- 10 May 06
Why are we still making criminals of cannabis users in 2006?
The use of cannabis is an honest and peaceful lifestyle choice, the worldwide prohibition of cannabis is cruel and inhumane, and the US Drug Enforcement Adminstration (DEA) and the White House have no more right to imprison cannabis users than the Chinese government has a right to lock up Falun Gong practitioners.
So says Marc Emery, Canadian cannabis seed vendor, activist and leader of the Marijuana Party of British Colombia. The self-styled ‘Prince of Pot’ awaits extradition to the US on charges of supplying millions of seeds to American citizens, and therefore conspiring to produce vast quantities of cannabis. He faces 30 years to life in what he terms an archipelago of gulags if extradited to face the charges in an American court.
Emery does not deny the charges. Along with 50 other Canadian seed outlets, he supplied cannabis seeds to people around the world, destroying the records after the orders were dispatched to protect his customers. Unlike the other 49 retailers, Marc got political.
In 11 years, his business has raised $10 million, but the Prince of Pot does not live like royalty: he owns no cars, property or shares, and all of his profits have been donated to activist organisations and politicians, court challenges and ballot initiatives throughout North America, medical marijuana ‘Compassion Clubs’, drug addiction clinics and drug reform conferences, festivals and demonstrations.
“The whole idea of this business when I started it 11 years ago was to raise money to liberate people worldwide from these cruel prohibitions of cannabis that are directed by the United States of America,” he said.
Before he began his campaign to ‘overgrow the government’, Emery had deliberately and publicly flouted a number of laws, including pornography laws and a Sunday trading ban. He went to jail but the laws were changed. Returning from America, he arrived in Vancouver in 1994 to find that not only was cannabis illegal, but so was any literature relating to it, and the police had raided and shut down shops which sold books or magazines relating to “illicit drugs”. He immediately began selling High Times magazine, later taking advertisements in local newspapers notifying the authorities of his activities and inviting them to arrest him.
This is a common tactic of his, and during his 2003 legalisation campaign, he smoked huge joints on the steps of police stations. He has been arrested 21 times and had 17 stints in prison in pursuit of a “peaceful, democratic revolution based on tolerance and love and unity of all peoples” through use of “God’s greatest plant and the enlightenment that comes from ingesting marijuana.”
Marc is a victim of his own success. As a result of his struggle, the ban on cannabis literature was overturned, medical marijuana was legalised and the hemp industry is booming, with over 75 hemp activist stores in Canada in 2006. His Cannabis Culture magazine sells 75,000 copies per issue. He has also changed minds, and today a majority of Canadian citizens favour the regulation and taxation of the cannabis market. By running for election (twice for mayor, three times for the Marijuana Party at federal and local level), Emery has had a significant impact on the attitudes of politicians, and succeeded in converting the Mayor of Vancouver from a prohibitionist to a supporter of legalisation.
Emery points out that nobody ever complained to him about his activities, no politician ever refused his donations, and everybody in Canada knew what he was doing. His occupation was described in tax returns as ‘marijuana seed vendor’. His staunchest enemies have not been Canadian, but the American DEA.
Noting the impact of Emery’s campaigning, the DEA dispatched the ‘Drugs Czar’, John Walters, to Vancouver in 2002 to deliver a high profile speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, warning that cannabis was the most dangerous drug of all, and should not be legalised. Emery and company heckled him throughout, shouting "bullshit" and "lie". In a meeting with the Vancouver mayor and city councillors the following day, Walters told them that any moves towards legalisation would result in the closure of the US border to Canadian commerce. “It was the most intense meeting of my life. There is no one more uninformed about drugs than the Drugs Czar,” Mayor Philip Owens said afterwards.
For his troubles, the American Attorney General designated Emery as one of his 46 “international drug trafficking organisational targets.” DEA Administrator Karen Tandy described his arrest as a blow against the drug reform movement. Noting that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been donated to activist groups, she boasted that these lobbyists “now have one less pot of money to rely on.”
His extradition hearing will be held later this month, and he is currently out on bail. The blow to revenue has meant staff cutbacks, and he has had to give up his rented car and home and move in with a friend. His only source of income today is the charity of the activist community he has helped organise over the last decade.
Two of Emery’s associates are also facing extradition. Greg Williams runs Pot TV, a website established by Emery, while Michelle Rainey is a medical marijuana activist who uses the drug to alleviate the pain of Crohn's disease.
The Canadian reaction to the extradition request has been overwhelmingly negative, with even opponents of cannabis legalisation appalled at the perceived violation of Canadian sovereignty. Although the sale of cannabis seeds is strictly illegal in Canada, only two people have ever been prosecuted for it and those cases resulted in fines. Emery points out that the maximum prison sentence for a multiple murderer in Canada is 25 years, yet he will go to jail for much longer in the US for an offence which has never resulted in a prison sentence in Canada.
The Prince of Pot remains unperturbed, and sarcastically thanks the DEA for raising his international stature, and giving him massive access to the media. “I tell people that this extradition attempt is a blessing, because it has galvanised the world movement for cannabis peace,” he said.
There have been demonstrations on Emery’s behalf at US and Canadian embassies in 43 cities around the world, and his case has been covered in over 400 newspapers and magazines. His case is highlighting the extreme punishment meted out in the US for cannabis offences. He is making the most of his time on bail to drive his message home, and he has embarked on a ‘farewell tour’ of universities and other venues, saying that if he is extradited, he will never been seen alive in Canada again.
“If I get extradited to the United States for 35, 40 years, or life without parole – as would seem likely – then they should hear what I have to say before I get taken away or surrendered by my own country to the Nazified, corrupt, rogue government of the United States.”
It seems unlikely that Canada’s new Bush-friendly conservative government will block the extradition, and with Emery admitting to the charges, the prince may soon be a martyr to the American war on pot. b