Monday was an exceedingly sad day for advocates of freedom.
Western Standard editor Peter Jaworski reported here that libertarian publisher and activist Marc Emery surrendered himself to Canadian authorities for extradition to the U.S. on charges related to selling marijuana seeds. Emery is expected to serve at least five years in a U.S. prison after a deal was struck to spare his co-accused, Michelle Rainey and Craig Williams, from any jail time. Rainey and Williams were principals in Emery’s Vancouver-based marijuana seed distribution business, the profits from which funded much of the marijuana policy reform movement in Canada and abroad.
The extradition process is expected to take about a month, during which time Emery will be held at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam east of Vancouver.
Emery’s fate now rests entirely with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who has the authority and legal grounds to refuse to extradite the marijuana policy reformer. Nicholson could instead charge and prosecute Emery in Canada for activities related to his marijuana seed business, a move that would assert Canada’s sovereignty over drug policy and likely lead to a sentence that better reflects the attitudes of Canadians toward marijuana prohibition.
Nicholson, however, is not likely to assert Canadian sovereignty over drug policy or defend Canadian attitudes toward marijuana. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the government has passed mandatory minimum sentencing laws for marijuana and other drug offences and increased funding for the war on drugs.
While the Harper Conservatives have chosen to use marijuana policy as a political weapon against their easily frightened political opponents with ties to the marijuana legalization movement, Canada’s conservative movement before Harper was open to discussing drug policy reform. In fact, they were open to having this discussion with Emery, a man they are now prepared sacrifice in order to enhance Canada-US relations and scare up a few more conservative votes.
On September 1, 2000, I hosted a reception at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald entitled "Reassessing the War on Drugs." The keynote speakers were Patrick Basham of the Fraser Institute and Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine which has subsequently gone entirely online. In his coverage of the event entitled “The Right Wing Makes Its Case For Legal Dope”, See Magazine editor at the time, Andrew Hanon, now an Edmonton Sun columnist, wrote:
Crystal chandeliers, lace curtains and 36-foot domed ceilings. Shimmering, full-length evening gowns. Immaculate European suits and silk ties. The only thing missing was the chamber orchestra. On the surface, it looked like any swanky gathering of the business and social élite in any Canadian city. But this event, held last week at the Hotel Macdonald in downtown Edmonton, was very, very different.
There was no discussion of the local charitable cause du jour. No one railed against the exorbitant price of live Atlantic lobster. Not a single word was uttered about the difficulty of attracting good help these days. The 60 people who paid $25 each to be at the Mac that evening were there to talk about the pressing need to legalize dope. That’s right. Buddha. Chronic. Cannabis. Pot.
The soirée, organized by Teaching Liberty Inc., a local political consulting firm, was entitled Reassessing the War On Drugs. On the speakers list were Patrick Basham of the Fraser Institute (really!) and – more predictably – Marc Emery, noted pot pundit and publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine. Also present was a panel made up of criminal defence lawyer Rod Gregory, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Mitch Grey, CHED producer Rob Breakinridge and Paul Bunner of Report newsmagazine.
Teaching Liberty Inc.’s Matthew Johnston acknowledged that the public rarely equates right-wing activists with the fight to decriminalize drugs, but argued that it’s actually a natural fit.
"We organized the event to demonstrate growing conservative opposition to the war on drugs," he explained. No resolutions were made that night – the evening’s sole purpose was to create more awareness of the issue.
There is an increasing trend on the political right toward social liberalism – they want government out of private citizens’ pocketbooks and their personal affairs. They see issues such as gay marriage and drug use as questions of personal choice, not government regulation.
Basham was introduced that night by Canadian Alliance MP Ian McClelland. (MP Peter Goldring was also in attendance, but is not an advocate for liberalizing marijuana laws.) Emery was introduced by lawyer Tom Ross, who was Ezra Levant’s lawyer in his legal defence against the Alberta Human Rights Commission over the Western Standard’s decision to publish cartoon images of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Panellist Bunner is now on staff with the Harper government. And before working for the CTF, Grey worked for Deborah Grey (no relation), the Reform Party’s first MP.
This single event provides powerful anecdotal evidence of the willingness of prominent conservative leaders to embrace drug policy reform, and engage radical reformers like Emery. It’s also a reminder of how far things have shifted away from a common sense approach to drug policy within conservative partisan politics under Harper, where now even tobacco is being banned.
I would suggest that if all the advocates for marijuana policy reform in the Conservative caucus were to make their opposition to Emery’s extradition known, Harper and Justice Minister Nicholson would be left with the support of a small group of ignorant authoritarians with as much insight into Western legal principles as an Iranian Mullah.
I’ll conclude this post with the words Basham used to conclude his speech that evening in 2000:
May I suggest to you this evening that, unless we end the War on Drugs, we're not going to be drug-free -- just un-free.
Posted by Matthew Johnston
September 30, 2009