Off The Board: The Prince of Pot

Activist Marc Emery in a legal hemp field. (Photo by Jodie Emery)Activist Marc Emery in a legal hemp field. (Photo by Jodie Emery)When it comes to the law, things tend to be black and white: guilty or innocent, prosecution or defence, criminal or victim. But we all know that in reality some people are a little bit guilty, while others are guilty as hell.

Whether you believe Marc Emery is “a little bit guilty” or “guilty as hell” is as good a test of your socio-political views as anything.

Emery, popularly know by his self-coined moniker “the Prince of Pot,” is set to plead guilty to drug trafficking charges next week in a Seattle courtroom. It’s expected that he will be sentenced to between five and 20 years in prison.

Canadian police and American law enforcement agents arrested Emery and two associates in August 2005, and charged them with distributing marijuana seeds to clients in the U.S. Emery was the primary target in the raid because of his decade-long campaign to end the criminal prohibition against cannabis in North America – a campaign which has included conducting several speaking tours, making three unsuccessful attempts at running for mayor of Vancouver, founding the B.C. Marijuana Party, and publishing the bimonthly Cannabis Culture magazine.

Canadian law enforcement agencies knew of Emery’s seed business but had not arrested him since 1998, when he was fined $2,000 for distributing seeds. Since then, Emery has, as a “marijuana seed vendor,” paid provincial and federal taxes totaling nearly $600,000. In fact, according to the Vancouver Sun, Health Canada even recommended medical marijuana patients buy their seeds from Emery.

It seems then that Emery has been operating in a sort of bizarre middle ground – tacitly accepted by the government as long as they don’t have to acknowledge it publicly.

Now I’m not going to bother wasting much of your time with an argument about drug legalization. I believe marijuana should be legal, and I’ve yet to hear an anti-marijuana argument that doesn’t rely on shoddy science, baseless speculation, or misguided morality. If alcohol and tobacco are legal, then logically marijuana should be as well.

Unfortunately, logic seems to be a dirty word for the Canadian government. Despite the fact that the B.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that a one-month jail sentence and probation would be an acceptable sentence for selling marijuana seeds, the government has refused to prosecute Emery in Canada. Even though the majority of his business was conducted in the Great White North, Emery will be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison under U.S. law. In this case, as in so many others, this government has demonstrated a reluctance to assert autonomy in its relationship with the U.S.

We’ve all broken the law. We’re all a little bit guilty. We drink before we reach the legal age, we drive faster than the speed limit, and we illegally download music and movies online. As a society we have decided that these things, despite being illegal, are generally acceptable, and so we don’t pursue criminal charges against the millions of people who flout these laws. Marijuana usage falls into this frustratingly inconsistent category – in some respects it’s accepted by law enforcement agencies, while in others it’s still viewed as an evil aspect of our society.

It’s time for the inconsistency to end. Marc Emery matters because he’s being charged in a country with illogical and unfair drug laws for “crimes” he also committed in Canada. If we consider Emery a criminal, let’s charge him under Canadian law. If not, then let’s stop kowtowing to the wishes of our morally bankrupt southern neighbour.

There’s no doubt Marc Emery is a little bit guilty – one of the many Canadians who occupy the grey area in our legal system. It’s just unfortunate that in this case, our government has chosen to see things in black and white.

– Article from The McGill Tribune on September 15, 2009.