It is a bit nuts.
Vancouver is now home to a government-funded supervised-injection site for hard-drug users. Most cops won’t bust you for joints. Travel agencies hype Hastings Street’s pot cafés, and British Columbia’s reputation for exotic, high-test marijuana varieties is already a stale cliché.
Only three years ago, Canada’s prime minister was Jean Chrétien, who joked that he was looking forward to retirement but wanted more lax marijuana laws before he stepped down: “I will have my money for my fine, and a joint in the other hand.”
Now Vancouver’s Marc Emery, the Marijuana party leader and international drug-law-reform advocate, is facing extradition to the United States with two of his associates, facing the possibility of a life sentence without parole for doing more or less exactly what he has been doing here, openly, for a decade. Selling seeds.
Odder still is that despite Emery’s 22 marijuana-related convictions, he’s never been busted for selling so much as an ounce of marijuana. He’s never spent more than a few months in jail in Canada, even though he built his mail-order marijuana-seed business, which includes Cannabis Culture magazine, into a $5-million-a-year enterprise. He regularly files his tax returns. The government takes his money.
So how is it possible that Canada’s Prince of Pot may soon come to such an ignominious end, with his partners, Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek and Greg Williams, going down with him?
“Obviously, because I’m arrogant, I’m mouthy, and I’ve spent $4 million trying to get rid of the DEA [the U.S. Drug Enforcement Admin istration] and the drug laws,” Emery told me over the phone the other day. Emery says he’s plowed back all of his profits into a crusade against drug laws all over the world: legal challenges, protests, lobbying efforts, and U.S. ballot initiatives. The U.S. attorney general says Emery’s outfit had become one of the world’s top drug-trafficking rings.
But that’s not even half the story.
Emery and his many supporters see something awfully sinister at work here: a foul American violation of Canadian sovereignty, and a supine Canadian government letting it happen.
Vancouver East New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies says Vancouver cops were engaged in the extradition case as foot soldiers in the U.S. war on drugs: “It feels to me like the long arm of U.S. enforcement reaching into Canada.”
The nationalist Council of Canadians says the extradition proceedings “raise serious questions about Canada’s sovereignty over law enforcement”. The Canadian Action Party says the case goes to “the core of being Canadian, being a sovereign nation, being able to make decisions we choose in our interest, in our own time, on our own terms”.
That’s what you’ll hear from voices as disparate as Vancouver Sun columnist Ian Mulgrew (“an outrageous infringement of Canadian sovereignty”) and the Communist party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) (“No to the Extradition of B.C. Marijuana Party Officials! Annexation No! Sovereignty Yes!”).
The problem is the argument just doesn’t hold water.
Because seed-selling isn’t treated as a crime in Canada, Emery and his associates shouldn’t be sent to face charges in the States, the argument goes. But selling marijuana seeds is illegal in Canada, and although Canadian police agencies haven’t bothered to prosecute many mail-order seed businesses—judges tend to roll their eyes when any marijuana bust comes before them—prosecutions still occur.
And it’s not just that Stephen Harper’s recently arrived pothead-averse Conservatives are kowtowing to the White House. It was the internationally acclaimed human-rights jurist Irwin Cotler, justice minister in Paul Martin’s Liberal government, who gave the green light to the extradition application. (Never one to be delicate, Emery wrote in an on-line jail diary “I hate Cotler,” and went on to describe Cotler, a Jew, as a “Jewish-Nazi, or Nazi-Jew”.)
It’s also that Americans and Canadians are extradited back and forth across the border all the time. Canadian stock-scam artists and telemarketing fraudsters are routinely trundled off to the U.S. to face charges for crimes committed in Canada, and vice versa. As it happens, most of Emery’s mail-order-seed traffic was America-bound. The DEA reckons that Emery’s seeds were sufficient to grow $2.5 billion worth of pot down there. So they want him.
But that’s still not even half the story of why Emery is in this predicament.
It’s what he calls his “ideology”. It’s his destiny. “My mentor is Ayn Rand,” Emery said, referring to the American antistate prophet of selfishness beloved of right-wing libertarians.
Long before Emery got into the marijuana business, he already had a history of civil disobedience as a bookshop proprietor in London, Ontario, in protests against Sunday shopping bans, obscenity laws, and even street-sign bylaws. During our conversation, Emery reiterated his view that Canada’s universal-health-care system should be scrapped and that public schools should be abolished in favour of a voucher system allowing parents a free choice of private tutors for their children. And no public funds should be spent on medical care for anyone over the age of 70, either.
But of all the state’s corrupting intrusions, Emery said, none is more wicked than the drug laws.
“I’m getting exactly what I want. It’s all good. It’s exactly what I want,” Emery said. “This is an epic struggle between good and evil. You couldn’t pick a more virtuous person to go up against evil. I’ve been waiting for this all of my life.”
The extradition hearings are set for May. Unless a judge finds some reason not to extradite Emery and his friends, the case will go to Canada’s new justice minister, Robert Nicholson. He could seek American assurances of sentencing leniency. But that’s about it.
“If they can send me away,” Emery said, “they can send anyone away.”
The Chronicles blog can be found at transmontanus.blogspot.com/ .