'Prince of Pot', Hockey and a U.S. Extradition Hearing


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Canadian Marc Emery, an evangelical advocate of legalising marijuana, is to face a high-profile hearing next month on whether he should be extradited to the United States to face charges stemming from his lucrative, Internet-based marijuana seed business.

The case, and the May 28 hearing in particular, highlights the incongruity of Canadian and U.S. drug legislation. The relatively liberal drug laws of their northern neighbour have regularly irritated U.S. authorities.

In the Vapour Lounge, also known as the People's Lounge, of the British Columbia Marijuana Party in the Cannabis Culture Store on Hastings Street in Vancouver, Emery is watching his hometown team playing the Dallas Stars in the first round of professional ice hockey's Stanley Cup playoffs when he sits down with IPS.

There are about a dozen people hanging out and smoking up. I am offered some BC hash, but politely decline. The Canucks are up by two goals in the third period.

The number on the Canucks hockey jersey he is wearing is 420, referring to Apr. 20, the date of the annual marijuana legalisation rally. He is expecting 7,000 people at the Vancouver Art Gallery to be smoking "reefers" in full public view as a protest against drug prohibition laws this week.

Known as "The Prince of Pot" or "The King of Cannabis", the self-described libertarian's modus operandi has been to publicly and unapologetically lampoon proponents of the zero-tolerance drug war.

If he is a Canadian "Tony Montana" (the drug lord made famous by actor Al Pacino in the film "Scarface"), he certainly carries no weapons, has no security detail and is as affable as the local bartender -- in an age of media spectacle, he is a genius of the satirical gesture.

"DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) agents watched too many episodes of Miami Vice when they were young," says Emery.

Much of the profit from Emery's business empire have been used to fund pro-legalisation activities, such as publishing Cannabis Culture magazine, founding the Hemp BC Legal Assistance Centre, the Little Grow Store, the Cannabis Cafe and initiating Pot.tv, an Internet-based TV programme.

All of these businesses were operating under full public view of Canadian authorities as legal entities or "grey zones" that were not enforced despite Emery's 11 marijuana-related convictions.

But it would be unfair to simply characterise Emery as just some shady British Columbia drug dealer. He is a tireless and charismatic civil liberties activist, marijuana legalisation troubadour and head of the Marijuana Party -- which garnered 3.2 percent of the popular vote in the 2001 British Columbia provincial election.

During the 2001 BC provincial election, as one of the leaders of the BC Marijuana Party, he rented a campaign bus that had previously been used on campaigns by former U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and by Jesse Ventura, a professional wrestler who was elected governor of the U.S. state of Minnesota. Emery used the loudspeakers of the newly dubbed "Canna-bus" to protest his exclusion from a televised debate of party leaders during the election campaign.

He claims his latest legal woes began after heckling U.S. drug czar John Walters at a 2002 Vancouver Board of Trade event that he wrangled his way into, including orchestrating a photo op with the U.S. official.

The Prince of Pot is philosophical about his upcoming court date, and prefers to look at it as the culmination of his life's activities as a legalisation advocate. Says Emery, "Young people have positive attitudes and are deprived of things in daily life, exposed to bad things, bad desires and can be overcome by a sense of helplessness. Prohibition and drug laws can further penalise people for taking drugs that help them deal with the realities of daily life."

He is full of criticism of the U.S. DEA and its role in his arrest. "When they raided my house and my store, they found 12 dollars, no drugs, no weapons, no records. I think it is safe to say that I hardly fit in to the pantheon of international drug lords. (Television talkshow host) Lou Dobbs called me the largest drug trafficker in world history on CNN," says Emery. "You can get executed for selling 132,000 pounds of marijuana in the United States."

When I ask his opinion about George W. Bush's foreign policy and approach to the drug war, Emery says, "If I met him, I would wring that b***d's neck. Canada is becoming a vassal state."

Though Emery has been selling marijuana seeds for close to a decade, he has never been convicted for it in Canada. His magazine is sent to all the members of the Canadian Parliament and his latest issue is being sent to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

As he takes me downstairs to his headquarters in the basement, he shows me the envelopes addressed to U.S. politicians, introduces me to his wife and shows me the latest issues of Cannabis Culture -- the cover of which has a photo-montage array of famous personalities from the music world (such as Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, Yoko Ono), actors (Woody Harrelson, Tommy Chong, Daryl Hannah) and even a U.S. presidential candidate (Dennis Kucinich) standing in front of the U.S. House of Representatives. They are carrying signs that say "Bongs Not Bombs" and a fake banner that says "Legalise It". There is a makeshift television studio for recording shows for Pot.tv.

In an editorial for Cannabis Culture, Emery calls attention to "outrageously long prison sentences, brutal law enforcement, and families torn apart. In 35 years of this war on cannabis and drugs, the prison population in the United States went from 196,092 in 1972 to a disgusting 2,320,359 in 2005, a 12-fold increase in the short span of two generations."

Former Vancouver mayor and now Senator Larry Campbell, seen as a centrist with leftward leanings, told IPS in an interview, "This whole trial is much ado about nothing. If Marc Emery is the worst criminal we've got in Vancouver that the U.S. is interested in going after, then I must say we've got to be doing pretty well. It seems to be a bit of an over-reaction to get the full weight of the U.S. government bearing down on you for selling pot seeds. The DEA is like a paramilitary organisation when it's run by a right-wing government."

Emery was arrested in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Jul. 29, 2005, after a U.S. federal grand jury indicted him on charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. Conviction of any of those offences could result in a minimum sentence of 10 years to a maximum of life in prison.

At issue are not only the incompatibility of U.S. and Canadian drug laws, but the acquiescence of the RCMP (the Canadian national/federal police force) and the Canadian legal system in carrying out the arrest in coordination with the DEA and the U.S. legal system.

A statement released by DEA administrator Karen Tandy following Emery's arrest said, "Emery and his organisation had been designated as one of the Attorney General's most wanted international drug trafficking organisational targets -- one of only 46 in the world and the only one from Canada."

Emery wrote in his magazine that the DEA even has a subscription to Cannabis Culture magazine and that it was purchased with money orders on U.S. Department of Justice stationery.

At the time of his arrest, Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper reported that special agent Rodney Benson of the DEA claimed that Emery had distributed millions of cannabis seeds to U.S. customers over the years, earning as much as three million dollars annually.

Benson told a Seattle news conference at the time, "I am pleased to announce that he is out of business as of today. His overblown arrogance and abuse of the rule of law will no longer be on display. Like other drugs, marijuana harms the innocents." U.S. officials praised Canadian law enforcement for its "outstanding cooperation" in the drug bust.

The only previous time Emery has spent time in jail for a marijuana-related charge was two months for passing a joint -- a marijuana cigarette -- at a Saskatchewan pro-legalisation rally.

NEWSHAWK: Shadylady 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
AUTHOR: Am Johal
CONTACT: Inter Press Service The Global News Agency
WEBSITE: CANADA: 'Prince of Pot', Hockey and a U.S. Extradition Hearing
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