’re going to sell seeds, we’re going to go to the next level!”
I see seeds as being a really successful way of overwhelming the government, so that their effort, even with thousands of police officers, wouldn’t even be able to touch what we were doing.
Can you estimate how many seeds have crossed your hands?
Oh yeah, I can in fact. Let me just think what our daily average is… I would say over a million seeds. And that represents tens of millions of plants because most of these plants are grown out from seed and then cuttings are taken and hundreds and hundreds of copies are made.
The right person will get hundreds and hundreds of plants from one purchase. They won’t buy new seeds every time they want new plants. Once they have one specimen of it, they’ll make hundreds of copies over time. There’s just no way the government has destroyed as much pot as we’ve created.
So it’s possible that one person can undo the evil of several thousand people. You should never underestimate your power.
When did Hemp BC get raided for the first time?
The first time we were raided was January 4, 1996. I had been expecting it for about 4 weeks, ever since I had appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
I knew there was no way that I could have a headline on the front page of the most widely circulated paper in the US, saying “Pot seed merchant winked at by police.” I thought “I’m just doomed, no police is going to let a major international paper say they wink at crime,” even in fact if that was what they were doing because nobody in Canada considers it a crime.
The raid really wreaked havoc in my relationship, and money problems were horrible. We were keeping stock for 25 stores in our warehouse, so they took just a massive amount of material, between $150,000 to $200,000 worth of stuff.
Raids make it extraordinarily difficult for you to survive. You’re left with bills and employees to pay with nothing to sell, all this overhead and no merchandise.
We had never made enough money to save any at Hemp BC. We always had a great project in mind, and the money was committed well in advance of us getting it. That’s the kind of business style that I have, and that’s always worked for me.
How did you suvive?
We really worked hard to recover. Employees had pay cuts that went on for months, bills went way behind and our credit rating was trashed because we fell greviously behind on paying bills. We were having a tremendous time struggling, and eventually I sold half the company for about $75,000. This was enough to pay all the bills that we had at the time, and get us out of a serious debt. After that we were able to recover, but it took a full 9 months to get anywhere toward some level of stability.
And then you began expanding again.
A few months later we moved across the street to the current location, and eventually accomplished our objective of having the Cannabis Cafe, Hemp BC and the Little Grow Shop. It was spectacular retail marijuana advocacy. At their peak there was just nothing else like them in the world. Even though we didn’t sell marijuana, we had something more intimate, more fun, more classy than Amsterdam, and that’s saying something because Amsterdam can be classy.
The Hemp BC store sold all the products, disseminated the literature, as the primary economic engine.
The Cannabis Cafe had all cannabis food. There was hemp seed oil or hemp seeds in everything, and you were encouraged to smoke marijuana there when I was there. There was just a lot of marijuana spirit, and there was nothing else like it in Canada.
The Little Grow Shop was explicitly all about growing marijuana. The Little Grow Shop became a big grow shop, teaching people self-sufficiency so they could grow their own pot. We would also sell the seeds, so that people had the werewithall to grow great pot ? not just any pot, but the best pot in the world can be grown in your home, by you.
The Hemp BC Legal Assistance Centre offered free legal assistance, subsidized by the other arms of the operation. It was a marvelous system.
The magazine, then it was called Cannabis Canada, was the primary propaganda and information organ. Promoting the whole concept of the Hemp BC operation as well as being a unifying voice for the movement.
I wanted to develop role models and infrastructure models that people could open in their own cities and towns, and ultimately recreate what we have established in Vancouver all throughout North America.
It’s happening, and so our revolution is very much a success, we just haven’t seen final victory yet. But we are very much in a better position than we were four years ago before Hemp BC was started. That money was well spent. I estimate we did seven or eight million dollars worth of activity, and all that was poured back into the movement in one way or another.
How many times have you been raided?
I’ve been raided a total of four times: twice at Hemp BC, and then I sold Hemp BC to Sister Icee, and we both got raided at the same time on April 30, me at the magazine, her at the store.
In the second raid they took all the Cannabis Cafe’s hand-crafted vapourizers that cost us $500 each. They took both our cafe bongs, special signature bongs, that were about $2000 each. The Little Grow Shop had inventory exceeding $40,000, and the value of the seeds at that point in time was $150,000.
It was nearly impossible to recover from economic terrorism like that. People just come in and loot your store and in some cases you don’t even get charged, and yet you never get that stuff back. Even if you’re found not guilty, you’re not going to get it back.
