The issue of recreational cannabis legalization will jump to the front of the queue of issues facing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper this coming week.
As reported in the Straight.com last week, elected members Canada’s House of Commons, from all three non-secessionist political parties having seats in Canada’s Parliament (Conservative, Liberal, and NDP), will deliver petitions signed by tens of thousands of Canadians demanding that Canada’s Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson (Conservative), deny a request to extradite Marc Emery to the U.S.A.. Emery, a Canadian citizen and resident of Vancouver, has been charged not under any Canadian law but under U.S. federal laws for selling cannabis seeds to Americans via mail order. Also, as reported in this blog last Thursday, March 11, 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has accepted google.com’s request to answer the most popular questions put to him by users of YouTube.com this coming Tuesday, March 16, 2010. As I explain below, each of these events ties the PM and his government to the rails in front of an oncoming, smoke-puffing cannabis steam train; a peace train face to face with America’s war on drugs.
MONDAY: The Petitions – History
In 1994, the sale of cannabis-related written materials and paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, etc) was a criminal offense. Emery opened a store in Vancouver that year, selling not only banned books, magazines, pipes etc, but also viable cannabis seeds. Between 1994 and 2005, Emery peacefully sold seeds (not plants) to those Canadians and Americans who chose to buy them, mostly via mail order. Over those years, Canada Post delivered the seeds for Emery, who did not step foot in the U.S.A.. Each year, the Canadian Revenue Agency gladly collected hundreds of thousands of dollars of income taxes from Emery, who identified himself as a cannabis seed seller on his tax return, and who regularly met with CRA officials, who well knew that his income was from cannabis seed sales. Emery used the vast majority of the after-tax profits to finance marijuana legalization campaigns (including various ballot initiatives in the U.S.A.), marijuana-related court battles (see, for example, the Supreme Court of Canada decisions in R. v. Clay, and R. v. Malmo-Levine), political parties and candidates (e.g., Canada’s only pro-legalization party, the NDP) and Canada’s onlyclinic to help people recover from addictions to such things as crack and heroine with just a dose or two of Ibogaine (Emery paid each patient’s full cost: approximately $2000.00 per patient).
In 2002, Emery bought a table at a Vancouver Board of Trade event in which George W. Bush’s drug Czar, John Walters, was giving a speech to warn against lifting Canada’s criminal prohibition of cannabis (legalization had just been recommended by Canada’s senate). Emery and his guests at the table heckled the drug Czar, which gave rise to national and international news coverage. Thereafter, the Vancouver police took Walters on a tour of Emery’s “pot block”, and started an investigation into Emery’s then 8-year-old seed-selling operation.
In July of 2003, following a decision by an Ontario appeals court that Canada had no law against the possession of 30g or more of marijuana, the Vancouver police brought their Emery file to the crown, which – presumably given the absence of a pot law – decided against prosecuting Emery. Evidence collected by the Vancouver police was then shared with the DEA, which commenced its own investigation of Emery. What Canada’s crowns would not do, the U.S.A.’s prosecutors presumably would.
Pursuant to the first stage of Canada’s extradition process, the U.S.A.’s warrant for the arrest of Marc Emery and his colleagues was approved by the Canadian Justice Department (largely a rubber-stamping carried out by government lawyers to whom the Minister of Justice delegates that first phase of the extradition process). Pursuant to said rubber stamping, on July 29, 2005, RCMP officers arrested Emery in Halifax, where he had been attending a cannabis-related event. Emery also being the publisher of Cannabis Culturemagazine and founder/leader of the BC Marijuana Party, his political party offices were searched by Canadian police on behalf of the DEA in a concurrent Vancouver raid (shades of Watergate?). Upon his arrest, DEA spokesperson Karen Tandy issued the following media release:
“Today’s DEA arrest of Marc Scott Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine, and the founder of a marijuana legalization group — is a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the U.S. and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement….Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery’s illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on.”
It should be noted that Emery is described not at “cannabis seed seller” but as “publisher” and as the founder of a “legalization group”.
Emery was released on bail within days, and remained out on bail until submitting himself to the Vancouver court house for processing in September of 2009. He thereafter spent 52 days in a BC prison before being granted leave again due to the illness of his lawyer, who finally made written submissions to the Justice Minister on January 8, 2010, concerning the Minister’s pending decision on Emery’s extradition (i.e., “surrender”).
Section 44 of Canada’s Extradition Act states that:
44. (1) The Minister shall refuse to make a surrender order if the Minister is satisfied that:
(a) the surrender would be unjust or oppressive having regard to all the relevant circumstances; or
(b) the request for extradition is made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing the person by reason of their …political opinion…or that the person’s position may be prejudiced for any of those reasons.
Section 46 of the same statute states:
46. (1) The Minister shall refuse to make a surrender order if the Minister is satisfied that
(c) the conduct in respect of which extradition is sought is a political offence or an offence of a political character.
