Canada’s ‘Prince of Pot’ celebrates his long, strange trip of marijuana activism
For all it’s cost him in money and liberty, Canada’s voluble “prince of pot,” Marc Emery, is still not about to hide his principles — or the light off the joints he sparks — under a bushel.
In fact these days, as the federal government prepares to liberalize marijuana laws, are hugely gratifying for the country’s best-known pot crusader and have him evangelizing at the same hectic pace.
For most of Emery’s quarter-century of activism, during which he saw the inside of 34 prisons, jails and institutions, it “looked like progress was moving awful slow for the price one has to pay,” he told the Star in a recent interview.
But thanks to civil disobedience, the rallying tools of social media, and greater awareness of the medical uses of cannabis, change is now coming “faster than government or authorities can keep up with,” he said.
Last month, Health Minister Jane Philpott told the UN the federal government’s promised legislation to legalize marijuana will be tabled next spring.
And if any Canadian can talk about the long, strange trip it’s been, it would be Emery — a natural-born entrepreneur and disturber just two years from a 4½-year prison stint. He visited Toronto recently to scout out two new outlets for his Cannabis Culture dispensaries.
Emery had been charged dozens of times in Canada, was convicted twice and paid small fines for selling pot seeds. Then came his 2005 arrest by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency where he was accused of selling to American clients from his Vancouver stores.
He was threatened with up to 40 years in prison, but a plea deal in 2010 earned him five. He was released and deported back to Canada in 2014.
Now, the 58-year-old is in such high spirits he speaks of his prison experience as if it were a retreat for personal development.
He had read voraciously, wrote a blog, earned his high school equivalency and learned to play bass guitar well enough to join the prison band. And that wasn’t even the highlight.
A few weeks ago, Emery got letter from a pal at a Mississippi prison. While there, Emery read a newspaper story about the U.S. government’s plans to grant clemency to prisoners doing long sentences for non-violent crimes.
He urged the other man — doing life with no parole for possession of crack in the ’90s — to apply. The man hesitated. Emery pushed.
Sure enough, the man called recently to say that, thanks to the Canadian, he’d be released in July after 18 years.
“So I’m really happy about my prison time,” Emery said.
Emery talks lots, and fast. “I’m a very effusive person.” And he’s been moving at speed since his childhood in London, Ont.
At 9, he started a mail-order stamp business. Then it was comics. By 17, he’d dropped out of high school to open a book shop and left home to live in its backroom.
He came upon Ayn Rand and, inspired, became committed “to curtailing the power of the state.”
He’s led tax revolts, flouted Sunday shopping laws, invited charges for selling sexually explicit music.
While hosting a radio show in London, he heard of a book on the history of cannabis and its uses. And changing the country’s marijuana laws became “my big crusade.”
(That and raising the four children, now grown, that he and his then wife adopted.)
“When marijuana was made illegal, we knew nothing about its true medical, historical and utilitarian uses,” he said. “So here we have all these laws that are desperately in need of review.”
The prison stint wasn’t as horrible as people imagine, he said. “Nothing bad happened to me. I have no negative feelings about prison, and a lot of positive feelings.”
It helped that Emery was supported beyond all reasonable expectation by his wife, Jody, with whom he will celebrate his 10th anniversary in July.
“She was incredible,” he said. Jody came to see him 81 times, taking a day of travel to get to the Southern U.S. from Vancouver and another to get home.
“Believe me, no one else got visits like that.”
Jody was also looking after the business back in Vancouver — so well, in fact, that when Emery came home they decided she’d keep at it, while Marc travelled to campaign for the reform of global marijuana policy. He just returned from a two-month tour of Europe and Thailand.
“I see myself as a senior statesman and a role model,” he said. He talks to young activists about how to “make arguments, how to be passionate, how to keep the faith in dark times.”
Over the years, he’s made and lost small fortunes, spending millions on political campaigns, losing inventories in raids, paying huge legal costs.
The seed business is gone, as is his beloved magazine Cannabis Culture. But he has two stores by the same name in Vancouver. He has a national speaking tour later this year and is working on a book.
He hopes the government doesn’t try to reinvent the industry that made him (in)famous, he said. “We know how to grow weed. We know how to sell it. We know how to distribute it.
“All we’re saying is, we already have all the industry. Just legalize what we’re doing, and collect your taxes.”
TORONTO STAR | NEWS | CANADA