On Thursday, August 19, Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery was sentenced to 92 days in jail in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Emery had been convicted of trafficking because a witness saw him pass a joint in March 2004.
In the spring of 2004, Marc Emery launched a college speaking tour, with over a dozen dates planned on campuses across Canada. One of the last stops on his tour was the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon.
Saskatchewan is one of Canada’s most anti-pot provinces, and Saskatoon is one of Canada’s most pot unfriendly cities. Saskatoon was originally founded as a “temperance colony” and their prohibitionist mentality continues strongly to this day.
After his speech at the University of Saskatchewan, Emery showed up at a late evening gathering of about 40 college students, at the Vimy Memorial park, near his hotel.
Student Justin McGowan was there, and he described the scene in an interview with Cannabis Culture:
“About 20 minutes after Marc showed up, three or four cops arrived and said ‘We smell marijuana.’ They asked if anybody had marijuana and Marc said he had some. They arrested him.
“One of the people there asked if they could take a picture of Marc being arrested, and a cop said no. I asked, ‘Don’t we have a constitutional right to photograph you?’ and the cop responded, ‘No, actually police have a constitutional right not to be photographed.’
“Then they asked me if I happened to have any marijuana on me, and yeah I was stupid, I had a pipe and some buds, so they arrested me, but they didn’t take me into custody.”
Although Emery had only 2.3 grams of pot in his possession, he was charged with trafficking, because one of the students had stated that Marc had passed him a joint.
Although Canada’s drug laws are federal, the actual degree of enforcement and punishment varies greatly across the country. In Vancouver, it is unlikely that a charge of trafficking would ever be laid against someone for passing a joint, and it is even more unlikely that any jail time would be given upon conviction. But in Saskatoon lengthy jail sentences for marijuana offences are much more common.
After holding Emery for three nights, he was finally released on $3500 bail, as well as some strict conditions. Emery’s prosecutor had asked the judge to keep Emery in jail until trial, but the judge agreed to release Emery, providing he consented to having his home, car and person subject to searches at any time, and if Emery was found in possession of pot, he would have been returned to jail until his trial.
After finally being released from his 72 hour detention, Emery’s ankles were bruised from the leg irons that he had been forced to wear. He had also lost weight because he is a vegetarian and refused to eat much of the food they had offered him.
“Saskatoon is in the grip of an evil tyranny by the government and policing forces of all Saskatchewan,” wrote Emery on the Cannabis Culture forums atfer his release. “There are many victims here, I am merely the most known of many victims of vicious marijuana prohibition.”
“It is a shame and disgrace that Saskatchewan is part of Canada,” added Emery. “The police in this province are implicated in many police scandals involving death, framing accused persons, concocting evidence, in addition to extremely punitive sentencing.”
SUMMER OF LEGALIZATION
The last time Emery had been in Saskatchewan was during his 2003 “Summer of Legalization” tour. Court rulings in the Ontario Court of Appeal had declared that Canada’s laws against pot possession were invalid, because the Canadian government had failed to properly allow access to medicinal marijuana for those in need. Emery promoted marijuana’s legal status by smoking pot at rallies in front of 17 Canadian police stations.
Emery was arrested and charged in the cities of Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, St John’s, Moncton, and Regina. Yet all the charges were dropped as prosecutors and the courts conceded that marijuana possession was not an offence in Canada between July 2002 and October 2003.
Yet despite being exonerated for his actions, many police, prosecutors and judges were still upset with Emery’s flagrant promotion of pot legalization.
So when Saskatoon police busted Marc in Vimy Park on March 22, 2004, those in the system who resented Emery’s activism had their chance to finally punish him.
THE TRIAL AND SENTENCING
“I didn’t want to plead guilty,” said Emery in a telephone interview with Cannabis Culture from the Saskatoon Correctional Centre where he is being held. “I told my lawyer ‘I expect we’ll be guilty,’ meaning that I thought they would find me guilty. She misunderstood and put in a guilty plea on my behalf. However, I have no doubt I would have been convicted regardless, as the judge had it in for me.”
In making their submissions on sentencing, Emery’s lawyer was asking for “time served” and a fine. Emery had already spent three nights in jail, and normally each day in remand is counted towards two days of a jail sentence. So Emery had already served the equivalent of six days for passing the joint.
The prosection lawyer, Frank Impey, was asking for two years less a day. Although this sounds like an extreme sentence, this was likely intended as a conditional discharge. This would have meant that Emery would have served his sentence in the community. He would have not been jailed, but would have had conditions and restrictions placed upon his release.
However, Judge Albert Lavoie disregarded the advice of both lawyers and gave Emery a 92 day sentence, after saying how he was going to “make an example” of the relentless activist.
In a telephone interview with Pot-TV, Emery explained how Justice Lavoie lectured him before giving him the sentence.
