On Friday July
29th, 2005, British Columbia
Marijuana Party President Marc Emery was arrested while vacationing
in Nova Scotia by Halifax police, and his business in Vancouver
was raided by Vancouver police, both at the request of the U.S.
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
in cooperation with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, Washington,
the DEA is requesting that Emery be extradited to the United States
on charges of conspiracy to cultivate marijuana, conspiracy to launder
money, and conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds. All charges
relate to the operation of his business Marc
Emery Direct Marijuana Seeds, which openly sells marijuana seeds
– but not marijuana – over the Internet.
there are many Canadian, English, and Dutch businesses selling marijuana
seeds to Americans. To understand why Emery in particular was targeted,
the history of his activism must be understood.
as an activist began in 1980 when, as proprietor of the City Lights
Bookstore in London, Ontario, he stumbled upon Ayn Rand’s Capitalism:
The Unknown Ideal and Murray Rothbard’s Conceived
in Liberty. The influence of these books was profound and,
eventually, Emery decided to devote his career to the cause of individual
of City Lights, Emery led several notable campaigns. When the local
garbage collectors union went on strike, Emery started a private
and gratis garbage collection service. When the Ontario government
banned 2 Live Crew CDs, Emery advertised the sale of, and sold,
the CDs from his store. While Ontario’s Sunday close laws were in
place, Emery repeatedly opened his store on Sundays. The law was
eventually overturned in no small part thanks to his efforts.
became involved in drug law reform activism in the early 1990s,
when he sold copies of High Times magazine on the steps of London
police headquarters to protest Canada's then prohibition on drug-related
literature (which was eventually overturned thanks to his efforts).
In 1994, Emery
moved his activist efforts west and set up HempBC in Vancouver,
B.C., which he termed his “libertarian capitalist project.” His
“hempire” included the Little Grow Shop, the HempBC legal aid society,
and the Cannabis Café. Together they were to be the political,
cultural, and economic centres of British Columbia’s burgeoning
In the late
1990s, Emery’s businesses suffered a series of raids from Vancouver
police, each coming shortly after Emery was featured in major U.S.
media outlets like CNN, the cover of the Wall Street Journal,
and ABC's Sex, Drugs, and Consenting Adults. It was rumoured
then that the arrests were motivated by pressure from U.S. law enforcement.
In court, B.C.
judges refused to send Emery to jail for his peaceful civil disobedience,
giving him at most fines. In retaliation, Vancouver police started
seizing Emery's inventory, but not charging him – in effect
stealing his property.
run under financially, Emery moved his operation to B.C.’s Sunshine
Coast, a short ferry ride from Vancouver. There, he continued both
his seed business and his magazine. It was also during this sojourn
that Emery founded Pot-TV.
In 2001, Emery
moved his operation back to Vancouver when he founded the B.C. Marijuana
Party, a provincial political party dedicated to individual rights
and ending the drug war. That year, the party ran in its first provincial
election. It was the first political party in B.C.’s history to
have a candidate in every riding in its first election, fielding
79 candidates in 79 ridings. The party garnered 50,000 votes on
In the summer
of 2003, Emery discovered a loophole in Canadian law that made possession
of marijuana legal. When Canadian authorities continued to enforce
possession laws, Emery went on an eighteen-city cross-country tour,
smoking marijuana on the steps of police stations, daring police
to arrest him. He was arrested in six cities, but all of the charges
were eventually dropped when it was discovered that Emery was in
fact correct. (Since his tour, the prohibition of marijuana possession
in Canada has been re-instituted by an Ontario Court of Appeals
In the 2004
Canadian federal election, Emery supported Canada’s left-wing New
Democratic Party after party leader Jack Layton appeared on
Pot-TV and promised to legalize the growth, sale, and possession
of marijuana if elected.
It is because
of his long career of activism that the DEA is targeting him. Unlike
other seed merchants who quietly conduct their affairs, Emery puts
the brunt of his efforts into the movement to end the prohibition
of marijuana and to legitimate the culture that has emerged surrounding
Since the prohibition
of drugs is a multi-billion dollar affair, we shouldn’t be surprised.
Drug cops, prosecutors, judges, politicians, prison construction
contractors, companies that use cheap prison labour, and military
firms that sell weapons and surveillance equipment to drug law enforcement
are all significantly enriched by the continuation of the war on
participating in the drug war share a common assumption about members
of the marijuana culture. They all believe that marijuana people
are second-class citizens who deserve to be vilified. Their views
are best expressed in U.S. Drug Czar John Walter’s statement that
Vancouver’s marijuana scene is “moral pollution.”
In the public
policy sphere, the assumptions of the drug warriors are the rule.
With very few exceptions, all politicians operate on the assumption
that there is something inherently wrong with using and growing
But such views
are in direct contradiction with society’s values. Consider Cheech
and Chong movies, the Simpsons, South Park, late-night talk shows,
and the stories most of us have about our own experiences with marijuana.
These all involve the implicit understanding that smoking marijuana
is innocent, largely harmless, and fun.
to think that.
of the disconnect between public policy values and social values,
those involved in the marijuana culture have their properties seized,
and are regularly thrown in prison. A turn in prison makes finding
work more difficult, creates tension in families, and makes returning
to normal life complex and harried.
however, cannot continue indefinitely. Suppose we were truly serious
about marijuana and its dangerous effects, so much so that we gave
everyone who tried it a place to stay behind bars. Who would have
a criminal record? John Lennon would. So would former Prime Minister
Pierre Trudeau, award-winning Canadian author Pierre Burton, Bill
Clinton, and, yes, even George W. Bush himself. He’d have good company
in current Prime Minister Paul Martin, who ate marijuana brownies,
and former Federal Justice Minister Alan Rock who has taken a puff
numbers of successful individuals are beginning to call into question
the drug war. Nobel-Prize winners Milton Friedman, Vernon Smith,
and James Buchanan, ABC news anchor John Stossel, Officer in the
Order of Canada and philosophy professor Jan Narveson, Congressman
Ron Paul, the Mises Institute, the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute,
and the Canadian Senate committee on the non-medicinal use of drugs,
have all argued that marijuana prohibition should end. No, more
than that – this list of sophisticates have argued for the
outright legalization of marijuana.
All the while,
Canada's experiment with marijuana tolerance continues to be successful.
Most cases of pot smoking are greeted with a shrug and a chuckle.
And, in spite of the hostility towards marijuana shown by the official
organs of the police, for instance the Canadian Police Association,
many on-the-street police officers share in the chuckle, rightfully
acknowledging marijuana use as a benign form of recreation.
have the opportunity to send a powerful message to American lawmakers,
and to Canada's Parliament. They can, and should, block the extradition
of Marc Emery making plain in the process that the only moral pollution
here is the war on drugs.
Cust [send him mail]
an M.A. candidate in political science at the University of Waterloo
in Waterloo, Ontario. He also runs this
web log. Peter Jaworski, M.A., [send
him mail] organizes the annual Liberty
Summer Seminar (held this August 13–14 in Orono, Ontario)
where Marc Emery was a confirmed speaker this year until the events
of July 29th. He is an M.Sc. candidate in Philosophy and Public
Policy at the London School of Economics and will be starting his
Ph.D. in Applied Ethics, Social & Political Philosophy at Bowling
Green State University in Ohio. He also has a