In 1994, it wasn’t easy to buy a bong in Canada.
A federal law passed in 1988 had banned all “instruments or literature for illicit drug use.” This law was heavily enforced across Canada ? police claimed to have shut down 200 stores in Toronto alone!
Marijuana grow books and magazines were not available in any mainstream outlets. The only way to get marijuana seeds was to smuggle them back from a trip to Amsterdam.
The medical benefits of marijuana were scoffed at by most Canadians, and only a tiny handful of activists knew of the amazing industrial and agricultural applications of hemp.
Now, 10 years later, pipes, bongs and grow books are readily available at dozens of outlets in every major Canadian city. Marijuana seeds are available by mail order and over the counter at many outlets, most of them in Vancouver. There’s dozens of pro-pot Canadian websites and two major marijuana magazines produced in Canada. Canadian compassion clubs serve thousands of needy patients. Further, a legal hemp industry is steadily expanding in size. The city of Vancouver has become so pot-friendly it has been dubbed Vansterdam!
History of activism
Although the pro-pot changes in Canada have come about from the hard work and risks of hundreds of devoted people across the country, no single individual has done more to further the marijuana cause in Canada than the man known as Canada’s Prince of Pot: Marc Emery.
Emery began his career by selling books in London, Ontario. He used his City Lights bookshop as a platform to fight laws which impinged on the liberty of the individual. His “freedom crusades” of the 1980’s included opening his shop on Sundays in defiance of provincial law, single-handedly picking up his community’s garbage for three weeks during a sanitation workers strike, and selling copies of the banned 2 Live Crew CD, As Nasty As They Wanna Be.
Opening his store on Sundays eventually netted Emery four days in jail. Picking up garbage during the strike earned him death threats from angry union members. Selling the banned CD got him a year’s probation. But Emery persisted.
Although he wasn’t a big toker at the time, Emery also promoted freedom for marijuana literature. At one point he gave out copies of High Times magazine in front of his local police station. Emery dared police to charge him but they refused.
When Emery came to Vancouver in 1994, there was already a well-developed pot-culture and activist scene. Marijuana had been an integral part of the BC economy since the early 1970’s, after many hundreds of Americans fleeing the Vietnam draft settled in the province and began growing pot. BC quickly became an exporter of the herb, sending tons of primo product back to their cousins in need across the border.
Vancouver had also been the scene of many pot rallies over 1992 and ’93. Smoke-filled public protests had become a common sight in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. A local newsletter called Hempfest Times was sold on the street.
Emery’s arrival galvanized the Vancouver pot scene. Although he offended many locals with his brash style, the success of Emery’s operation was undeniable. He began by selling High Times and grow books door to door, and within a few months he opened Vancouver’s first modern hemp store on Hastings Street, taking over the fire-bombed remains of a communist bookstore and turning it into Hemp BC, a thriving business selling everything the pot enthusiast could ever want.
Within a few months Emery had added a small selection of Dutch pot seeds to his inventory. He had attended the 1994 High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and was inspired by the success of Ben Dronkers, the owner of Sensi Seeds.
Emery also started a newsletter called Marijuana & Hemp, which he wrote himself and printed on hemp paper. This small one-man newsletter was the precursor of the magazine you’re now reading. This special fiftieth issue of Cannabis Culture coincides with the tenth anniversary of Emery coming to Vancouver and beginning his crusade to liberate the marijuana culture.
Raids and recovery
During the mid-1990’s, dozens of new hemp stores opened up across Canada. An article in an early issue of this magazine explained the details of Emery’s proposed financial and business plan for any would-be canna-entrepreneurs. Emery’s inspiration and advice was taken up by activists nationwide, most of whom also got their initial stock from Emery’s wholesale operation.
Some of these stores survived and continue to thrive, while others were cut down by police harassment or other problems.
Emery’s operation was raided for the first time in January 1996, exactly one month after the Wall Street Journal put Emery on their front page and profiled his impact on Canada’s burgeoning pot scene. The resulting media deluge put pressure onto Vancouver Police to take Emery down, and they tried their best. The entire store inventory was seized by police, including the wholesale inventory which held stock for about two dozen stores. Along with a few nights imprisonment, Emery was thrown into severe debt.
Yet thanks to his business acumen, the support of his community and the devotion of his many employees, who all took major pay cuts for many weeks, Emery’s business survived and thrived. After a difficult year Emery was back on top again, selling thousands of bongs and hundreds of thousands of seeds, using his profits to build and expand at a tremendous pace. By 1997, Emery’s hempire included a Legal Assistance Centre and the Little Growshop. Next door to his store was Emery’s Cannabis Cafe, with a wide variety of vegetarian hemp-based items on the menu, and hand-crafted vaporizers built into every table.
Police returned in December 1997, one month after Emery had been featured on CNN, and then launched multiple raids during 1998. Each time they seized all the store’s stock, eventually forcing Emery to sell off the storefront operations, and then they were shut down entirely. For a time, Emery was even forbidden to set foot on the block where his store was located.
Despite the financial devastation and legal challenges, Emery persisted, switching his marijuana seed business to mail order only, and focusing his efforts on publishing Cannabis Culture magazine. After another difficult year Emery had recovered and was expanding onto the Internet. In 2000 he established Pot-TV, the Internet video channel which has served up over six million views from their growing archive of almost 2,000 pot-related shows.
Activism and arrests
Aside from suffering about two dozen arrests and a dozen convictions over the past decade, Emery has also experienced personal harassment at the hands of police in a variety of different ways. For example, in March 2002, Emery was awakened at 3am by a phone call from police who had a warrant to search his house for a grow op. After trooping through his home, officers found no plants, and the claims upon which the police got their warrant all turned out to be false (CC#37, Police roust Prince of Pot).
