While most cannabis Canadians were enjoying the exceptionally hot summer, or possibly trying to save their outdoor crops from raging forest fires, Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery was touring Canada, smoking marijuana in front of major police stations, and often getting arrested.
Emery, who is also the founder of Pot-TV, the BC Marijuana Party, and Marc Emery Direct Marijuana Seeds, hit 16 major Canadian cities between July and September, getting arrested six times and spending only one night in jail. Why was Emery doing this outrageous stunt, and how did he manage to get away with it and return home relatively unscathed?
“It is my belief that marijuana possession and use is legal in Canada,” said Emery at every stop on his “Summer of Legalization” tour. “Since the Ontario Court of Appeal has struck down the cannabis possession law, cannabis possession is not an offense known to law anywhere in Canada.”
Emery was referring to a May 16 ruling by Ontario’s Superior Court, that cannabis possession be struck from the law because the federal Liberal government had failed to change the law to make marijuana more easily available for medical use (CC#44, Marijuana legal in Ontario).
The Superior Court decision has been appealed, but it is currently binding on all lower courts in the province, which means that since May, no one can be convicted for pot possession in Ontario.
Some lower court judges in other Canadian provinces have ruled that if pot is legal in Ontario then it’s also legal in their home province, too. Thus many pot possession charges have been tossed out by judges in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
To promote the idea that these court decisions mean that cannabis possession is already legal everywhere in Canada, Emery decided to do what he does best: an audacious mix of street theater and civil disobedience which has made him Canada’s most well-known cannabis promoter.
Inspired by putting on a Toronto cop-shop smoke-in in June, which the police completely ignored, Emery decided to take his cannabis campaign across the nation, announcing his “Summer of Legalization” tour on the Cannabis Culture website, with details and updates posted regularly on the website’s discussion forums.
“The members of our online forums were very supportive of me during my tour,” Emery told Cannabis Culture. “I received several significant donations and much moral and logistical support from the devoted members of cannabisculture.com.”
Summer of busts?
At his first stop on July 9, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Emery stood in front of the main police station, spoke to the gathered crowd of about 50, and then fired up his special glass “Vancouver Canucks” bong at 4:20pm. He was immediately arrested by the waiting police. The bong was seized, and Emery had an overnight stay in the Winnipeg remand centre.
“I signed autographs for fellow inmates,” said Emery when he had been released, “most of whom in my ‘pod’ were there for drugs, including pot possession, trafficking, cultivation, but cocaine and heroin sellers too. All of the inmates treated me very well, and the guards are all polite, but they cut you no slack because you are well-known. I have no complaints about the police behavior.”
After a hearing the next day, Emery was released. However, the judge warned Emery that if he persisted with his cross-country tour, he could be ordered back to Winnipeg and jailed for three months, until his September trial date.
Despite his overnight imprisonment and the judge’s threats, Emery vowed to continue. The jail stay had already made him miss his next planned stop in Dauphin, Manitoba, although he did speak to the crowd of about 100 through a cellular phone held up to a bullhorn. Even though Emery wasn’t there, Dauphin police made two arrests for pot possession at the rally.
Emery was arrested again a few days later, at his next stop in Regina, Saskatchewan, after taking a hit from a “Saskatchewan Roughriders” bong, donated by local shop Head-to-Head Novelties. Emery had spoken before the crowd of about 70, explaining the legal and moral justification for his protest, and then at 4:20pm he sparked up and was promptly arrested by waiting officers.
At first Emery was told he would be held over the weekend, for two nights, so he was surprised when he was released late that evening, with no special conditions.
No arrest in Nova Scotia
Undeterred by his first two busts, Emery flew to the East Coast and had a July 19 smoke-in at the police station in Halifax, Nova Scotia. About 150 people attended, and Emery was able to toke without being bothered by law enforcement.
“The police were nowhere to be found,” said Emery. “I smoked three pipefuls at five minute intervals, but clearly the police were nowhere to be seen at the front door of the police station for the one hour we were there.”
