By Kevin Brooker, Calgary Herald August 5, 2014
“Revenge!” Now there’s an anguished utterance you normally expect only to hear in bad Shakespeare parodies. Not last week, however, when Marc Emery, Canada’s so-called Prince of Pot, dropped the R-bomb on no less than the government itself.
Speaking to CBC Radio from a private deportation facility (whatever the heck that is) in anticipation of finally being released from the U.S. prison system, Emery said, “My own government betrayed me and I’m going to wreak an appropriate amount of political revenge when I get home and campaign against the Conservative government.”
Emery served nearly five years for the crime of selling seeds, “chained and shackled every inch of the way,” and obviously he isn’t about to forgive and forget. But this is no routine – and therefore hollow – act of fist shaking by a jailbird.
His threat is anything but empty. Emery is now poised to re-enter his chosen life’s work of cannabis activism in the most significant way possible, by threatening to turn the next federal election into a single-issue referendum on legalizing cannabis. He and his many supporters are planning to campaign for the Liberals, and will thus hold Justin Trudeau’s feet to the fire regarding his pledge to end the legal morass that is cannabis prohibition. Emery’s team already has 30 rallies planned across the country, with surely many more to come. His plan is to energize young voters on what will be
framed as a civil rights cause, irrespective of their personal relationship to cannabis.
The hand-wringers in Ottawa don’t know what to make of it. Many Liberals suggest Emery might be a liability to the party by alienating centrists with his brash rhetoric. The Tories, of course, will take every opportunity to disparage him, as they already have, as “a drug dealer who just got out of jail.”
But as the next few months unfurl, I suspect we will see Emery quietly absorbed into the Liberal fold. After all, he’s got buckets of money, commitment and organization. The prospect of him stumping for their brand could do the Liberals a huge favour, whether they admit it or not.
If nothing else, Emery will come home with a kind of street gravitas, having openly flouted laws on principle, knowing that he would some day do jail time, and doing a hard nickel to boot.
One strategist noted that, “Political parties don’t as a rule like to be associated with controversial figures, especially those who have served jail time,” though the annals of politics are filled with ex-cons. Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel come to mind.
Sure, Emery is no Mandela, but it is not difficult to argue that he was in some sense a political prisoner. The Conservative government acted vindictively, and politically, by bringing in U.S. drug warriors and seeing to it that Emery was renditioned to a place where he would serve a far harsher sentence than any Canadian court would deliver for such an offence.
Now he has a story to tell, plus an aura of martyrdom vis-a-vis the growing number of people who see cannabis prohibition as a colossal failure whose social harms far outweigh those of personal abuse. It is a tale with which many Canadians will empathize.
Much has changed since Emery’s been away. I write today from Washington state where, ironically, not far from the court that convicted him, any adult can walk into a store and purchase cannabis itself, and not merely seeds. Last week, Emery evinced pride that his long career of activism helped influence such developments here and in Colorado. Likewise, it has changed Canada. In his home province of B.C., for example, medical cannabis dispensaries have made the substance de facto legal.
The current patchwork of legality with respect to this ancient plant is just one more reason why Canadian voters are likely to respond positively to some form of blanket decriminalization. And if they do, Emery will have his revenge.
Kevin Brooker is a Calgary writer.
His column runs every second week.