Acting on behalf of US Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) under a bilateral treaty, Canadian police last Friday arrested British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP) founder and head Marc Emery and two employees on US charges of conspiring to distribute marijuana and marijuana seeds and money-laundering. Emery is the owner of Marc Emery Direct, reputedly the world's largest seed sales operation, with annual revenues claimed at around $2.5 million US. It was profits from the seed company that allowed Emery to finance the BCMP, as well as publish Cannabis Culture magazine and operate Pot-TV on the Internet.
While DEA officials in Seattle focused on accusations on drug dealing in their public statement, a column by Joel Connelly in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this morning quotes a statement by DEA chief Karen Tandy suggesting political motivations: " Today's arrest of Mark (sic) Scott Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine and the founder of a marijuana legalization group, is a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the US and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement... 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."
According to US federal law, Emery faces a mandatory minimum ten year prison sentence with the possibility of life in prison if convicted on the marijuana charges. Emery is not accused of actually conspiring to sell marijuana. Instead, US prosecutors are holding him criminally responsible for all the marijuana grown by people they have arrested who bought seeds from Emery, either at his storefront or over the Internet.
But Emery is unlikely to see the inside of an American court room any time soon. Canadian law requires legal proceedings to approve his extradition and ultimately requires the approval of Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler. That same law also allows Canada to refuse to extradite if it finds the charges are the result of political persecution or if the punishments faced would "shock the conscience." It is already clear that Emery and his attorney, John Conroy, will attempt to work both avenues in an effort to avoid falling into the clutches of the American drug warriors.
"Our first reaction is that this is a clear case of DEA-instigated political persecution," said BCMP spokesman Kirk Tousaw. "Marc is the leader of the BCMP, and anyone familiar with cannabis policy reform knows who he is. Every dime that has come through his hands goes back into his activism, and the DEA decided it was time to shut him up. And this over alleged crimes taken so seriously by the Canadian government that Marc has been doing it openly for nine years and no one has bothered to investigate or arrest him," Tousaw told DRCNet.
"What Marc is doing is legal in Canada, he's been doing it for years without problems. Our extradition treaty says we can refuse to extradite if the penalties he faces 'shock the conscience.' The prospect that Marc Emery could be jailed for life in America for selling cannabis seeds definitely shocks the Canadian conscience," said Tim Meehan of the Marijuana Party of Canada, who joined with other Ottawa activists Wednesday at a Parliament Hill press conference to protest Canadian cooperation with the Americans in arresting and preparing to extradite Emery. "We're demanding the government not hand him over to the Americans. This is as ridiculous as some Mountie going down there and arresting Charlton Heston because he promoted gun use. The US is not going to give up their guns, and we're not going to give up our bud," he told DRCNet.
Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd told DRCNet the case will highlight the stark differences between American and Canadian attitudes toward marijuana offenses. "We are not required to hand him simply because an extradition request has been made. The question that will be raised is whether it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment to send him back to the US to face at least 10 years in prison," he said. "Our courts have declared that a seven-year sentence for importing cannabis is unconstitutional. Are US penalties so out of line with Canadian penalties as to suggest we ought not extradite?" he mused.
Jeff Sullivan, US Attorney for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, where a grand jury issued the indictments, called a press conference the day of the arrests. Sullivan wasn't worried about such issues. Emery, he told the conference, was nothing more than a common criminal. "His activities resulted in the growing of tens of thousands of marijuana plants in America," Sullivan claimed. "He was involved, allegedly, in an illegal distribution of marijuana in the US. He is a drug dealer."
In the press conference, Sullivan and DEA official Rod Benson, whose Seattle office headed the 18-month investigation leading to the indictments, said three-fourths of Emery's seed sales went to the US and they had traced Emery's seeds to marijuana grows in Indiana, Florida, California, Tennessee, Montana, Virginia, Michigan, New Jersey and North Dakota. While Sullivan acknowledged Emery's marijuana reform activism, he did so only to assert the arrests had nothing to do with any of that. "The fact is, marijuana is a very dangerous drug," Sullivan said. "People don't say that, but right now in America, there are more kids in treatment for addiction to marijuana than every other illegal drug combined."
While US officials accused Emery of "arrogance" and "greed," the Vancouver entrepreneur has a long history of funneling his proceeds into activism, bankrolling not only his pro-pot mini-media empire, but also providing substantial sums for experimental ibogaine treatments for hard drug addiction, paying for political campaigns, and funding activists across Canada and even in the US. Loretta Nall, head of the US Marijuana Party was one beneficiary of Emery's largesse. "I'm out of a job now," she told DRCNet. "I've got $176 in the bank and no more money coming from Marc. He doesn't have any money. He gives it all away to activists and employees. He doesn't have bank accounts, and the only cash they ever have on hand is what came in from seed sales that day."
While the arrest of "The Prince of Pot" got little attention in the US outside outraged drug reform and pot-people circles, it threatens to become a cause celebre in Canada, where the news of his arrest was prominently featured on national news broadcasts and has already generated countless articles, op-eds, and editorials on both sides of the affray. Reaction on the street was also quick. Protests broke out on the Pot Block even before the raids were completed. Angry locals quickly gathered, defiantly smoking marijuana and making unkind suggestions about the United States. Four people were arrested for laying down in front of a Vancouver Police paddy wagon. A demonstration at the same location the next day drew several hundred angry Canadians, some holding signs saying "F*** the USA," who demanded that the Canadian government not bow to US demands to extradite Emery and the others to face justice American-style.
Now, the long legal and political battle to prevent his extradition begins. "Clearly, we will be arguing that this is political persecution, and even if it isn't, the penalties are completely disproportionate to what he would receive in Canada for the same offenses. We have courts here saying jail time for marijuana offenses is just not appropriate. And this eats at Canadian's sense of sovereignty," said BCMP spokesman Tousaw. "You will see Canadian independence asserted here. People who don't care about marijuana are saying if Canada thinks he's a criminal, we should deal with it here. If not, we shouldn't be letting the US use our justice system to fight its drug war. At the end of the day, the justice minister is going to have to make a political decision, and we intend to let him know that if he goes along with incursion on Canadian sovereignty, we will vote him out of office," Tousaw vowed.
"We will fight as hard as we can to deny the US the right to extradite and imprison our activist heroes," said Tousaw. "It will be a long and expensive legal process for Marc and Michelle and Greg, and for the Canadian taxpayer. Maybe we should send your drug czar the bill."
Those wishing to contribute to Marc Emery's legal defense fund can send them to: CC Magazine, Box 15 - 199 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 1H4, Canada. The magazine has also posted a list of things that people can do to help the campaign to keep Emery from being extradited.