The real danger in the third raid was that even though we only lost maybe $12,000 worth of inventory, they took some of our magazine computers. They were actually going to take them all with impunity, and just destroy the entire publication, on a false warrant and under the most brazen and trashy of reasons. I realized our magazine was very vulnerable to these completely illegal, but nevertheless frequently practiced police raids.
And then on September 2, 1997, my seed business, Marc Emery Direct Seeds, was raided. The police discovered the office where the seeds were kept, and took them all, so that was a loss of about $50,000.
It’s designed to economically destroy you, right then and there. You slide into a cycle of economic disaster, so that you’re constantly cutting off things to keep them healthy, putting them in other people’s hands, essentially giving them a fresh start, and trying to salvage what you can.
Is that why you sold Hemp BC?
I sold Hemp BC not because I wanted to; that place makes money, that place is a great business! There was no doubt that I would have kept Hemp BC for the rest of my life ? it’s my proudest achievement. But the thing is, I knew that it would have to be in someone else’s hands in order to survive the licensing attempts. I also thought police raids would be a lot less likely if someone else owned it.
Hemp BC has gotten larger than merely one or two people. It’s bigger than Marc Emery and Sister Icee. Hemp BC is the grail which people rally around, which is wonderful. It’s also the icon that makes some politicians livid, but they literally have the authority taken out from under them.
We created a revolution in which what we say is more influential than what Mayor Philip Owen says. We created Vansterdam, BC, the land of the BC bud, and people from all over the world are coming here to spend most of their money on pot. They want to see the pot, they want to smoke the pot, they want to grow the pot, they want to come here and hang out, and experience the scene. The mayor’s apopleptic about this, because we’re getting what we want.
Hemp BC is one of the most truly inpiring new businesses that advocates marijuana use. Even on CNN and in Rolling Stone we got great reviews. There has never been an A-league media criticism. The National Enquirer said something negative, but I take that as a compliment. Everyone else, from CNN to the Wall Street Journal, has said glowing things about Hemp BC, both as a business and an idea.
What do you think triggers police raids?
I know every time I’m on American television we get raided. Since I’ve been in British Columbia, I’ve been in jail 8 times for marijuana, and been raided four times for up to $600,000 dollars in my assets, which the police have in two huge wharehouses.
Of course, three and a half years after founding Hemp BC, I still don’t have any convictions at this point in time.
You have a whole bunch of trials coming up over the next few months…
Yeah, I’m going to be very busy.
We’ve got the Americans that I allegedly gave $5 worth of hash to. That’s something that I wouldn’t feel bad about being convicted for. To me that’s nothing that I would be ashamed of, it’s just that I don’t want any criminal sanctions against me right now.
We also have the allegation that I spat on a police officer. Ordinarily I never would have spat on a police officer, but I feel it was quite justified given the circumstances. It was during the December 1997 raid. These police officers physically attacked peaceful supporters in the crowd outside Hemp BC, including David Malmo-Levine, a former employee.
In order to stop them, I spat on one of the police officers, but I don’t believe I assaulted him because there was no pain, no bleeding, no consequence. In no way was it anything but a bit of indignity, and I don’t think indignity quite counts as assault.
As for paraphernalia charges, the only paraphernalia charge I actually have is for the promotion of vapourizers in the Cannabis Cafe advertising, and the actual sale of one vapourizer. It’s ironic because I’ve had well over 50,000 pipes and bongs seized from me, all without any charges.
What about the seed charges?
Let’s face it; I was selling seeds, and I’m proud of doing so. I would like to talk to the jury directly. I want to give the information to the jury myself, and I’m looking forward to that.
I really haven’t had my day in court, and I want to explain what Hemp BC is all about and what the purpose of selling all these seeds was. This wasn’t a business venture to make money for me personally, because I’ve never really taken money from these businesses. All of it went to this project, this big “making marijuana legal” project.
Have they offered you a deal on your trial at all?
No. They did long, long ago. But I’ve gone far enough that they’re not looking to make deals. They don’t have really solid cases against me in some instances, but they have enough charges to keep me busy for a long time, and they can always add more. The statute of limitations for charging someone on any particular activity is quite lengthy.
So if I ever become uppity or a problem they can just develop more charges. They don’t need much of a pretence to raid you or to commit you to onerous bail conditions or to keep you in any kind of confinement.
They can ban you from city blocks, like I’m banned from 6 blocks of my old work area in downtown. I’m banned from the Hemp BC and the Cannabis Cafe locations. I’m banned from the Cannabis Culture publishing office and my old seed office, and from even communicating with many of my former employees.
What’s the current status of your seed business now, after the last raid?
