Eight years ago today, on July 29th 2005, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Vancouver Police raided my store in downtown Vancouver and had me arrested while in Halifax for a medical marijuana event. I faced extradition to the United States and life in federal prison, along with my employees Greg Williams and Michelle Rainey. I was extradited on May 20th 2010 for a five-year plea deal, and I’m told Canada has changed since I’ve been imprisoned here.
In just seven months, in March of next year, medical users of cannabis in Canada will no longer be allowed to grow their own, and must buy their marijuana from government authorized outlets at probably considerably more than it costs them now. This is disappointing for a few reasons. It’s no secret that many medical users and growers were selling off their surplus at market prices (or perhaps a little less), but this was a good thing. Most medical users are in rough shape health-wise and often have limited ability to earn money. Most medical users I ever met were living pretty close to the bone, subsistence living, and the extra money from their surplus improved their quality of life considerably.
The quality of pot grown by these medical users is excellent too. Because it is (currently) legal for them to produce, they can take the necessary time and do the necessary touches to fully ripen and cure the cannabis. They certainly can’t allow pesticides or herbicides with their compromised health, so the pot produced by and for medical users is very clean.
Under the newly proposed Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, the 30,000 Canadians with current medical use permission from Canada’s federal government’s Health Canada will only be allowed to buy their cannabis from licensed outlets from $5 a gram on up to $12 a gram. But ultimately, these are black market prices parallel to the “illegal” vendors, and the cost of growing cannabis in a legal environment is much less than $5-$12 a gram.
Additionally, these government outlets won’t be allowed to make cannabis oil, or any kind of cannabis-infused product that many medical people use – criminal offenses in the Controlled Drugs & Substances Act are severe for this kind of cannabis medicine.
I doubt the more than 18,000 Canadians growing their own or who have someone growing it for them will be willing to stop cultivating their own medicine. Unfortunately, police have all their addresses too, as part of the regulatory regime governing medical home grows – so on March 1st of next year, will police across Canada be scoping out all these registered grows and laying charges where homegrown are still going on? I am sad to say I believe they will be, with the Harper Conservative government in power.
Sensible BC Decriminalization Campaign
Meanwhile, more Canadians than ever want to legalize marijuana entirely. Dana Larsen, my good friend and chief organizer for the Sensible BC campaign, has been getting tremendous media coverage and support for the referendum in British Columbia to essentially decriminalize possession of marijuana (visit www.SensibleBC.ca).
Signature gathering begins on September 9th and canvassers have 90 days to gather 400,000 signatures from voters in BC, with a mandatory ten percent of every riding in BC – a monumental task. 400,000 signatures is more than the 86,000 required in Colorado or the 247,000 required in Washington state to get legalization measures on their ballots (which then passed in November 2012). And even if Sensible BC gets the signatures this year and wins the vote in September 2014, the BC legislature does not have to pass it. Unlike in a US state initiative, it does not automatically become law (or in the case of Colorado, part of the state constitution).
On Thursday, July 25th, the front page of the Vancouver Province daily newspaper and the weekly Georgia Straight in Vancouver featured Dana Larsen and Sensible BC on their entire front covers, giving excellent coverage to this unprecedented campaign (see articles from The Province and Georgia Straight). These are just two examples of the constant media attention being earned by Dana and Sensible BC!
Our province is the only one that even has referendum legislation permitting citizen-generated ballot initiatives, but it was cynically written legislation that made the effort required for a non-binding proposal overwhelming. Still, for 18 months, Dana Larsen has soldiered on, criss-crossing across the province relentlessly, drumming up support for his signature gathering campaign.
I dare say no activist endeavor like this has ever been attempted in Canada; nothing I did (and I’m proud of the many campaigns I waged, like the 2003 Summer of Legalization Tour) even comes close. Dana Larsen should get a medal and the highest honors any activist could possibly ever get for attempting so valiantly and doggedly to get this decriminalization initiative before the people of BC in a vote.
There has never been a Canadian cannabis activism campaign like this before, and I urge you to help out, volunteer, and give money to the greatest effort our movement has ever witnessed in Canada. www.SensibleBC.ca
Justin Trudeau: Far Better Than Harper
Since I’ve been gone, the Conservatives have enacted cruel mandatory prison sentences for cultivation and distribution of marijuana, and there is no exception for medical growing. The Conservatives under Harper believe in punishment and pain as a principle of ‘moral’ governance, in order to keep the people from thinking and acting freely and liberally. The Conservatives want a whipped and cowering cannabis culture, and we will see them escalate the punishment and pain until such a time as they are removed from office. The next election is October 2015, and it is absolutely vital we become politically involved.
Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau firmly stressed last week in two major speeches his intention to completely legalize marijuana in a taxed and regulated model once he becomes Prime Minister (which would happen in October 2015, if the Liberals win the election). To that I say, more power to you, Mr. Trudeau. I think everyone in the Canadian cannabis culture ought to get on this bandwagon, join the Liberal Party of Canada, give money and time to the party, and do what you can to make Justin Trudeau Canada’s next Prime Minister. www.Liberal.ca
While Justin Trudeau gives Canadians and our cannabis culture a compelling reason to vote for and support him and his party in the next federal election, the Conservatives, since I have left Canada, have actually added time on to my own sentence – that is, if they even decide to approve my transfer application that has already been approved by the US Department of Justice.
