Pot Crusader Marc Emery Jailed in Canada Pending Extradition to US

Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery turned himself in to Canadian authorities Monday and is in custody in Vancouver pending extradition to the United States. The Canadian Justice Minister is expected to sign extradition papers within a matter of weeks, and then Emery will be driven to the border, handed over to US authorities, shackled, and sent to a federal detention center in the Seattle area. Shortly after that, Emery is set to plead guilty to a single count of marijuana distribution, with an expected sentence of five years in a US federal prison.


Emery and two employees of his cannabis seed selling business, Greg Rainey and Michelle Williams, were arrested in July 2005 by Canadian police honoring a US arrest warrant charging the trio with marijuana distribution and conspiracy for selling seeds to customers in the US. They faced decades or even life in prison under draconian US federal marijuana laws. Earlier this year, Rainey and Williams accepted a plea bargain in which they pleaded guilty to a single count and were sentenced to probation in Canada.

With his employees' legal situation resolved, Emery then cut his own deal. But that doesn't mean he's changed his ways. At a press conference outside the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver Monday just before he turned himself in, Emery was in typical "Prince of Pot" form.

"I'm disappointed in my government, but very proud of my 'Overgrow the Government' revolution," Emery told supporters. "This terrible, insidious prohibition has been propped up by Liberal and Conservative governments for 45 years. It's a public policy with no public benefit, and it has caused so much misery, heartbreak, and torment for so many Canadians."

Emery urged supporters to lobby the Canadian Justice Ministry to not sign his extradition order -- something that is admittedly unlikely -- or, barring that, to make the government pay at the polls in the next election. "And if they do sign they must be punished in the next election," he said.

In the event that he is imprisoned in the US, Emery is urging supporters to demand that he be returned to Canada to serve his sentence. "I would be out on the streets in a year from now if I am transferred back to Canada as a first-time nonviolent offender in the Canadian system," he told the crowd.

Emery showed no remorse -- in fact, quite the opposite. "I'm proud of everything I've done; I only regret that I wasn't able to do more," Emery continued. "I did sell those seeds so people would overgrow the government, and I gave away $4 million that kick-started a worldwide movement. I'm the 'Prince of Pot' for a good reason. And there is no victim here; there are no dead people in my revolution."

"Plant the seeds of freedom. Overgrow the government, everyone," Emery yelled as he was led away by sheriffs.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Emery carved out a niche for himself as a cannabis entrepreneur and legalization advocate in Vancouver, but his activism extends back to his native Ontario, where, as a libertarian bookseller, he brought cases against Canadian censorship laws that then blocked magazines such as High Times from being sold in the country. After moving to Vancouver, Emery set up the Cannabis Culture shop, Cannabis Culture magazine, and the Marc Emery Seed Company.

A constant gadfly to law enforcement and drug warrior politicians on both sides of the border, Emery's mouth, his money, and his commitment to the cause enabled him to become one of the most well-known voices worldwide for ending pot prohibition. Emery founded the BC Marijuana Party and crisscrossed Canada to spread the word about "Overgrowing the Government," and profits from his seed sales help fund drug reform groups and activists in both Canada and the US.

That didn't win him any friends with the DEA or US federal prosecutors, who indicted him on marijuana distribution charges after busting some American growers who had obtained their seeds from him. Then DEA head Karen Tandy crowed over his arrest, describing it as a blow to the legalization movement, but then quickly backtracked in the face of accusations that his arrest was politically motivated.

While Emery is behind bars awaiting extradition to the US, his friends and supporters are mobilizing. Their immediate objectives are three-fold: to urge the Justice Minister to refuse to sign the extradition papers, to urge the US sentencing judge to give him a short or non-custodial sentence, and, in the event he is sentenced to prison time in the US, to urge the Canadian Public Safety Minister to approve his transfer to a Canadian prison.

To that end, supporters have set up a web site, No Extradition, with instructions on how to contact the relevant authorities. They are also planning vigils at Emery's current BC jail digs and a demonstration in Seattle when he arrives there for sentencing.

"We're planning it right this second," Seattle Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak said Thursday. "It's kind of difficult without having a date certain, but we're trying to get it so we're ready to go when it happens. There will probably be a rally at the federal courthouse," he added, noting that protest information would be posted on the Hempfest web site after tomorrow.

"This is terrible," said Jeremiah Vandemeer, an editor at Emery's Cannabis Culture magazine, which recently switched from print to an all online format. "It is an affront to Canadian sovereignty that Marc will be handed over to the US government and its prison system. If he committed any crime, he should have been prosecuted here in Canada."

In fact, Emery has been prosecuted in Canada for his seed sales, back in 1998. In that case, he was fined $2,000, with not a day of jail time. Since then, the Canadian government had been happy to ignore his seed sales and accept his tax payments from his seed business.

"It's terrible to see my friend and boss put behind bars for something in which there are no victims," said Vandemeer. "It's difficult, but we're getting through it, and we all have that extra resolve to work that much harder to get him back home."

Emery's young wife, Jodie, will be playing a key role, both in keeping Cannabis Culture and the Cannabis Culture Shop going and in waging the campaign to win his release. "Our campaign is about Free Marc Emery, but this is really about freeing everybody in prison for cannabis," she said Wednesday.

"There is a lot of pressure up here, and different political actors are starting to voice their support," she said. "There is all sorts of activism, and it's just starting. We will start holding vigils outside his prison beginning Saturday and going on every day after that. We're having postcards made today that people can send to flood the ministers with mail. I'm hearing that the Minister of Justice's office is being flooded with phone calls, and people are pledging that they will call every day."

But while Jodie Emery the cannabis activist is planning the campaign, Jodie Emery the figuratively widowed wife is feeling the pain. "It's horribly rough," she said. "During the day, I can keep busy. It's only when I get home and I'm alone and I realize that he's gone that it really hits me. I cry a lot," she confessed. "Even if you think Marc is a loudmouth or got what was coming to him, think of what it does to the people who love him."

Sensitized by her experiences, Jodie Emery is broadening her activism. "This has motivated me to start speaking up for the families of prisoners," she said. "There are hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in prison right now, nameless and faceless except to their loved ones. I want to speak up for all the drug war widows. We want to put faces and names to the people suffering endlessly year after year."

The historical record will show that Marc and Jodie Emery know how to wage a campaign of agitation. Now, the question is whether they can use those skills to raise awareness not just of the injustice done to Emery, but to all the rest of the drug war incarcerated.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.