Fortunately, we deal with professionals, so whenever the police raid me these people are holding a store of their seeds in reserve, so I can be resupplied quickly.
What can’t be provided quickly is more money. You just can’t produce money out of thin air and we’re still trying to pay off the debts that are left since the second raid, and since then we’ve had the third and fourth raid, so it makes paying back the full debt load very difficult.
Yet in fact our seed orders are more up to date than they’ve ever been. As of late October, every order has been sent out within 48 to 72 hours of receiving it. There’s no back-log of any kind, we’ve gotten them all out within days. So the seed business is good.
Yet now you have more competition than ever before.
We were the pioneers of the seed business in North America in 1994. There’s now 25 to 30 seed businesses operating in North America, and some of them are fraudulent and some of them are good, and some of them are honest and some of them are not.
However, as far as I know, none of them give any serious money back to the movement. They’re self-serving, and although I think it’s not a crime or a sin to make lots of money, in this industry there’s an obligation to kick money back in to make marijuana legal.
There is a tremendous amount of suffering associated with marijuana prohibition, and people have an obligation to invest money back into this movement if they make money out of it. I don’t see a lot of that from the seed businesses that are competing with us.
Do you think there’s going to legalized pot in Canada?
Oh yes! The problem is that it has to be done in a semi-polite Canadian way. Which means no-one will admit they were wrong.
What I believe is going to happen first is that people are going to have private limits. They’ll be allowed to have up to fifty plants in their homes, and fifty plants worth of dry bud weight. Basically they won’t so much legalize it as decriminalize it, take it out of the law books, with regulations about how much you can own.
Now it’s an intrusion on our liberty to see even those types of regulations in force, but we want to move in the direction of tolerance, so anything that takes us toward more freedom and more liberty is a good thing.
First the government is going to make an accomodation for various people to be able to grow for medical reasons, and then the rest of us for whatever reason, because ultimately any reason is medical.
Has the internet helped your efforts?
Immensly. I get email from North Korea, Poland, Eastern Europe, Africa and Japan. North Korea! I couldn’t believe I got an email from someone in North Korea. Also Russia, Hong Kong, Taiwan.
I think our website first went online in December ?94. There was really nothing else like it at the time. We were one of the first marijuana websites online, now of course there’s thousands. The internet is dominated by anti-prohibitionists.
Who are your heroes in the marijuana movement?
The number one person has got to be Dennis Peron. He’s an amazing man who I think has done more for marijuana in America than anyone else. His victory on Proposition 215 was astounding, and even though the clubs there are having a tough time right now, Dennis knows how to reinvent himself and to just keep on going.
Then there’s Ben Dronkers, my inspiration to get into the seed business. He’s taken less risks in recent years, but I guess he’s earned the reward of his earlier work, when he was jailed and harrassed extensively.
There’s also the pantheon of greats in the movement like Jack Herer, Ed Rosenthal and Mel Frank, Steve Hagar, Tom Forcade of High Times…
When I list some of the great ones, the only one I wouldn’t criticize is Dennis Peron. I have nothing critical to say of Dennis. Unfortunately, I must say that I am disappointed with High Times. They have been around for 25 years, and they’ve managed to achieve very little for the movement.
I believe their being situated in New York and the structure there has led to a magazine that ultimately isn’t very inspiring. It’s hard to feel good after reading an issue of High Times.
I’ve often found aspects of their magazine very disturbing, ranging from boring to offensive to not inspiring. I get depressed a lot reading High Times, and I’d never want our magazine to be like that.
We’re actively involved in changing the circumstances in a very real way. Cannabis Culture is at the front of the lines, not the back of the lines. High Times seems to be waiting for things to happen, we’ve got more of a French Revolution, storm the Bastille attitude, that we’re going to be on the front lines with you.
I would like there to be more pot magazines. I can’t believe in a culture of 20 million American marijuana smokers and 2 to 3 million in Canada, that there aren’t 4 or 5 magazines.
Tell about some of your psychedelic experiences.
I have often seen the future, and it has come to pass every single time. I have also seen visions of a greater, more beautiful future, and of other dimensions.
But that’s not spiritual, I think it’s from the incredible capacity of our brains to absorb ideas beyond the linear? other dimensions, other worlds, other concepts. I like Terence Mckenna’s idea that aliens put mushrooms on the planet so we would have an easy means to communicate with other beings and other spirits out there, or other entities that exist in a more astral sense.
Do you feel you have a special calling or purpose?
Absolutely. I have always felt uniquely qualified and called upon to do what I am doing now. This is my life’s work, this is what I was meant to do. Everything else up to now was just training to make marijuana legal.
