VANCOUVER (CUP) — Sitting in his bookstore in Vancouver, Marc Emery looks like anything but his DEA title of “drug kingpin.” Despite the marijuana literature and drug-related artifacts that dot the walls of the space (that also doubles as the B.C. Marijuana Party’s headquarters), it feels more like a museum with a gift shop than an international drug cartel hangout. As the middle-aged family man, its curator, sits down to smoke a joint and talk about his recent arrest, a small crowd gathered in the store to listen to what he had to say.
“Probably got about two years before I get extradited if it all goes according to the government plan,” he said, exhaling.
The very fact that he can openly smoke pot in the store on Hastings St. in Vancouver’s East Side is testament to how far marijuana activism has come in a relatively short while. When Emery first started, literature on marijuana that encouraged use was illegal, as was the popular magazine “High Times,” that he sold illegally in the early 1990s.
Emery had not yet devised plans for the Canadian magazine “Cannabis Culture,” or the television station “Pot-TV.”
Now, marijuana use is so tolerated by local law enforcement, that Vancouver has earned the nickname Vansterdam, and next door to his bookstore, pot smoke billows out of an Amsterdam-style coffee shop.
But it’s come at a cost.
On July 29, 2005, 10 RCMP officers in tactical gear along with local Halifax law enforcement officials arrested Emery. He faces no prosecution in Canada, but likely faces life in prison in the States because of a DEA investigation into his seed-selling business, Marc Emery Direct Marijuana Seeds.
In a reflective article he wrote after the incident, Emery described the raid on him and his businesses.
“While I was handcuffed and being delivered to the dank cells of the Halifax lockup, raids by Vancouver police were underway in my home, my offices, and the BCMP Bookstore in Vancouver. No real quantities of drugs or marijuana were found, and in fact really only 5,000 seeds at the most were available to be taken”
In Vancouver, two of Emery’s pot crusader associates, Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek and Greg Williams, were arrested as well. They are now known as the BC 3 and face prosecution in Seattle on charges of Conspiracy to Manufacture Marijuana, Conspiracy to Distribute Marijuana Seeds, and Conspiracy to Engage in Money Laundering.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency has given him the title of “kingpin” and claims he is the most important international drug trafficker in Canada, and one of the top 46 in the world. This title is more than a media catchword though, though he could receive the death penalty in the US under the Drug Kingpin legislation first enacted in 1988.
Emery thinks that if he gets extradited, no one in Canada will see him alive again. He explained that the DEA is painting such an ugly picture of him because they are afraid of him.
“They are afraid of my ability to speak and my ability to organize and get the media to pay attention,” he says.
Emery believes the DEA would be in trouble if Canada ended Marijuana prohibition because they might have to follow suit. He thinks that the DEA would be unable to keep Americans from coming north for their marijuana, or from that reefer making its way south. This could then result in the DEA having its budget cut, and the same people that have been watching him would be out of jobs.
The DEA has admitted that they have gone after Emery for political reasons. They called his arrest a significant blow for the marijuana legalisation movement, and recently clarified their motivation for arresting Emery when a spokesperson said, “drug legalisation lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on.”
It’s no secret Emery puts most of his many operations’ profits back into the legalisation movement. Despite not owning a house or a car, the DEA estimated that he makes more than $3 million a year.
But despite the DEA’s attempt to cut the head off what it perceives as the Canadian pot monster, Emery said other seed vendors have filled the void left by his inability to operate his business.
“All these other vendors have moved in to answer the demand,” he says, looking almost annoyed.
Emery was quick to point out there are several vendors within walking distance of his bookstore on Hastings St.
One of those seed vendors agreed to talk as long as his identity and the identities of the business were protected. “Publicity is not always a good thing,” he explained.
When the DEA raided Emery’s seed business, there was an initial surge of sales, explained the vendor, but now it has slowed down dramatically and he has less customers than before the raid.
Of Emery he said, “him getting busted disappointed and hurt a lot of people,” but he is not afraid for his business. The vendor said his business has never shipped to the US as far as he knows, and to keep the business safe in the future, he said he has to “avoid anything that has to do with America.”
He also explained why seeds would not be a good investment for large commercial grow operations such as the ones the DEA is accusing Emery of helping. He said large grow rooms could technically use seeds, but without the uniformity of clones, growers would make less money and take longer growing.
For now though, the logistics of growing are the farthest thing from Emery’s mind. As always, he is playing the media attention to his advantage, and said that he will be doing a nation-wide farewell tour to Canadian universities if he is extradited.
“If I get my way then the DEA will become abolished and rendered inert,” he says. “Cops like the drug war, it gives them power and agency, feeds their egos.”