Transfer to Canadian Prison – Hopefully Soon?
On July 7th, the United States Department of Justice approved my transfer application. Now Canada’s Minister of Public Safety has 90 days – until October 6th – to accept or reject my application. When I applied for my transfer back to Canada, it was on the understanding that once back in Canada, I would automatically be released once I had served two-thirds of my sentence, as is the rule for every other federal prisoner in the Canadian prison system.
Since I’m past that two-thirds now (almost 41 months of 60 served) my expectation was that upon being transferred to Canadian authorities I’d be released immediately, having done my two-thirds. At least, that’s the way it was when I was exiled from Canada in May 2010. However, the Conservatives, quite contrary to my understanding of the Equality provisions in the Charter of Rights, have added considerable prison time to any Canadian returning from the US prison system.
I do not know at this time if I will be accepted or rejected by new Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney. I do know the Minister has no legal reason to reject me, as I would need to be either 1) a threat to the public safety or 2) a member of organized crime.
But we will find out by October 6th. Despite the diminished value of returning to Canada under the 1977 bi-lateral International Transfer of Offenders Act treaty transfer, I still want to urge you to politely call the Minister’s office and constituency office, and your local MP (you can find your Member of Parliament here), and urge a swift approval to my transfer application.
Please contact the Public Safety Minister’s office!
(Click here for the FreeMarc.ca page with more information)
Telephone: (613) 944-4875 and 1-800-830-3118
Letters: (postage not required within Canada)
Minister of Public Safety
House of Commons
When Will I Be Out Of Prison?
Here are two examples of what happens to me if the Minister of Public Safety Blaney approves my application: The first example is if he promptly decides to approve me and I am transferred across the border this September 10th 2013; the second example is that he approves me in October, and I am transferred across the border on January 10th 2014.
The Canadian government considers my period of incarceration as from my sentencing date of September 10th 2010 to September 10th 2015. (In the US, they consider my period of incarceration from March 14th 2010 to March 14th 2015, with 15% off for good time making July 9th 2014 my release date, a 52-month period of actual incarceration).
The Canadian system does give me all the credits for my 177 days served on August 2nd to 5th 2005 (four days, my arrest time in North Fraser Pre-Trial), September 28th to November 18th 2009 (51 days detained pending extradition, when my lawyer got very ill and I was released on bail), May 10th to 20th (10 days in North Fraser Pre-Trial pending extradition), and my time in US custody prior to my September 10th 2010 sentencing (112 days from May 20th 2010 to September 9th 2010).
That 177 days is added with my US good time credit that accumulated in the time I was in the US system. My US good time credits (54 days a year or 15% of a given period) for our two examples are:
(March 14, 2010 to September 10, 2013 = 54 days + 54 days + 54 days + 26 days = 188 days of good time credit)
(March 14, 2010 to January 10, 2014 = 54 days + 54 days + 54 days + 42 days = 204 days of good time credit)
So the Canadian government works by this formula: My sentence is considered September 10th 2010 to September 10th 2015. My credits are subtracted from the September 10th 2015 date. Under the new rules, I am required to serve two-thirds of the time remaining from the date of my transfer (in this theoretical set of examples, September 10th 2013 and January 10th 2014) to the end of my term. The end of my term is calculated as September 10th 2015 less my credits.
For a September 10th 2013 transfer it would be: September 10, 2013 to September 10, 2015 = 24 months. 24 months less credits of 188 days (good time credit) + 177 days (pre-sentence custody time) = 365 days, or one year exactly.
Now, for the purposes of determining my Canadian statutory release, my ‘term’ would end on September 10th 2014 (one year earlier for those subtracted 365 days of credit). I am required under the new Conservative transfer laws to serve 2/3 of the 12 months remaining to my ‘term’, 2/3 of the time from my theoretical arrival in Canada of September 10th 2013 to September 10th 2014, which is eight months. That is May 10th 2014.
If I get transferred across the border into the hands of Corrections Services Canada (in about six weeks, admittedly unlikely) on September 10th 2013, I get statutory release (out of Canadian prison) on May 10th 2014. It’s still two months earlier than my US release date, but ten months later than it would have been two years ago before the Conservatives changed the rules! I am also bound by parole conditions until the end of my ‘term’, in this case, September 10th 2014.
What might be more likely is a January 10th 2014 transfer across the border into the hands of Canadian authorities. My credits off the September 10th 2015 date in this case are 204 days of good time credit, plus 177 days (pre-sentence custody time) = 381 days. Deducted from September 10th 2015, 381 days is August 25th 2014. So I would have to serve 2/3 of the exactly seven and a half months from January 10th 2014 to August 25th 2014, so that’s precisely five months to serve, meaning my release date would be June 10th 2014.
My conditions of parole after I am released from prison on June 10th 2014 continue to August 25th 2014, not that long really. But now I am only released a month earlier than my US date. My US release date is July 9th 2014, but I get detained by US Immigration and could be up to 90 days before I am deposited at the Canadian border, so even that could be as late as October 7th 2014.
So overall, it’s a disappointment that transfer home won’t really mean much more time out of prison than if I stayed in the United States, but I still get home a few weeks to a few months earlier to be with Jodie, so I’ll have to take what I can get!