Emery had been convicted of trafficking because a witness saw him pass a joint in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in March 2004.
Emery is still in jail as this article is being written, but is scheduled for release on October 19, which would be after serving 62 days behind bars.
History of the bust
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 in Saskatoon on March 22, at the University of Saskatchewan.
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 Bandshell at Kiwanis 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 McGowan had stated to police 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 offenses are much more common.
After holding Emery for four nights, he was finally released on $3,500 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 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 after his initial 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.”
The trial and sentencing
At his trial in August, Emery surprised many in the activist community by entering an unexpected “guilty” plea to the trafficking charge against him.
“I didn’t actually mean to plead guilty,” said Emery in a telephone interview with Cannabis Culture from the Saskatoon Correctional Centre where he is being held. “Three weeks before trial I’d sent my lawyer an email which read ‘I presume we’re guilty, so we really want to have our best arguments ready for sentencing.’ I had presumed the judge would certainly find me guilty, but I had intended on having a trial and making them prove it. She misunderstood me and put in a guilty plea on my behalf.”
Emery was philosophic about the accidental plea. “I have no doubt I would have been convicted regardless,” he added, “as Judge Lavoie 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 four 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 solitary joint.
However, Judge Albert Lavoie went along with the prosecution and gave Emery a 92 day jail sentence, after a long speech about how he was going to “make an example” of the relentless activist.
Emery explained how Justice Lavoie lectured him before giving him the sentence.
“The judge was aware that I’ve given $200,000 to a drug addiction clinic, that I’ve adopted four children, and that I haven’t had any criminal conviction of any kind for six years,” said Emery. “He knew that the convictions I do have are almost all for seeds only, 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 gays 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.”
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, referring to the new “decriminalization” bill proposed by the Liberals. “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 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. Otherwise it will be flawed.”
Emery’s jailing garnered a great deal of media coverage across Canada. Editorials and articles drawing attention to Emery’s plight appeared in many newspapers across the country, and supporters ensured that letters regularly appeared in papers both in Saskatchewan and their hometown.
The National Post, one of Canada’s two national newspapers, not only editorialized twice in favor of Emery’s release and full legalization, the editorial board even posed for photographs wearing “Free Marc Emery” t-shirts.
Emery also did a series of jailhouse radio interviews, talking to media across Canada and other major cities. Emery’s incarceration became a locus in the debate on the legal status of pot.
Finally, Emery was able to dictate a daily “blog” which was posted online in both audio and written format. His daily diary notes ranged from describing his struggles with the prison bureaucracy, his personal efforts to clean every square inch of the prison compound, his victories in the inmate’s card tournament, and his experiences in a native “sweat” ceremony.
“I’m in better shape now than I have been for years,” wrote Emery. “I don’t miss the rich foods or sex. I am trim and fit. I am always busy writing, reading, cleaning, running the track. I am pushing myself to my utmost, harder and further than I ever knew I could.”
Summer of legalization
Why were Saskatoon cops so eager to get Emery? 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 temporarily legal status by smoking pot at rallies in front of 17 Canadian police stations (CC#46, Marc Emery’s Summer of Legalization Tour).
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 offense in Canada between July 2002 and October 2003.
Yet despite being legally 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, those in the system who resented Emery’s activism had their chance to finally punish him.
Along with protesting Saskatoon’s harsh legal atmosphere and celebrating the joys of cannabis, the rally was used as a springboard for the creation of the Saskatchewan Marijuana Party. Local activists began gathering the signatures and paperwork needed for its official formation, with the goal of having all the necessary forms filed before Emery’s release.
The activist efforts from the BC Marijuana Party team also included a massive postcard campaign directed at federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler. Many tens of thousands of “Free Marc Emery” postcards were distributed to hemp stores and headshops across Canada, to be signed and mailed in by supporters. Within a month of Emery’s incarceration, over 50,000 postcards were signed and delivered to the Justice Minister, with more on the way.
NDP on pot
Canada’s federal NDP also came out in support of Emery. Many pot activists who had supported NDP Leader Jack Layton in the last federal election were concerned when there were no immediate signs of support from the party after Emery’s jailing. But on September 13, NDP MP Libby Davies and Layton issued a joint statement condemning Emery’s sentence and calling for an end to pot prohibition.
