Seeds, Raids, and the Beginning of the BC Marijuana Party

2001 was the biggest year for sales of Marc Emery Direct Seeds. It sure needed to be! All the profits that year (as was the case every year), $700,000, were directed to non-profit projects in the US, Canada, and around the world. The two most demanding on money were Pot TV, which needed $270,000 for just 2001 alone with no revenue stream at all, and the British Columbia Marijuana Party provincial election campaign of March to May 2001. Financing the campaign for 79 candidates cost $165,000 in just three months!

Reports from my file with the DEA, gained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), reveal that the DEA office in San Francisco tracked $2,100,000 in donations from me to US activists and US activist groups from April 1999 to July 2004, a period just over five years. That doesn’t include my $2,500,000 spent on non-profit Canadian projects in the same period (such as the 2001 BCMP election, Canadian Supreme Court legalization challenge from 1996 to 2003, Pot TV from 2000-2005, and the Ibogaine Therapy House 2002-2004 – those four Canadian projects alone cost $1,500,000), or my world-wide projects ($400,000) like political parties in New Zealand and Israel, rallies in London, Paris, and many more cities around the world.

All this extra money was given away to all the great causes I was seeing around me, financing the myriad of US and Canadian court challenges and class action lawsuits, US state ballot initiatives, US lobby groups, political parties everywhere, compassion clubs in the US and Canada, the Million Marijuana March (soon to become the Global Marijuana March), early internet cannabis radio networks, shows, and productions. Every day there were lineups of people with ‘great’ projects that sought financing from me.

Although Marc Emery Seeds was doing very well – in fact, the years 2001-2002 would be our peak seed sales years – I had been run out of Vancouver by a combination of police raids on every aspect of my Vancouver-based businesses on January 4th 1996, December 16th 1997, April 30th 1998 and one more on September 2nd 1998. All four times the police raided my seed business; on three occasions they raided the retail store Hemp BC; and two times they raided Cannabis Canada magazine.

Two weeks after the January 4th 1996 raid, we defiantly opened another shop specializing in equipment for growing marijuana, called The Little Grow Shop. It expanded rapidly in 1996 and 1997. We also had a free legal clinic from 1996 to 1998 subsidized by seed sales, called The Hemp BC Legal Assistance Centre. It had to close after the December 16th 1997 raid (which, identical to the first raid 23 months earlier, saw $450,000 in inventory and materials hauled away by police).

I got a pile of charges in the latter three raids, including trafficking in seeds, trafficking in bongs and pipes (drug paraphernalia), and even one charge (and consequent conviction) for “promoting vaporizers” from the December 1997 raid on our vapor lounge/hemp food restaurant The Cannabis Cafe, a beautiful place that opened next door to Hemp BC on July 2nd 1997. It was a project that took me eight months of daily renovation and cost $300,000, but it was such a beautiful thing. There were state-of-the-art (1997-era) vaporizers at every table, and our food menu had hemp seeds, hemp flour or hemp oil in every dish we served.

Vaporizers were a very new idea and the technology was primitive then compared to today, though the idea was the same: heat the resin heads containing the cannabinoids into steam and inhale. “Look ma, no burning!” Mind you, you could set the temperature on ‘high’ on those vaporizers and burn the weed if you chose to. But on each table was a instruction page for using a vaporizer, and thus was the police ‘evidence’ of me ‘promoting vaporizers’. As far as I know, I remain the only Canadian ever convicted of promoting vaporizers. I’m the only Canadian to go to jail for three months for passing a joint (that the police never saw) in 2004. I am the only Canadian extradited to the United States for trafficking seeds to Americans, and I believe I am the only person in United States federal prison for selling seeds (In Canada or elsewhere).

The Mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen, had been threatening to make me “toast” in high-profile newspapers like the New York Times in the months leading up to the massive second raid (December 1997) on Hemp BC, The Cannabis Cafe, The Little Grow Shop, Marc Emery Seeds and Cannabis Canada. That November, I had bought full page ads in the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province daily newspapers in a special edition that was circulated to all the heads of state and their delegations meeting at the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Conference) in Vancouver. We detailed in those ads how each of the APEC member nations were abusing the human rights of citizens in their countries regarding marijuana usage. This offended the delegations from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, and other nations who were harsh on their citizens and had to see these giant full-page ads calling them out on it.