“Marc lit up this great fish pipe that he got at our local headshop, Mary Jane’s,” said Scott, a rally participant. “I lit a joint of Marc’s Blueberry, the best pot I have ever smoked in my life, and passed it on through the crowd. It seemed like everyone there was toking! People were driving by and honking, giving us thumbs-up signs.”
“I was elated at not being arrested,” continued Emery. “The media asked what I thought of the police reaction. I said it looks good on Halifax, that the police had the proper reaction. They should not care at all about a quiet and legal demonstration supporting the rule of law. I said the police are sending a good signal.”
At his July 21 stop in Moncton, New Brunswick, Emery was arrested after toking and jailed for the third time, but he was only held for four hours before being let go.
“I slept in the jail for three hours as I had been run ragged by the tour,” explained Emery. “I was soon released on my own recognizance and $50 bail. They didn’t try to attach any conditions to my release.”
Moncton police also arrested Patrick Hardy during the rally. Hardy is a local resident who has a legal exemption to use marijuana for medical purposes. “I immediately showed them my exemption card and told the officer I have a right to use marijuana anywhere it is permitted to use tobacco. But they detained me anyways, and seized my bong. They said they’d give it back when they ‘clarify things.'”
Emery then went to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for a July 23 smoke-in. The police drove by a few times, but did not interfere with the gathered crowd of a dozen tokers. “Whenever I don’t get arrested it is a total, utter relief,” Emery told Cannabis Culture after the protest. “I don’t like going to jail at all, but you live through it, and sometimes it is necessary.”
Emery had been hoping not to be arrested in Charlottetown, as many Prince Edward Island judges were already throwing out any marijuana possession charges that police brought before them.
“The police didn’t arrest me in Charlottetown because they recognize that Canada has no marijuana laws,” Emery told the media. But the Charlottetown city police issued a press release a few days later, claiming that they disagreed, and would still be harassing pot users.
“As an interim measure, Charlottetown city police will continue to investigate, document and seize cannabis,” read the police statement, “with a view of laying a charge against any individual after clarification of the law…”
The police statement, which concluded by saying they would have “no further comment,” revealed their confusion and desperation. While acknowledging that the courts are throwing out possession charges, Canadian police still can’t bring themselves to actually just leave pot puffers alone. Yet the tactic of seizing buds while hoping that the courts will eventually reverse their decision could backfire, with officers potentially facing lawsuits for theft and false arrest.
Newfoundland: quick release
At his next stop in St John’s, Newfoundland, Emery was once again arrested. “A large media contingent was there,” said Emery. “The crowd swelled right to 4:20pm, when I urged everyone to sing Oh, Canada! with me. I lit up at the end and the police did move in pretty quickly, but politely.”
Emery wasn’t even jailed this time. “Much to my surprise, there was no prison cell with this arrest,” explained Emery. “Nor was I even booked. I did hand over a gram of marijuana, as I always do, to ensure that they do press charges.” Emery was released after 10 minutes, and so he walked back to the rally, still in progress.
Final busts in Alberta
Emery’s last two arrests were both in Alberta, as he held smoke-ins in the cities of Calgary and Edmonton on August 9 and 10. “In Calgary I was held for only 15 minutes,” explained Emery, adding that the Calgary police were “ultra-polite.” He was released on his own recognizance, with a court date set for September.
It was in Edmonton that Emery faced his greatest legal challenge of the tour. Three weeks earlier, Edmonton police had told the media that they would likely not bother to arrest Emery during his stop in their city. “If he comes and smokes pot on our stairs and that’s the extent of it, it’s quite likely we won’t have much of a response,” said the police spokesperson.
Yet in fact Edmonton police had the harshest reaction of the tour. “The Edmonton Police copped a bit of an attitude,” Emery told Cannabis Culture. “The arresting officer asked me twice if they were ‘polite enough’ for me. It was a reference to my postings on the Cannabis Culture website forums that police in other cities had all been extremely civil and polite.”