In each case, “shall” in this context means “has no choice but to”. As one might expect, given the wide and negative public reaction that has resulted from Tandy’s media release, the DEA and U.S. prosecutors have tried to deny that Emery’s political efforts had anything to do with their purpose in arresting Emery (who is but one of many, many Canadian seed sellers that neither Canadian nor American governments are attempting to charge). However, at the very least, this author finds it impossible to believe that anyone with a pedigree of political activism as long and as broad as Emery’s would not be prejudiced by his peaceful but anti-government libertarian political views and long history of somewhat-successful anti-drug-war financing.
By law, the Justice Minister must issue his decision about a person’s surrender not later than 90 days (or 150 days, if the Justice Minister requests an extension) after the court issues a committal Order. Emery attended court, then prison, on September 28, 2009, presumably pursuant to a committal order. Normally, a person’s submissions to the Justice Minister, concerning whether or not the Minister should surrender the person, are to be delivered within the period given to the Justice Minister to make a decision concerning the person’s surrender. In Emery’s case, a November 2009 order of the court gave Emery’s lawyer until January 8, 2010 to make his submissions to the Justice Minister. Emery was released on bail pending the Justice Minister’s decision on surrender. More than 150 days has passed since September 28, 2009, so this author can only assume that either (a) the court did not issue a committal Order in September 2009 (which seems unlikely), (b) the 150 day maximum period over which the Justice Minister has the authority to surrender Emery has passed, or (c) the court somehow extended the time given to the Justice Minister to make a decision regarding Emery’s surrender. If the last is the case, it would appear most likely that the judge gave the Justice Minister at most 90 (April 8, 2010) or 150 days (June 7, 2010) to make a decision about Emery’s surrender.
TUESDAY: The YouTube Questions
As reported on this blog last Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to answer YouTubers’ top questions (the period for submitting questions ends today, Sunday). YouTubers gave an early lead to cannabis legalization questions that, on Thursday, were the top three most popular questions for the PM. As of 3:00 PM (EST) Sunday, pro-cannabis legalization questions are – by very wide margins – the four most popular questions being put to the PM. At present, the tenth concerns the extradition of Marc Emery.
My analysis of how the PM might respond to this situation is set out in last Thursday’s post to this blog.
Here are the 10 most popular questions put to the PM by YouTubers as of 3:00 PM on Sunday, March 14th:
“A majority of Canadians when polled say they believe marijuana should be legal for adults and taxes like alcohol. Why don’t you end the war on drugs and focus on violent criminals.”
Dan Grice, Langley (Voters For: 1759, Voters Against: 246)
“When over 45% of Canadians admit to smoking cannabis at least once in their lives, as well as 14% using it monthly, isn’t it time to stop putting people in jail for victimless crimes and start to take the drug trade away from the black market?”
Francais McKellan, Edmonton, Alberta (Voters For: 1548, Voters Against: 246)
“Why do you keep lying about the dangers of cannabis and giving countless millions of dollars to the police to enforce the worst laws in Canada? Why do you ignore the majority of adults who want this plant legalized?”
Greg W., Vancouver (Voters For: 1005, Voters Against: 341)
“Cannabis is proven not physically addictive and less harmful than almost every legal drug. Since before Christ cannabis has been used without a single death, it is even openly used as a medical substance in Canada. Why isn’t it legal for recreation?”
Ryan, Guelph (Voters For: 718, Voters Against: 195)
“Sir, the US Government much larger yet they disclose much more information about contracts, grants and lobbyists. When will the Government of Canada disclosure more information to the taxpayers of Canada?”
Rad, Toronto (Voters For: 647, Voters Against: 303)
“Crime has been dropping for almost 30 years. Why are you trying to impose a US-style, for-profit prison industry onto Canada with Bill C-15?”
RussLBarth, Nepean, ON(Voters For: 590, Voters Against: 116)
“When will your stance on crime shift from putting poor people in jail to incarcerating some of the white collar criminals who steal hundreds of millions of dollars from Canadians every year?”
Steve, Vancouver (Voters For: 570, Voters Against: 213)
“Since research has shown that mandatory minimum sentencing does not deter future crime, what makes you believe this is still an effective way of prosecuting criminals?”
Chris, Waterloo (Voters For: 534, Voters Against: 157)
“Oil prices are again skyrocketing. When will your government build more commuter trains and allow low speed electric vehicles to go 50km/hr (they currently aren’t allowed to go faster than 40km.hr) which keeps them off roads.”
Dan Grice, Langley (Voters For: 585, Voters Against: 230)
“It’s been a couple of months since the US asked Canada to deport Marc Emery, the prince of pot. This decision seems politically motivated. Will you hand him over to the US, even if you’re not allowed to deport someone for political opinion?”
Joseph, Winnipeg (Voters For: 522, Voters Against: 152)
– Article from Paul McKeever on March 14, 2010.