At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed on Vancouver's famous "pot block." On downtown's West Hasting Street, the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP) office and bookstore is still open, and next door, the Amsterdam Café continues to operate as a smoking room for customers who bring their own buds. Cannabis Culture magazine and Pot-TV continue to operate out of the BCMP building, but the Marc Emery seed company -- the money machine that subsidized those efforts -- is no longer in business, and Emery himself, along with two employees, now faces the threat of life in prison in the United States for his seed sales.
The seed business was a very good business for Emery. He says he made millions of dollars with his pioneering venture, and the last time the Canadian government hassled him over it some seven years ago, he walked away with a paltry fine. Since then, the Canadian government has turned a blind eye to his seed sales -- and those of perhaps another hundred Canada-based companies in the same business -- and has been happy to rake in more than $500,000 in tax receipts on his pot seed income.
But the American attitude has not been anywhere near as relaxed, and Emery's high-profile status as Canada's leading advocate of marijuana legalization -- he proudly wears the moniker "The Prince of Pot" -- has made him a huge target for US drug warriors. With Canada having signed mutual legal assistance and extradition treaties with the US, the Canadian government had little choice but to honor those US warrants if it wanted to avoid a serious breach with its powerful neighbor to the south.
Now, as the legal wrangling unfolds -- and it could take up to two years for the matter to be decided -- Emery works and waits. There is plenty to do. "I've had to stabilize all my existing businesses to survive without the seed money," he told DRCNet. "The seed sales were our only real source of income, and now enterprises like Cannabis Culture magazine and Pot-TV have to survive without the seed revenues. We've had to cut back. We're doing Cannabis Culture with a smaller staff, and now I'm editor and publisher and I'm even doing the shipping. But keeping Cannabis Culture and Pot-TV alive is the first priority."
Keeping his ship afloat takes up most of his time these days, Emery said. "Besides meeting with lawyers and running these businesses, I give out two or three interviews a day, and that's pretty much my life," he said.
Emery is by no means cowed at the prospect of a possible life sentence, and if US drug warriors hoped to scare him into silence, their efforts have had a perverse effect. "I face the longest prison sentence a Canadian will ever see, and that should intimidate me, but it doesn't -- instead I feel flattered that I'm such a threat to the US government that they have targeted me for this persecution. In a way, it's a blessing. It gives me the opportunity to talk to lots of audiences; I'm in lots of magazines and newspapers; 60 Minutes is going to do a story on me. This is generating momentum," Emery said.
And that's what it's all about, he said. "We are enjoying a rarified moment when our movement is united and there is a lot of worldwide focus on the role of the DEA. People are becoming aware that the DEA, the Nazi policemen of the world, are extraditing people every day. Of course, it is the people in the US who are most frightened of them because they've had years of experience with the DEA. But now, the way this has all blown up, if I am extradited this will create huge political problems."
Most of all for the Canadian government. In fact, deciding whether to extradite Emery and his employees is going to be a huge headache for Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, and that decision will be largely a political one rather than a legal one. Cotler will be caught between competing imperatives. On the one hand, he seeks to maintain smooth relations with Washington. On the other hand, he will have to weigh loud and growing concerns about sovereignty, fair treatment, and a neighbor to the south many Canadians see as a bully.
Fairness is also an issue when it comes to treaty obligations, and for Emery, the US has been found wanting. "The US doesn't obey the treaties it signs, but it insists we comply," he said. "When the drug czar came to Vancouver in November 2002, he threatened and shrieked at our mayor and city council that if they liberalized the marijuana laws or opened the safe injection site, the Americans would shut down the borders. And it's not just the drug czar. We always get American officials coming up here and trying to intimidate Canadian politicians."
Emery might also have pointed to the current bilateral dispute over softwood lumber, where the US has lost at every level but continues to defy arbitrators. Or he could have pointed to the case of Meyer Arar, the Canadian citizen grabbed by US authorities as he changed planes in an American airport and sent to Syria to be tortured. Canadian sensitivities have also been aroused over the hostile US response to its refusal to send troops to Iraq (although Canadians are fighting in Afghanistan), by the American insistence that Canada participate in the Bush administration's controversial missile shield program, and by the US decision to extend daylight savings time to March without first talking to the Canadians who also use that system.
Sovereignty is a tender subject for Canadians, and it is a theme Emery likes to hit. "The Canadian government is surrendering a fair bit of sovereignty by even allowing this to occur," he said. "These treaties need to be reformed so people are not extradited to the States for drug offenses. They are just insane down there and have punishments that are simply unwarranted. Canada should not be cooperating with the US on these matters," he maintained.
More hearings on the extradition proceedings are set for next month, but will probably be postponed until January, Emery said. In the meantime, some Canadian citizens have taken a unique and surprising step to try to block extradition. In two British Columbia cities, Nelson and Vancouver, Canadians have filed criminal complaints against Emery alleging he is guilty of marijuana seed sales.
"It's not a case of them wanting to bring down Marc and the others, but more a case of Canadian citizens believing that if Marc and the others are going to be prosecuted, it should be in Canada, under Canadian law, before a Canadian judge, and they should not be extradited," said BCMP spokesman and member of the Emery legal team attorney Kirk Tousaw. "Both the extradition act and the mutual legal assistance treaty between the US and Canada have provisions saying you cannot be extradited if you face proceedings on the same charges at home or if you have been acquitted of those charges in your home country. The existence of pending charges based on the same conduct would appear to be a bar to extradition, but whether these efforts will ultimately affect Marc's extradition remains to be seen."
"I wasn't involved in either of these filings, but I would encourage every Canadian to try to launch one of these cases," Emery chortled. "The crown would have to run around and try to stop them all. We might even plead guilty, and if we were sentenced, that could stop the extradition." Still, Emery conceded, judges will need some evidence to substantiate the charges.
The "private prosecutions" are a long-shot; it is the federal extradition proceedings where the battle will in all likelihood play out. But that is going to cost money, and that's something Emery doesn't have a lot of anymore. Although he made millions, he also put about $4 million back in the marijuana movement, and now he's hoping the movement will help him in his hour of need. He's not getting a lot of help from the big organizations, though, he told DRCNet.
"The people who have been most responsive are just normal people, people I've never met," he said. "I know a lot of famous people, but they don't help out so much. I gave money to reform organizations in the US, but none of those organizations has given me any money whatsoever. We are surviving by lots of people sending a few dollars, and the money that people sent in after we were arrested was very important because it kept us from going bankrupt. We've received about $10,000 in donations, but we've paid our lawyers $25,000. We need a lot of money to pay for lawyers, and that's one reason we are happy to see hearings get delayed -- so we can get some time to raise money to pay them. This is perhaps the most onerous burden of being arrested like this: They take your source of income and now you have these massive legal bills to try to fight the charges."