Emery represented himself before a Justice of the Peace (JP) at his bail hearing, while a police officer represented the Crown. “My hands were cuffed behind my back during this hearing,” explained Emery. “The police officer wanted the JP to deny me bail, pointing out my lengthy criminal record for cannabis offenses. I have quite a few convictions for marijuana offenses, like selling seeds, giving away buds and even ‘promoting vaporizers.’ I also have a conviction for ‘assaulting a police officer,’ which is from a police raid on my Hemp BC store in 1997, when I spat on a cop who was beating up my employee, David Malmo-Levine. I also did jail time back in the 1980’s, like when I continued to open my Ontario bookstore on Sundays, to protest Sunday shopping laws.”
Photocopies of Emery’s postings on the Cannabis Culture website were also introduced as evidence by the police, to show that he was a determined re-offender who would continue to flout the law.
Yet the judge disagreed, and spared Emery a lengthy stay in jail awaiting trial. “The JP remarked that he was aware of the political implications of my tour,” said Emery, “and he mentioned the court decisions in other provinces that cast doubt on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. So I was granted bail. The only restriction placed on me was that I cannot go on police property without a valid reason.”
Back in BC
Emery returned to the West Coast for a stop in the British Columbia city of Prince George, where he smoked a big “BC bomber” on August 14, with the gathered crowd of 150. “I chose Prince George because it is the harshest city for pot smokers in BC,” said Emery. “If I had a rally in Vancouver or Victoria it would not be as significant.”
“It was a gloriously sunny day in Prince George,” Emery enthused after the event. “I held a massive six-inch joint in my hand, packed with five grams of California Orange. At 4:20pm I lit it up and had four big hits.”
The event was ignored by the police. “Prince George can now proudly stand beside Halifax, Toronto and Charlottetown,” Emery told the media, “as cities with a marijuana tolerance situation.”
Ontario: land of the free
Emery concluded his tour with a whirlwind six days of sequential smoke-ins across Ontario, toking up at cop shops in Kingston, London, Hamilton, Sudbury and Windsor, plus attending the “Canabian Day” celebration in Toronto on August 30.
These rallies all went well, with no overt police response to the crowds gathered outside their doorstep, openly toking and celebrating their freedom.
“Typically there were about 150 people in each city,” said Emery. “There was excitement almost everywhere I went, but Ontario crowds were generally larger and more exuberant. I never signed so many T-shirts, front and back. In Sudbury I signed seven cannabis flags. Plus, I will still be coming back to Ontario to have a smoke-in on Parliament Hill when the government reconvenes on September 25.”
Emery now faces many court dates during the coming months, as he deals with the six possession charges against him.
“I will be defending myself,” said Emery passionately, “and arguing that marijuana possession is not an offense known to Canadian law, because of the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal. I hope that I can help to push forward this cannabis freedom across Canada.”
Onward to freedom
Emery’s legalization tour received sustained media coverage, with over 75 major articles in a variety of mainstream newspapers, including at least 15 front page stories, as well as dozens more reports and interviews on local and national television and radio news.
“I am exhausted from all of this travelling, speaking and arrests,” sighed Emery after the tour was finally over. “It is very stressful and psychologically challenging to be facing arrest and jail so many times.”
“I consider this tour to be a great success,” continued Emery, smiling and packing another bong-hit. “We got the word out to millions of Canadians, that they are living in very exciting times. Canadian courts are helping us to free Canada’s cannabis users in a way we’ve never seen before.
“We’re going to show the world all the good things that can happen when marijuana is truly free. I am proud to represent all the fine Canadians who belong to the global cannabis culture. I will not rest until marijuana is completely free for all Canadians, and all people everywhere, to grow and use as they please!”
? For links and media reports on Marc Emery’s Summer of Legalization Tour: www.cannabisculture.com/news/tour