- 06 Feb 08
Following his arrest on drug smuggling charges, Canadian cannabis seed vendor Marc Emery was intent on a showdown with the US legal system. However, he now faces a lengthy jail sentence.
It’s hard to imagine anybody being happy at the prospect of life in a US prison, particularly when the charge involved is international drug smuggling. Yet the ‘Prince of Pot’, Canadian cannabis seed vendor Marc Emery, was initially enthusiastic about his arrest, promising a show-down with what he called the forces of fascism south of the border.
Declaring himself willing to “die in an American gulag”, the 49-year-old pledged to fight his extradition on cannabis smuggling and money laundering charges, and called for the anti-prohibitionist movement to rise in support of him.
That was then. Today, Emery looks a tired figure, attempting to negotiate a plea bargain with the US which would see him spending ten years in prison – most of it in Canada – for a ‘crime’ which is not a criminal offence in Canada itself. Faced with the likelihood that extradition was a mere formality, Emery is resigned to negotiating a plea bargain in return for the freedom of his two co-defendants, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams. Michelle Rainey has Crohn’s disease and uses cannabis medically. She has said that she would likely die if sent to a US prison, where she would not be allowed to access her medicine.
Though the case has illustrated the divergent attitudes of Canada and the US towards cannabis, it is also widely seen as a test of Canadian sovereignty. 58% of Canadians oppose Emery’s extradition, though the chances of the right-wing, pro-Bush Justice Minister refusing to hand Emery and his co-defendants to the US authorities are very slim indeed. Given the fact that Emery was loudly, proudly guilty of the charges laid against him, there was no hope of fighting the charges themselves.
The plea bargaining has proved rough, however, with the US authorities playing hard ball. Initially holding out for a 30 year federal sentence, the US Justice Department is now negotiating that Emery would be sentenced to 10 years in Canada, and then would be extradited to face trial and sentencing in the US, before being returned to Canada to serve his sentence. He would also have to serve six to nine months in a federal prison. For the Emery camp, the stipulation that he be temporarily extradited to the US is a sticking point. Supporters have pointed out that no US judge would be bound by a plea agreement and could set aside the deal, once Emery is on American soil. Even a sympathetic US senator has warned Emery not to trust the Justice Department and to think carefully before accepting any deal which involves jail time in the US.
Even on the brink of defeat, Emery’s mixture of incorrigible optimism and shameless self-promotion have led him to declare himself a ‘great patriot’. He says he is not sorry for any of the cannabis crimes he has committed and he has told supporters that he will use his jail time to write a book about his lifetime of civil disobedience, hinting that he may seek political office upon his release from prison.
Accompanied by joint smoking well-wishers, Emery appeared in court on January 22 to ask for an adjournment of the extradition hearing to allow for continuing negotiations. The next hearing is scheduled for February 6. Meanwhile, in the US, federal agents have taken to raiding medical cannabis operations which are legal in several states, in what is seen as the latest phase of their ongoing repression of the cannabis community in that country.
In light of the US government’s willingness to usurp the constitution and disregard the laws of individual states, Emery’s case seems all the more hopeless. If the US Justice Department doesn’t care about the cannabis laws of California or Colorado, they will pay less heed to Canada’s approach to the plant. It seems sadly inevitable that the ‘Prince of Pot’ will do hard jail time for cultivating the use of a soft drug.