The Canadian government was embarrassed because this day’s editions were otherwise full of corporate commerce ads by Canada’s largest companies working up business with these 25 Pacific Rim nations. Our ads invited all the delegates and heads of state (including US president Bill Clinton, who was in attendance) to come and get high with us only four blocks away from the APEC hotels in the cordoned off conference zone of downtown Vancouver, to experience first-hand that marijuana was safe and wonderful. Over 20 delegates did in fact come to The Cannabis Cafe and enjoy a cannabis experience with us (‘free pot if you showed your delegate credentials’, said our ad).

Two months earlier, CNN had a special IMPACT presentation with Bernard Shaw, “CNN Visits Canada’s Prince of Pot“, which gave great coverage to the Hemp BC store, the Little Grow Shop (which was now a huge grow shop, cranking out 10-20 light systems a day!), Marc Emery Direct Seeds, and Cannabis Canada. I dressed up in a hemp suit I had made for the occasion, and even hemp slippers modelled on an exotic middle eastern design. It was great publicity, but once again it was disturbing to the powers in Washington, DC.

Despite being victimized by an enormous raid on January 4th 1996, we had added businesses and moved into an enormous location across the street in October 1996 (where Marc Emery’s Cannabis Culture Headquarters is today), increased our seeds sales, expanded Cannabis Canada’s circulation, had occupied Gassy Jack Square in protest of police brutality only 7 months after raid #1, expanded the April 20 mass smoke-outs into Vancouver’s main downtown square in 1997, got a big show on CNN where I promised to bring the legalization fight to the United States, and made heads of state from numerous countries lose face at a Vancouver APEC convention.

The Mayor of Vancouver, Philip Owen, was fuming. Then police got really heavy. I got arrested ten times over the next two years. My business licenses were cancelled. We were raided two more times in 1998. I was told by police and the Mayor I was persona non-grata in Vancouver. I lost the store, the grow shop, my seed retail outlet. The number of employees went from 48 to 12 from December 15th 1997 to September 1998. All we had left was Marc Emery Direct seeds (by mail only), and Cannabis Canada magazine, which was the exclusive advertiser of the seed sales.

With what was left, we got out of town. The magazine staff of eight moved to the Sunshine Coast, and I did too. I kept a storage closet at 21 Water St. in Vancouver, where our magazine once had a suite to produce CC Mag, but we moved CC Mag out of that building after three raids made the landlord touchy and us a police target. Without telling the landlord, I put two phone lines in a windowless storage closet that I still was paying rent for, and operated the email and phone response lines for Marc Emery Seeds from there.

Now, from 1998 to 2000, I bided my time, drew no notice, and worked on massively expanding the mail order seeds sales in that invisible closet. In order to get Americans to buy my magazine, we changed the name at issue #17 from Cannabis Canada to Cannabis Culture – a brilliant move, as we found Americans won’t buy anything with the word ‘Canadian’ in it except Canadian whiskey or Canadian back bacon. The magazine sales took off, I sold a great deal more seeds to Americans, and money began to pour in.

By 2000, I was far more profitable than ever with much less overhead, and thus had much more money available to devote to subversion (legalization activity). It had turned out that the police and Mr. Mayor Owen had done me a favour, in that peculiar way that sometimes happens. I had pled guilty on a number of charges: trafficking in half gram of hash to an American tourist (who, taking a free gram of hash with him back to the United States, got caught with it and said I gave it to him, thus getting me charged – the U.S. and Canada even flew him in to my court hearing to testify, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars); ‘promoting vaporizers’; trafficking in seeds; trafficking in paraphernalia… whatever they could come up with. Fines were small.

