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).
Working 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.
Presently, 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.
Emery’s career 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 freedom.
While proprietor 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.
Emery first 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 marijuana culture.
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.
Eventually 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 election night.
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 decision.)
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 the plant.
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 drugs.
Further, those 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 marijuana.
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.
We’re right to think that.
Yet, because 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.
These actions, 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 or twelve.
Further, growing 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.
Canada’s judges 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.
August 4, 2005