I had a very profound experience one day in 1977. An old woman and her husband walked in front of my store, and she dropped onto the sidewalk in the middle of this beautiful sunny day, and she fell into a coma. The ambulance came and hauled her away.
Three months later she called me up to say she had just gotten out of the hospital, and it had been a very traumatic time.
She said that her whole experience was because of this tremendous vision she had as she walked by, that involved me. She said she felt my incredible energy and aura come towards her and drop her literally dead on the spot.
She said “Mr Emery, I’ve never met you, but I know a lot about you, and I got a fabulous jolting sensation that something really important is going to happen to you.”
She told me she had seen three important symbols, and that the first was the dollar sign. Well, three years later I was to become a convert to the Ayn Rand philosophy of individualism and objectivism. The dollar is the major symbol in her book Atlas Shrugged, the symbol of John Gault’s sanctuary for all the world’s escaped geniuses.
Then she said “the second symbol looks like a maple leaf, but it’s not a maple leaf, it’s got ridged edge. I don’t know what it is, but it’s going to be one of the most important things in your life.” We all know now that the leaf is the cannabis leaf. But I didn’t smoke pot until 4 years after this.
She told me the third thing was “you’ll always have a mind like a steel trap, and it will be your most valuable asset in the battle over the leaf.” I’ve always had a remarkable memory, with retention of all the information and details that I pick up. Despite the mythology about pot causing memory loss, when I play Jeopardy I can still answer about 90% of the questions. I don’t know why I’m like that.
So that’s what she said to me, 21 years ago, and she spent three months in the hospital from that vision so I take her seriously.
I’m not a person who believes in the occult or the mystical, and there are things that have happened to me in my life that cannot be explained in any traditional way, and I believe that there is probably a greater realm of hidden things that I will be exposed to as time goes by.
Why do you bother? What is the motivation for your actions?
You have to know with absolute certainty that what you are pursuing is the righteous and the good and the proper and the just, and that the people we are dealing with are evil and wrong, and as long as they’re in control this will never be a safe and moral place to be.
So to me there’s not much doubt as to what the “rightness” of the situation is and the action that I take. But you know, the reality is that you have to tread the same dirty waters as everbody else on a daily basis. This makes life difficult, and it costs you money, and a certain degree of public exhibition, because you’re constantly in the media if you’re willing to do something about such things.
What do you stand for?
I advocate the position of liberty, the position of justice, the position of non-violent freedom for all people to do what they want, to put in their body what they want, and to act in a manner that is suitable to them without interference from others, especially their government.
It sounds really simple. Why is it so hard to achieve that?
Well, because people are weak. [laughs]Where people feel deficient they want to be protected from the consequences of their inadequacies.
We don’t like to have our shortcomings pointed out to us, and often they come through in life in brutal ways, and so we want to have insurance and we want social assistance to protect us from our economic incompetence, and we want to be protected from the opinions of others, and other slings and arrows.
People are creating and clamoring for laws so that they have protection from the realities of everyday life. We are made responsible for others through these restrictive and punitive laws.
Many of these laws are justified by saying, “What if children did this? What if children took marijuana or what if children engaged in this activity?” So all these adults are protecting their children by forbidding things to others.
I think we should let our children do all kinds of dangerous things, because after about age 25, I don’t think people really have an open mind anymore. If you are going to take part in any subversion, it is going to happen in your early years. In fact it is even more important to have children exposed to dangerous ideas at an early age because they’ll learn before they become more conservative with the inevitability of age.
Everyone becomes more conservative with age. So if you’re radical at the outset, you might be moderately inquisitive and questioning by middle age.
Do you have children of your own?
I’ve adopted two children, Jordan and Jeremy. They’re seventeen and nineteen now. I also looked after children for nine years in a previous relationship, so I’ve been with children for 18 years.
I wouldn’t boast of being a good parent. The trouble was that I was an activist before I was a parent, and I never gave up the activist part. I expected my partners to carry the load of child rearing and what have you, so…
The problem is that it’s difficult competition with someone who is basically chasing rainbows and charging windmills for 20 years in civil liberty cases.
Do you think your personal sacrifices have been worth the effort?
That’s the kind of question you will get different answers for if you ask at different points in someone’s life. But generally, I’m content with what I’ve done. I like the fact that I’ve achieved some of the things that I thought would be impossible. Even though I don’t have the dead corpse of prohibition at my feet to stand upon and actually declare victory, I think that the example I’ve set with Hemp BC and Cannabis Culture magazine are really good. I think we’ve accomplished alot in this particular crusade.