So in a home on the Sunshine Coast, for three years from May 1998 to April 2001, I licked my wounds, avoided the police, kept quiet, earned lots of money, bided my time, expanded the magazine’s reach and circulation and sold a lot of seeds. In that time I gave money to ballot initiatives in Washington, DC; Colorado; Arizona; Alaska; got the Marijuana Policy Project off the ground financially in 1998; paid for the ongoing court cases to get an appearance before the Canadian Supreme Court; and Pot TV was going strong in the basement of my Sunshine Coast home.

In November of 2000, we had 72 Canadians as candidates in the first campaign for the Marijuana Party of Canada, organized by Mark Boris St. Maurice of Montreal. This national campaign (of which I contributed $35,000 to cover materials, signs, and candidate deposits) made the growing legalization movement in Canada proud. So, in late January 2001, a meeting was held in my home on the Sunshine Coast exploring the feasibility of fielding up to 79 Marijuana Party candidates in the May 2001 British Columbia provincial election. By March 2001 I was determined to make like General Douglas MacArthur, and return to downtown Vancouver in a big way in the same location I had been run out of town three years earlier.

“I have returned!”

Hemp BC at 307 West Hastings had been forcibly closed by police forever in September 1998, and a store selling skateboards and skater clothing moved in to that location. It did not do well, and when the I heard the lease was available beginning March 1st 2001 when the BC Marijuana Party campaign was quickly coming together, I told my former landlord, “Absolutely, I’ll take it.” I had found that political parties in British Columbia don’t need local business licenses to have a facility to ‘fundraise’, and in BC, at the provincial level, there was no limit on how fundraising could be done, or how much one person could contribute. Perfect.

So I re-occupied the building that had once been Hemp BC, and shocked the city officials by opening as the BC Marijuana Party Headquarters. I started selling seeds, bongs, pipes, grow books, equipment, etc. immediately on the main floor, and in the giant basement I ran a full-time election campaign. We convinced former (and current) Grand Forks, BC Mayor Brian Taylor to be the Party leader. We managed to rent a bus, dubbed the Cannabus, to take Brian around BC for the six weeks up to election day in May, campaigning in a different riding every day. That bus had been used by Richard Nixon to campaign in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1980, and Jesse Ventura in his gubernatorial campaign in the 1990’s!

The driver was the same driver for Nixon, Reagan and Ventura campaigns too, and he came with the $10,000 (plus fuel/repairs) six-week rental fee. Inside the bus were plaques presented to Nixon and Reagan, including one presented to Ronald Reagan by the Drug Enforcement Administration! There was a massive BC Marijuana Party logo painted on both sides of the bus, and pot was smoked on the bus, and in some of the more rural spots in BC, the bus was pulled over by cops and the campaign crew on board was harassed, but no charges were laid. I’m sure occasionally some joints got flushed down the toilet.

Meanwhile, myself, my erstwhile right-hand woman Michelle Rainey, Matthew Johnson (our campaign manager), and Mike Cust worked in the basement 12-14 hours a day rounding up 79 candidates starting March 1st. The most recent electoral redistricting in British Columbia had expanded the number of ridings (in the US they are called ‘districts’) in the May 2001 election from 75 to 79. We held out a thrilling hope that we would field a candidate in every one of the 79 ridings. In order for a person to be a BC Marijuana Party candidate in the 2001 provincial election, each candidate had to put up $250, and get 25 valid signatures of voters in the riding to endorse his or her nomination papers. Usually the candidate would get 40 signatures, because sometimes a name would be disqualified (usually because they didn’t actually live in the riding, or the information was illegibly written).

No new party in the history of British Columbia had ever had a full slate of candidates in its first election appearance. So our task was daunting. In about eight weeks, from the time of the formation of the party (March 1st) to the close of nominations (April 25th), our goal was to have a complete slate of 79 candidates. I felt that was our greatest chance of being taken seriously. The purpose wasn’t to get anyone elected; that was impossible. The purpose was to make legalization a constant topic of discussion throughout the campaign in April and May. If a Marijuana Party candidate was on every ballot, that meant every voter in this election would see “BC Marijuana Party” as an option on their ballot, and even if they didn’t vote for us, it was like a universal advertisement for the issue of legalization.