“The judge was actually aware that I’ve given $200,000 to a drug addiction clinic, that I’ve adopted four children, that I haven’t have any criminal conviction of any kind for six years,” said Emery. “He knew that the convictions I did have are all for seeds, and that I have actually never been accused of selling or cultivating marijuana or been convicted of anything like that.”
“But I got a long lecture from the guy saying that if people violated the laws in a democratic society that all of civilization would fail. I wanted to point out to him that this meant gay’s shouldn’t have been homosexual before those laws were changed, that women shouldn’t have had abortions before the abortion laws were changed, and so on.”
Emery thinks his sentence may have made judicial history. “Alan Young [one of Canada’s top marijuana lawyers]says he’s never even heard of anything in Canada as draconian as this before. In fact, he isn’t sure if there’s ever been a conviction of trafficking for passing one joint to another person.”
Emery outlined the basics of prison life, including that he would soon be out doing work such as picking up garbage on the side of the road, “like Coolhand Luke.” He added that he was not in peril, that people didn’t have to worry about his physical safety. “I’m in a dorm with 15 other guys, and it’s kind of an amusing thing with guys farting and snorting and snoring during the night. It’s like being in a summer camp or something, except they never let you out.”
The worst part was the “terrible food,” which as a vegetarian Emery wasn’t eating much of anyways. “I haven’t seen anything containing Vitamin C today,” he said, adding that the day’s vegetable had been boiled cabbage. “But that’s the worst of it,” said Emery. “In the big picture it’s not like I’m in extreme difficulty. I am not in high security, and candidly the guards here are surprised at the length of my stay under the circumstances.”
Emery also explained that his 92 day sentence meant that he could be released after 62 days if he was of good behavior, making his tentative release date October 19.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE SENTENCE
Marc Emery encouraged all people to contact Canadian Minister of Justice, Irwin Cotler.
“You’ve got to tell him that even under the new bill this still could happen,” said Emery. “I would still be serving this 92 day sentence even if that new bill had already been passed, because it doesn’t address sharing marijuana.”
“Remember, no police officer even saw me do this,” added Emery. “It was a fan of mine, who was enticed and entrapped by police into admitting that he saw me pass one joint, to him! And that became the trafficking charge. Well every single member of our culture passes joints. So any one of us could be charged for trafficking if one of our friends says ‘I saw him sharing a joint with that guy!’ And all of a sudden you’re looking at jail time for trafficking.”
Emery called upon Canadian politicians to ensure that sharing of marijuana will be permitted under any new law.
“The new legislation will need to enshrine sharing. And I hope that NDP Leader Jack Layton wil point out, as he did during the campaign, that it is shocking that a Canadian can go to jail for passing a joint.”
Emery encouraged people to write letters to the media, and to politicians. But he asked that the focus be on changing the law, not getting him out of jail.
“Your letters should not be calling for me to be released. The point should be that this could happen to anyone, and it does happen to people who don’t have media connections and attention like I do. Every week someone in Canada goes away for a long time for small amounts of marijuana. The people in Vancouver and Toronto live in a privileged environment, and they need to take up arms. Let my incarceration galvanize you to action. We need to ensure that the new law allows people to possess, to grow for themselves, and to share with others without renumeration. Otherwise it will be flawed.”
Starting on Tuesday, August 24, there will be an ongoing vigil for Marc Emery being held outside the courthouse where he was convicted.
Every day until Emery is released, there will be people there with a FREE MARC EMERY banner, handing out flyers explaining the situation and making people aware that Emery’s case is just one of many injustices caused by Canada’s war on marijuana.
Any activists or supporters who want to come to Saskatoon to join the vigil are welcome to do so. Suporters would be able to visit Emery on scheduled visiting days.
Despite the fact that Emery is in prison, the viability and security of his mail-order seed business is not threatened. Marc Emery was very confident that his employees would be able to fill orders and respond to customer queries as normal.
Media coverage of Emery’s sentencing:
Local Saskatchewan newspapers: www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v04/n1189/a01.html
The Canadian Press: www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v04/n1184/a03.html
The Globe and Mail: www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v04/n1188/a11.html
CTV.ca news story: www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1093403858054_123/?hub=Health
The (Vancouver) Province: Emery is being held as a political prisoner
Marc Emery jailhouse phone interview with Pot-TV: www.pot-tv.net/shows/2913.html
Marc Emery’s Saskatoon arrest on March 22, 2004: www.cannabisculture.com/articles/3387.html
Comments from Marc Emery after March 22 bust and 3 nights in jail: www.cannabisculture.com/articles/3392.html
For a list of media contacts, Emery’s mailing address, and what you can do, go here: www.cannabisculture.com/articles/3587.html
Discuss this incident on our on-line Forums: cannabisculture.com/forums/postlist.php?Cat=&Board=current