Emery also suffered six arrests and one night in jail during 2003, as he travelled the country toking up in front of police stations for his “Summer of Legalization Tour.” Emery was trying to point out that court decisions had completely legalized possession of pot in Canada, and he was proven right in the end as all charges against him were dropped. The courts and media eventually acknowledged that Emery was correct, and that pot possession had been legal in Canada between 2001 and 2003, when the Supreme Court closed the legal gap.
Emery’s most recent bust came recently, in March of 2004, in Saskatoon. After speaking publicly at the University of Saskatchewan, Emery met some students in a park that evening to further discuss the issues and enjoy some marijuana. Local police crashed the gathering and arrested Emery, charging him with trafficking based on the testimony of a supporter who mentioned that Emery had passed out two joints. For thus “trafficking” in marijuana, Emery spent three nights in jail and faces a trial.
As part of his bail conditions, Emery’s freedom has been further restricted. He is currently subject to warrantless searches of his home, car and person at any time. If he is found with any pot he will be imprisoned without recourse until his trial date.
Emery has a history of founding political parties and running for office. In 1984 he helped found the Freedom Party of Ontario, which is still active two decades later.
Emery ran for Mayor of Vancouver in 1996 and again in 2002. Each time he used his campaign as a means to promote the legalization of marijuana and an end to the drug war.
In 2000, Emery took up the call of Marc-Boris St Maurice, the leader of Canada?s Marijuana Party, based in Quebec. Emery worked to build the party in the west, signing up dozens of people to run as candidates, as well as running himself in the last federal election.
Inspired by the federal party, Emery then launched the BC Marijuana Party in time for the May 2001 provincial election. Emery served the new party as president, and almost single-handedly managed to recruit candidates for every one of BC?s 79 ridings. This feat of running a candidate in every riding has never before been accomplished by a first-time party in BC history.
Having a legal political party has worked to Emery?s advantage in other ways. In 2001, the BC Marijuana Party took over the old Hemp BC location. A political party does not need a business license to run a store, and so this allowed Emery to open up without the need to get permission from hostile civic bureaucrats.
Despite these onerous bail conditions, Emery hasn’t slowed down. Unable to handle or distribute marijuana himself, he was accompanied at the recent Global Marijuana March celebration in Vancouver with a personal joint-distributor, who handed out spliffs in his stead.
Emery’s newest projects include the Museum of Psychoactive Substances, which will house a collection of historical cannabis and drug artifacts, including ancient pipes and bongs, plus old books, medicine bottles, advertisements and other cultural relics.
Emery recently sponsored a conference put on by the BC Civil Liberties Association, called “Beyond Prohibition.” Speakers included activists, academics, a former Vancouver police officer, Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell and Senator Claude Nolin, all of whom spoke strongly in favor of legal marijuana and a regulated drug market.
Emery also continues to treat heroin users through his Iboga Therapy House, which uses the powerful psychoactive extract Ibogaine to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and addictive behaviors (CC Online, Psychedelic addiction therapy). Founded in November 2002, the free centre has now treated 34 patients with a great deal of success.
Emery is also hosting the third annual Tokers’ Bowl this July, sharing world-class marijuana with 200 guests from around the world.
After 50 issues of Cannabis Culture and 10 years of Emery’s activism, Canada’s pot culture is thriving like never before. Although the law itself has not been changed, discussion of decriminalization is commonplace, and public opinion in Canada favors full legalization of marijuana.
If you want to experience the freest pot block in North America and meet some of the Cannabis Culture crew, then come to the city they call Vansterdam! Visit the BC Marijuana Party Bookshop, where on many days you can meet Marc Emery himself, and he’ll gladly sell you some marijuana seeds and ensure you get suitably baked on fine BC bud and hash.
Come here to take a taste of pot freedom, but bring the inspiration back home when you leave. He’s trying his hardest, but Marc Emery can’t legalize marijuana all by himself! Join us in our efforts, and do your part to help end the war on this most marvellous of plants. Give money to activists, educate your friends and family, write letters to your local newspapers, and toke without shame. Together we can all make a difference.
? Marc Emery: email [email protected]; web www.emeryseeds.com
? The Little Growshop: www.littlegrowshop.com
? Iboga Therapy House: www.ibogatherapyhouse.org
? BC Marijuana Party: www.bcmarijuanaparty.ca
? Cannabis Culture Tokers’ Bowl: www.tokersbowl.com
? Marc Emery’s Summer of Legalization Tour: www.cannabisculture.com/news/tour
Canada’s most seized magazine
After 50 issues, Cannabis Culture retains the title of Canada’s “most seized magazine.” We have been pulled off store shelves and taken by Canadian police at least a dozen times since we began publication. In most cases this happened during police raids on bong shops or pot-friendly cafes, when all the books and magazines were carted off along with other merchandise.
In one notorious example, police officers in the town of Timmins, Ontario, began pressuring local stores not to carry Cannabis Culture in late 2000. Officers threatened several stores with legal action if they continued to sell copies of our magazine, and told the media they would get our magazine banned in all of Ontario.
To fight back against the police, Marc Emery flew to Timmins and spent a day giving out free copies of Cannabis Culture in front of the police station. Emery also launched a lawsuit against the police, forcing them to apologize and admit that court decisions had made the magazine legal in Ontario (CC#29, Cannabis Culture defeats censorship cops).
The most recent time our magazine was carted off by cops was in April of this year, when police illegally seized Cannabis Culture and other pot literature during their raid on Hemp NB in Saint John, New Brunswick (this issue, Maritime med-pot raid).