Canada’s Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, has less than a month of freedom remaining before he heads to the US border to be handcuffed and escorted to federal court in Seattle, where he will accept a plea bargain and probable five-year prison sentence for selling marijuana seeds over the Internet.
But while he is resigned to years of imprisonment for his actions and beliefs, he is by no means giving up the fight and vows to reemerge stronger and more motivated than ever.
Emery rose to prominence in the marijuana legalization movement more than a decade ago, after moving from Ontario to Vancouver, where he set up shop as a marijuana entrepreneur, operating cannabis cafes, establishing Cannabis Culture magazine, and operating the Marc Emery Seed Company. Always a thorn in the side of repressive authorities, Emery tussled repeatedly with Canadian bureaucrats, spoke out frequently and loudly (and at length) about the injustice of pot prohibition, founded the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP), ran for office repeatedly, and, using the profits from his enterprises, donated generously to the reform movements in both Canada and the US.
His outspoken activism brought him to the attention of US authorities, and in July 2005, he and two employees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, were arrested in Vancouver at the behest of the DEA on a US warrant charging them with marijuana trafficking for their seed sales. DEA administrator Karen Tandy crowed loudly at the time about shutting down a leading funding source for legalization eforts, but quickly backtracked when accused of undertaking a politically motivated prosecution.
After four years of legal tussles, Rainey and Williams accepted plea bargains that allowed them to serve probationary sentences in Canada. Now, Emery, too, has accepted a plea deal.
The agreement comes after Canada’s Conservative government rejected a plea deal last year that would have allowed Emery to plead to a Canadian offense and serve his time in a Canadian prison. It was also clear that the Canadian government would not block his extradition to the US.
Faced with a possible life sentence if convicted on all counts, Emery agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to traffic marijuana, and will appear for sentencing in federal court in Seattle on Monday, September 21. But if he is to vanish into the American drug war gulag, it is going to be with a bang, not a whimper.
This summer, Emery and his young wife, Jodie, have been on a farewell tour, crisscrossing Canada to bid a temporary adieu to his legions of supporters. Emery is consistently drawing crowds in the hundreds and generating media coverage wherever he goes as he renews his longstanding call for marijuana legalization and urges supporters to agitate around getting him transferred to a Canadian prison to do his time.
And Emery is calling on his supporters to organize demonstrations on his behalf on Saturday, September 19, two days before his sentencing. Local demos are already set up in several dozen towns and cities, and more are welcome.
“There will be worldwide rallies for Marc,” said Cannabis Culture editor Jeremiah Vandermeer. “There are already 50 cities on the list, and more signing up every day. We basically just want to show support for Marc and his cause and demand his freedom. We’re also asking people to send respectful letters to the judge.” (For more information on holding a rally or writing a letter, click here.)
“Marc is probably the most noted marijuana activist within the Americas,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Much of that is due to his tremendous ego and publicity stunts, but that does not diminish the work he has done. He’s always tried to use the political system to advance change, and he has certainly used his entrepreneurial talents as well, in publishing, seed sales, the hemp business, and his downtown Vancouver shop.”
St. Pierre pointed out that Emery’s activism was not limited to marijuana law reform. “If you are a Canadian, you have to respect the man because for all intents and purposes, Canadians have the equivalent of First Amendment rights only because of the cases he brought as a bookseller in the early 1990s,” he said. “His contribution to free speech and knowledge really marks his life, and his cannabis activism is sort of a metaphor for that. He provided unsanctioned information about how to grow marijuana, its therapeutic value, the religious component, all that. Before his challenges to Canadian censorship laws, the government would have said you don’t have the right to know that.”
Before his incarnation as Prince of Pot, Emery was a libertarian bookseller in Ontario, and it was there that he brought repeated successful court challenges to Canadian censorship laws, including a battle to win the right to sell High Times magazine in the country.
Emery’s activism also included pumping money into the drug reform movement, both in Canada and the US. While he was raking in the dollars with his seed company, much of the profits were being plowed right back into the fight.
“I’ve witnessed him giving money to virtually every drug reform group in the US, which puts him in the top 1% in the Americas,” said St. Pierre. “He is in the elite in that respect, and unlike George Soros and Peter Lewis, who picked people to choose where their money would go, Marc’s philosophy seemed to be let all the flowers bloom. It wasn’t huge money, like Soros and Lewis, but it was a lot of money, and that’s pretty remarkable.”
Among the beneficiaries of Emery’s munificence was the Seattle Hempfest, which could count on him to come up with a couple of thousand dollars for last minute expenses, the Drug Truth Network, and the US Marijuana Party, among others. Loretta Nall was head of the US Marijuana Party.