Layton decried “the lack of rational and just laws governing marijuana,” while Davies added that “lives are ruined because of criminal convictions, and communities and local business are unfairly affected by police raids.”
“Many are likely not aware, but sharing a joint is considered trafficking under our current federal laws,” continued Davies. “I had proposed an amendment when Parliament considered changes to the marijuana laws last fall which would have stricken this from the books, but the Liberal dominated committee voted it down.”
Marc Emery has been my friend, ally and publisher for about 10 years. So when he was convicted, I flew to Saskatoon to meet with local activists and ensure that we kept his incarceration in the news.
We quickly set up an ongoing, daily vigil outside the provincial courthouse where Emery was convicted. In a green space located directly opposite the courthouse, we set up a large banner saying, “Free Marc Emery,” plus information tables and a pair of pot-leaf Canadian flags fluttering in the breeze.
With help of local activists like Kerry Kunka of BOB Headquarters (Saskatoon’s biggest headshop) and Ernie Rogalski of Saskatchewan NORML, as well as hardcore local volunteers like Mitchell Lee, Steve Roblin, Rob Earing, Jay Crowter, plus Wigger and Stella, the vigil was maintained every day that Emery was behind bars, through rain, wind and snow, serving as a public reminder of his unjust imprisonment.
Another vigil took place in Ottawa, outside the Justice Department. It was organized by activist Jody Pressman, who also put on the historic June “Fill the Hill” rally on Parliament Hill (CC#51, Pot protest on Parliament Hill).
We also put on a successful Saskatoon marijuana rally on Saturday, September 11. Despite wind and rain, over 500 people came out to hear four awesome live bands and speakers including myself, David Malmo-Levine, Chris Bennett and even Marc Emery!
Yes, despite being imprisoned, Emery was able to give a moving speech to the crowd via an amplified cel phone call.
“Some might think it’s humiliating for me to be cleaning toilets for the man,” said Emery, after describing his job as a cleaner and maintenance man in the prison, “but I don’t think so. I have been reading the Bible here and I see that Jesus washed the feet of strangers, so there is no job demeaning if you do it with pride. The staff here say their work environment has improved because of the work I have done on their behalf.”
“I have been in this jail for 24 days,” continued Emery, “and God willing I will be released in 38 more. 62 days of my life stolen from me. And yet it goes on every day in courtrooms across Canada, lives are ruined and stolen because of alcohol-drinking lawyers, cops, judges and politicians.
“They despise our beautiful culture of tolerance, acceptance, unity, brotherhood and wonderment. They hate us for our goodness. We must shine light on their darkness, use truth to counter lies, and love to melt their hate.”
“No job will be harder than to liberate Saskatchewan from the dark grip of backwardness, bigotry and the perverse urge to punish,” said Emery. “But we will liberate this province, and we will bring the whole country to the glory of a free nation once and for all, one nation under cannabis!”
Emery also thanked those who had been maintaining the vigil outside the courthouse. “I want to give thanks to the brave Saskatoon sensi warriors who are manning the vigil every day. Oh, you are brave and true souls and truly my brothers in arms, and when I am released I will thank each of you personally for your remarkable dedication and devotion. I have incredible gratitude that I was never abandoned, and it is a very touching and humbling thing to know that people have taken time from out of their lives to make me feel better about being in jail, and to reverse this horrible situation in this province. I am forever in your debt.
“I have seen the future,” concluded Emery to wild applause, “and man, it is beautiful. Nothing can stop me. No amount of evil put in our way can stop us. It is our destiny to be free in our lifetime, and if we want it we will get it. I look forward to walking hand in hand with you all on the amazing road ahead. We will be victorious!”
? Emery’s prison blog: www.bcmarijuanaparty.ca
? Free Emery website: www.freemarcemery.com
? Saskatchewan Marijuana Party: www.skmp.ca
? Canada’s NDP: www.ndp.ca
? Justice Minister Irwin Cotler: 284 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0H8; email: [email protected]