Marc Emery agrees to five years in Canadian prison
Monday, January 14, 2008
VANCOUVER - Marc Emery, Vancouver's self-styled Prince of Pot, has tentatively agreed to a five-year prison term in a plea bargain over U.S. money laundering and marijuana seed-selling charges.
Facing an extradition hearing Jan. 21 and the all-but-certain prospect of delivery to American authorities, Emery has cut a deal with U.S. prosecutors to serve his sentence in Canada. He also hopes it will save his two co-accused - Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams, who were his lieutenants for so much of the past decade.
The three were arrested in August 2005 at the request of the United States and charged even though none had ventured south of the border. Since then, they have been awaiting the extradition hearing. With the proceedings about to begin, Emery says his lawyer brokered the best deal possible.
If accepted by the courts in both countries, Emery said he will serve the full term and not be eligible for Canada's lenient get-out-of-jail-early rules.
"I'm going to do more time than many violent, repeat offenders," he complained. "There isn't a single victim in my case, no one who can stand up and say, 'I was hurt by Marc Emery.' No one."
He's right. Whatever else you may think of Emery - and he grates on many people, what is happening here is a travesty of justice. Emery's case mocks our independence as a country. Prosecutors in Canada have not enforced the law against selling pot seeds and all you need do is walk along Hastings Street between Homer and Cambie for proof.
There are numerous stores selling seeds and products for producing cannabis. Around the corner, you'll find more seed stores. You'll find the same shops in Toronto and in other major Canadian cities.
The last time Emery was convicted in Canada of selling pot seeds, back in 1998, he was given a $2,000 fine. Emery has flouted the law for more than a decade and every year he sends his seed catalogue to politicians of every stripe.
He has run in federal, provincial and civic elections promoting his pro-cannabis platform. He has championed legal marijuana at parliamentary hearings, on national television, at celebrity conferences, in his own magazine, Cannabis Culture, and on his own Internet channel, Pot TV.
Health Canada even recommended medical marijuana patients buy their seeds from Emery. From 1998 until his arrest, Emery even paid provincial and federal taxes as a "marijuana seed vendor" totalling nearly $600,000.
He is being hounded because of his success. The political landscape has changed dramatically as a result of Emery's politicking for cannabis. Emery challenged a law he disagrees with using exactly the non-violent, democratic processes we urge our children to embrace and of which we are so proud.
But along the way he has angered the anti-drug law-enforcement community - the same gang that insists we must continue an expensive War on Drugs that has failed miserably for more than a quarter century and does more harm than good.
Canadian police grew so frustrated that neither prosecutors nor the courts would lock up Emery and throw away the key, they urged their U.S. counterparts to do the dirty work. And that's what's wrong.
Emery is being handed over to a foreign government for an activity we are loath to prosecute because we don't think it's a major problem. His two associates were charged only as a way of blackmailing him into copping a plea.
It's a scandal.
Emery is being made a scapegoat for an anti-cannabis criminal law that is a monumental failure. In spite of all our pricey efforts during the last 40 years, and all the demonization of marijuana, there is more pot on our streets, more people smoking dope and more damage being done to our communities as a result of the prohibition.
There is a better way and every study from the 1970s Le Dain Commission onward has urged change and legalization.
Regardless of what you think of Emery, he should not be facing an unconscionably long jail term for a victimless, non-violent crime that generates a shrug in his own country. Emery is facing more jail time than corporate criminals who defrauded widows and orphans and longer incarceration than violent offenders who have left their victims dead or in wheelchairs.
And while he has long seemed to court martyrdom, Emery is by no means sanguine about what is happening. He is angry at local lawyers for failing to come up with a viable defence.
"They had two years and $90,000 and they came up with nothing," he fumed. "John Conroy called me up and said 'take the deal - Michelle will die in jail. Michelle will die in jail!' What can I say to that?"
Rainey, who has a medical exemption to smoke marijuana, has Crohn's disease. Incarceration in the U.S. would deprive her of her medicine, and she fears it could lead to her death.
"It's an ugly situation but Marc expects miracles," Kirk Tousaw, one of the lawyers involved, told me. "There aren't any here."
He's right. Our extradition law puts Canadian citizens at the mercy of foreign governments and judges can't do much about it. Emery is being forced to accept a deal because not only are two of his friends in jeopardy if he doesn't, but also to go south for an unfair trial would mean serving as much as 20 years in prison, perhaps more.
One of his friends, for example, was handed a 30-year sentence for growing 200 plants. This is wrong.
If Emery has been breaking the law and must be jailed, our justice department should charge him and prosecute him in Canada. It's time for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to step in and say, sorry, Uncle Sam, not today - not ever.
© Vancouver Sun