“Marc alone funded my activities from September 2002 until his arrest in 2005,” she said. “The total amount was something on the order of $150,000. Even after he was arrested he continued to try and send money when he could despite his own major need for cash to pay his lawyers.”
Nall became an activist after her home was raided by police in helicopters. When she wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper to protest the raid, she was arrested shortly later.
“Marc stepped in and hired an attorney for me, gave me a job a Pot TV News anchor and roving activist in the US. He funded my trip to Goose Creek South Carolina, Colombia, South America, the first DPA conference I ever attended and everything in between,” Nall recalled. “While working for him he also paid for my daughter to have ear surgery which cost over $6,000 and he provided me with whatever I requested. Marc taught me practically everything I know about drug policy reform. He was my rock when I wanted to run away from Alabama and not fight because I was scared. He was and is my mentor. I owe him a great deal,” she said.
“Marc Emery has been as important to the movement as Martin Luther King Jr. was to the civil rights movement here in Alabama in the 1960’s,” Nall continued. “No one individual has done more to promote outright rebellion — peaceful of course — of the unjust marijuana laws than Marc. No one has put their ass on the line for this cause more than Marc.”
“We gave away $4.5 million for the movement,” said Emery Wednesday from a hotel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where he and Jodie continued his farewell tour. “We paid for the defense of early compassion clubs, like Philippe Lucas’s, we’ve been paying their lawyer for years to litigate for them, we were the chief funder of the 1998 Washington, DC, medical marijuana initiative, we helped Dean Becker’s Cultural Baggage/Drug Truth Network stay afloat, and now he’s on hundreds of stations.”
“The farewell tour is going great,” Emery said. “It feels good. I love talking to and meeting people all across the country and inspiring them to do a lot of activism. And Jodie and I are having a wonderful time in our last month together. I’m blessed to be with such an intelligent, lucid, and lovely wife.”
Emery, of course, is agitating to the bitter end. “I tell my Canadian audiences that I fully expect them to have legalized it by the time I get back. With all that’s going on in Latin America, we’re starting to see a huge group of countries not in sync with prohibitionist drug policies, and I will be disappointed if Canada hasn’t joined that group.”
He is also urging supporters to act on his behalf. “I’m urging Americans to lobby the Bureau of Prisons and Canadians to lobby the Ministry of Public Safety to get me transferred back to Canada,” he said. “I’m also urging people to vote out the Conservative government here. The US and Canada have a treaty allowing nationals to serve their time in their home country, but the Conservatives are not taking back weed prisoners. We need people to vote this government out. In the meantime, we’ll be hitting them with phone calls and emails. We have the people to swamp them.”
But Emery is also preparing for his time behind bars. “I’ll be writing a book based on my life, and I’ll be holding myself to finishing a chapter every two weeks,” he said. “I also plan on learning French and Spanish, French because I intend to become a Member of Parliament and want to be able to speak with all my constituents, and Spanish because it is the most widely spoken language in the hemisphere.”
“There were several dozen seed sellers the US could have gone after, but they focused almost exclusively on Marc and now they are making him a martyr,” said NORML’s St. Pierre. “Unfortunately for the US government, they chose to martyr someone who is keen on martydom, and all those years he will have to spend in prison is just going to further personify him, certainly in Canada but also in the US, as someone who is being treated incredibly unfairly.”
For a sense of how unfairly, one need only recall the last time Emery was convicted of seed-selling in Canada. In that 1998 case, he was fined $2,000. BC appeals courts more recently have suggested a proper sentence for seed-selling was a couple of months in jail and a year or two on probation.
Between that 1998 conviction and his 2005 arrest on US charges, Emery paid in more than $600,000 in Canadian income taxes. Canadian authorities did not bother him again, nor did they have any qualms about accepting his tax monies.
Now, Emery is preparing to become America’s best known marijuana prisoner. “When they’re out to get you, they’re out to get you. It doesn’t matter that they can’t point to a single victim of my ‘crimes,'” he said. “After 20 years of work, I can be the one person everyone will be aware of who is in prison for marijuana.”
And he remains adamant about ending prohibition. “What is the public benefit in prohibition? There is none. We get more drugs, more drug use, more gangs, the treasuries are empty, the jails are full, but they don’t care about that. The only thing important to a prohibitionist is suffering. They think we must suffer because we have a moral failing. They have a puritanical hatred for what we represent.”
The forces of prohibition may have won a temporary victory in their battle to shut up the Prince of Pot. But it may well be a pyrrhic one.
– Article from Drug War Chronicle on August 28, 2009.