Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery's battle to avoid being extradited to the US to serve a five-year federal prison sentence for selling pot seeds over the Internet continues as the clock ticks down toward May 10 -- the date by which Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is to decide whether to okay his extradition or not. Emery and his supporters are fighting to the bitter end, and they're picking up some significant support along the way.
Emery was Canada's best known marijuana legalization advocate and a leading funder of marijuana reform groups there and in other countries when he was arrested in Vancouver on a US warrant for marijuana seed-selling after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle. He faced up to life in prison under the US charges.
Emery, his supporters, and other marijuana reformers have argued that he was arrested for political reasons -- for his support of the legalization cause -- and the gleeful words of then DEA administrator Karen Tandy provided valuable ammunition for the claim. Emery's arrest was "a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the US and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement," Tandy said in a statement the day of the bust.
"His marijuana trade and propagandist marijuana magazine have generated nearly $5 million a year in profits that bolstered his trafficking efforts, but those have gone up in smoke today. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery's illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on," Tandy gloated.
For four years, he and his employees and fellow indictees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, negotiated with federal prosecutors, before Rainey and Williams struck plea deals that allowed them to simply remain in Canada. Then, last September, Emery himself agreed to a plea bargain that would see him serve five years in US prison.
Emery was detained in Canada on September 28 and was jailed until mid-November before he was released pending the justice minister's decision on whether to approve his removal to the United States. Since then, the campaign to block his extradition has gone all out. Even in prison, Emery did podcasts -- "potcasts," the magazine calls them -- and since his release, he has been as media-friendly as ever. He has used his Cannabis Culture magazine as a bully pulpit and established a No Extradition! web site to further the cause.
The high point of the campaign so far came on March 12 when three members of parliament, Conservative MP Scott Reid, New Democratic MP Libby Davies, and Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh stood before parliament in Ottawa to deliver the petitions. All three told the Commons that extraditing Emery for what is considered a non-serious offense in Canada was unfair.
MP Reid, a Conservative leader in the House, reminded the Commons that the Extradition Act specifies that the justice minister "shall refuse to surrender a person when that surrender could involve unjust or undue or oppressive actions by the country to which he is being extradited."
Reid pointed out that Health Canada used to refer medical marijuana patients to Emery's seed bank. He also noted that Canadian courts had found that $200 fines were appropriate for seed sellers, while Emery faced up to life for the same offense in the US.
"It appears to me that we have assisted a foreign government arresting a man for doing something that we wouldn't arrest him for doing in Canada," said MP Dosanjh. "As a former premier and a former attorney-general, I sense a certain degree of unfairness in the process. Countries don't usually extradite people to countries where they could face inordinate penalties."
"Many dedicated individuals have collected approximately 12,000 petitions reflecting a strong belief that Mr. Emery or any Canadian should not face harsh punishment in the US for selling cannabis seeds on the Internet when it is not worthy of prosecution in Canada," said MP Davies. "The petitioners call on Parliament to make it clear to the Minister of Justice that such an extradition should be opposed. I am very pleased to present this; I think it is a very strong reflection of Canadians' views on this matter and we hope that the Parliament of Canada will act on this, and certainly the Minister of Justice will take this into account."
"My prospects are getting better," said an ever optimistic Emery. "There have been more than 50,000 communications -- phone calls, letters, emails -- to the justice minister, and we have members of all four major political parties, including the governing party, presenting petitions urging the minister not to extradite. We also have the last three mayors of Vancouver agreeing to sign a statement urging the government not to extradite."
Support is palpable in his adopted hometown, Emery said. "I can't go 50 feet in this city without people stopping me on the street," he said from his downtown Vancouver building. "I have lots of support in this province and throughout the country. I enjoy a lot of positive affirmation. For me, this has been excellent -- I've been giving interviews all over the world, and the movie 'Prince of Pot' is being translated into Mongolian! The national TV network there has permission to do two documentaries on pot, and I'm in both of them."
Now, all eyes turn toward Justice Minister Nicholson. A month from now, he will decide whether to extradite Emery or not -- or he may punt. The minister has the option of applying for an extension on his decision.
There is precedent for the minister to seek an extension, said attorney Kirk Tousaw, who has worked on Emery's case. "Renee Boje was committed for extradition, and the decision sat on the desk of three different justice ministers for five years," he pointed out. "Renee was a US citizen who committed offenses in America, so she seemed like a much more reasonable prospect for extradition than Marc, who has never gone to America or committed any crimes there."
In the meantime, the campaign to keep Emery in Canada continues to gather support and argue the position that his was a politically motivated prosecution. "If the minister believes the prosecution to be politically motivated, he is prohibited from extraditing," said attorney Kirk Tousaw, who has worked on Emery's case. "I don't know if he will take that position. The minister may need a lot of time to consider his options."
The calculations may be as much political as legal, Tousaw said. "This is a minority Conservative government that is attempting to pass unpopular mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, and there will be an election sometime this year or early next year," he argued. "I think that extraditing Marc Emery will be politically costly to the Conservative Party. I'm not sure they can afford to do it if they want to form a majority government."
"The government does want to extradite me," said Emery, "but the public pressure not to do it is substantial. There is nothing to be gaining by extraditing me, and it will piss off a couple of million voters in the next election."
A month from now, we will know whether the Conservative government is willing to sacrifice the gadfly Emery on the altar of the drug war, or whether it is too concerned about the potential backlash to either reject extradition or postpone the decision.