Typically “fringe” candidates – that is, those with no chance of winning that do not belong to a recognized ‘major’ party – are not invited to the serious all-candidates meetings (which are an increasing rare phenomenon today in any case, but were more common even as recently as 2001). But if we had a BCMP candidate in all 79 ridings, it would be more difficult to say we were a fringe party.

The biggest triumph of the campaign was on the last day of nominations. We still had ten ridings without a candidate or with incomplete nomination papers, but absolutely heroic work from campaign team Mike Cust, Matthew Johnson, Michelle Rainey and myself got those ten final candidates nominated – three in the last five minutes nominations could be filed! I remember that day as being the high point of the campaign. Although the Cannabus got news media attention everywhere it went (particularly when the media was shown the ironic DEA plaque to Reagan inside), and our candidates got a fair share of attention, and our message certainly did get out, the actual election with its foregone conclusion was anti-climactic.

Our highest percentage of the votes cast in any one riding was best achieved by candidate Paul Renaud, who, though he lived on the Sunshine Coast near Vancouver, ran in the northern BC riding of Peace River North (adjacent to the Yukon!) 1,300 km north of his home. Paul campaigned in his old VW van way up there for three weeks, and got ten percent of the vote. The average over-all was 2.4%, a total of 54,000 votes over 79 ridings. In total, $165,000 was spent on the campaign, $152,000 donated by myself from the profits of the seed sales! Like many of the projects I have started (Pot TV, Iboga Therapy House, The Cannabis Cafe), I had no idea how costly it would become!

In the 2005 election, the BCMP ran only 45 candidates, as some Green and NDP candidates favoured legalization and got our endorsement. By 2009, the BCMP officially endorsed the BC Green Party’s legalization platform and helped gather numerous candidates for the campaign. In the 2013 election, the BC Green Party won its first seat in the legislature with Professor Andrew Weaver, and remains the only place to park your vote and support if you are a BC voter looking to a provincial party to change marijuana laws. The BC New Democratic Party and BC Liberals are hopeless, completely hopeless, as far as the issue of drug law reform goes.

As a funny aside, my wife Jodie Emery’s first involvement in legalization politics was when the BC Marijuana Party Cannabus came to her hometown Kamloops during the 2001 campaign; it was her first ever marijuana rally and she attended with two friends. Jodie was a BC Marijuana Party candidate in West Vancouver-Capilano in 2005, and a BCMP candidate in the Vancouver-Fairview by-election of 2008. When the BCMP endorsed the BC Green Party in 2009, Jodie was asked to run as a BC Green Party candidate in the riding of Vancouver-Fraserview, and in 2013 she received 2,200 votes (12%) as the BC Green candidate in Vancouver-West End.

Other 2001 candidates who have gone on to electoral success include BCMP leader (2001) Brian Taylor, who is once again the Mayor of Grand Forks – that’s several terms now. Dana Larsen also ran as a candidate in the 2001 election for BCMP, part of his life-long career of activism as editor of Cannabis Culture (1994 to 2005), then Dispensaries (2006 to present) and Sensible BC (2012 to present), and he also ran for the leadership of the BC NDP in 2011. And then there’s Bob Erb, who ran in Terrace-Kitimat in 2001; he won a $25 million lottery and contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Sensible BC.

The BCMP campaign headquarters building at 307 West Hastings has evolved in many ways, and is now home to Marc Emery’s Cannabis Culture Headquarters store, the BCMP lounge on the 2nd and 3rd floors, the office of Cannabis Culture magazine, and Pot TV studio. I look forward to returning home this summer and getting back into campaign mode again!

Marc Emery
Marc Emery

Marc Emery is a Canadian cannabis activist, entrepreneur, and politician. Known to his fans as the Prince of Pot, Emery has been a notable advocate of international cannabis policy reform for decades. Marc is the founding publisher of Cannabis Culture and Pot TV.