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Prince and princess of pot are expanding their dispensary empire, whether it’s legal or not

Cannibas Culture

 

Sunny Freeman | February 3, 2017

Jodie Emery struts through the hazy hallway of Cannabis Culture’s flagship Toronto store, through a 15-person deep checkout line, and then past the extracts, pre-rolled joints and display jars of bud into the lounge area where a group of pot enthusiasts is sparking up.

It is just after noon on a Wednesday.

The 32-year-old Cannabis Culture owner makes several attempts to call her husband, Marc, a famous marijuana legalization advocate, to wake him up. The Prince of Pot likes to sleep in, she explains, because he works past midnight, which is closing time at his shop in Toronto’s gay village downtown.

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Marc emerges half an hour later. He joins employees behind the counter to recommend strains and weigh portions for the rapidly growing lunchtime rush. Marc is focused on the Toronto flagship locale he owns, while Jodie oversees the franchising and most other aspects of the business. 

“This is what legalization looks like,” Marc said. “That’s exactly what we want to present to the government: You can go and do your rules and your thing and we’re going to do our thing.”

Many in the scene consider the Emerys weed royalty and the couple’s hard-fought decades-long dream of legalization may be on the cusp of fruition. But even as the government pursues legislation to set up a legal recreational market, the question of whether dispensaries such as theirs will be allowed to operate above ground hangs in the air.

Depending on the specific wording of the legislation, Canada’s prince and princess of pot could very well be excluded from the opportunity to earn a legal living in a recreational marijuana market that is expected to be worth as much as $22.6 billion annually.

In the meantime, a plethora of ganjapreneurs are looking to gain a foothold in the coming pot economy through the only current legal path, by becoming a Health Canada licensed medical marijuana producer. Many more are simply opening dispensaries on the sly, hoping to fly under the radar as they count down to legalization.

The Emerys worry licensed producers will monopolize the commercial system, but even if they are shut out, it will not deter the defiant outsiders from their aggressive expansion plans. 

The couple is relatively new to the dispensary business, jumping in less than two years ago with their first store in Vancouver and deciding to expand last year at the request of interested investors.

“When the opportunity came up to start dispensing cannabis I thought why not? If everybody else is doing it why shouldn’t we after all we’ve done?” Jodie said.

It’s a decision that has paid off so far. The crowd at Cannabis Culture’s flagship dispensary was just an average weekday, and sales spike on weekends. This location, one of 18 franchises, can pull in between $30,000 and $40,000 a day.

One man calls out to Jodie to say he’s one of her 38,000 Twitter followers. Another guy thanks Marc for his years of sacrifice to the cause, which include a five-year sentence in a U.S. federal prison.

For a guy who sometimes gives pot away for free, Marc keeps a keen eye on performance metrics and knows the exact headcount of customers they had last Friday: 1,783.

“You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that’s a good cash-flow business,” he said.

It could be even better if dispensaries like his become legal.

A task force report on legalization has recommended the government allow storefront locations in addition to the current mail-order system and acknowledged a majority of people who participated in the consultation process prefer a distribution system that includes dispensaries.

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Yet it remains unclear whether new government legislation will allow a place for the 400 or so dispensaries already operating.

The shops, most of which maintain at least an ostensible medical purpose, argue that they fill a gap for consumers by providing in-person advice, fostering competition and keeping prices low.

Marc has set an ambitious goal of opening 200 locations by the end of 2017, whether they are legal or not.

“Those questions to me are irrelevant, we just do what we do. We’re going to keep doing it. As long as the law is wrong we will disobey,” Marc said. “After prison, I didn’t want to be relegated to irrelevancy so I had to take the lead in provoking the authorities by opening up retail shops.”

And provoke he does.

Marc was most recently arrested just before Christmas, when cops raided six Cannabis Culture locations in Montreal, the day after he made a splashy debut in the city by bestowing free “nugs,” or marijuana buds, on throngs of admirers. Similarly, the flagship Toronto location opened a day after raids shuttered dispensaries across the city last May.

How police handle dispensaries varies widely across in the country, no more so than in the country’s two biggest markets. Vancouver has opted for a licensing system while Toronto police continue to crack down and raid dispensaries, citing public safety concerns.

Emery wears his 289 arrests, eight raids and five years in prison as a badge of honour. After all, the raids attract media attention and that attracts even more customers.

“Raids are just part of doing business. They’re annoying and they certainly set you back, but ultimately the police are wrong and we’re right,” he said.

Raid-related expenses, including covering the costs of lawyers for any employees who get arrested, have been built into the cost of doing business.

Those questions to me are irrelevant, we just do what we do. We’re going to keep doing it. As long as the law is wrong we will disobey

Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia NetworkMarc and Jodie Emery’s Cannabis Culture store on Church Street in Toronto. The couple, considered pot royalty, can’t keep up with the requests they have for franchise licences for their business model.

But the Emerys also have to think about the more mundane aspects of growing a franchise business, such as how much of a cut they should take. Jodie has been studying the Subway sandwich model and working with a franchise lawyer to help figure it out.

Cannabis Culture’s model asks for a $10,000 investment up front, plus a royalty of six per cent for the first six months, rising to seven per cent afterward. But she thinks they might be lowballing it. Subway, by contrast, asks for $15,000 upfront and a 12.5-per-cent royalty each month.

Cannabis Culture franchises can take in anywhere from $2,000 to $40,000 a day depending on their location, but about 60 per cent of that goes back into the stores, mostly toward buying new product, Jodie said.

Like all dispensaries, Cannabis Culture currently operates outside the law, so the Emerys have established their own guidelines: they don’t record customer information, do not require a doctor’s note and ask customers to show ID to prove they are over 19.

HST is tacked on to all prices and payroll taxes are collected, Marc said. He estimates they have turned over about half a million in taxes to the government.

The details of their supply chain are, somewhat understandably, sketchy. Jodie said much of the product comes from brokers who get it from those with medical growing licences. Many of the connections have stood for decades.

She equates the growers to farmers at a local market. They are proud of their product and would like to come forward, but prohibition forces them to stay in the dark.

Product quality is mostly assessed by a sight and smell test by store employees. But bigger locations such as the flagship store owned by Marc work with a lab to test strains for pesticides, mold and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in pot, and cannabidiol (CBD), the ingredient said to have therapeutic effects. The tests can cost about $150 each, prohibitively expensive for most small-time operators.

My feeling is if I am not allowed to sell marijuana after all the work I’ve done this far, then who does have that right?

Tyler Anderson/National Post

Tyler Anderson/National PostMarc Emery, owner of Cannabis Culture, speaks with customers at his store on Church Street in Toronto. Like all dispensaries, Cannabis Culture currently operates outside the law.

Despite some unusual costs factored into the underground business, interest in Cannabis Culture and the Emerys runs high among investors — a diverse group that includes fellow activists as well as deep-pocketed business-types — who don’t seem to be deterred by dispensaries’ questionable legal status.

“‘I’ve got hundreds of franchise request emails coming in from all across Canada and even the U.S.,” Jodie said. “People are begging and I can’t even get back to them.”

Cannabis Culture’s brash business style irks some other dispensary owners worried that the Emerys’ in-your-face promotion style could turn off Canadians who are on the fence about legalization and the role of dispensaries within the system.

But Jodie is dismissive of their critics: “They’re looking at Cannabis Culture with a bit of green in their eyes saying you guy are big corporate cannabis now.”

Meanwhile, the Emerys are also feeling squeezed from the publicly traded licensed producers that they believe are trying to monopolize marijuana and shut them out of a free market. The Emerys say the market is big enough for all types of players — especially theirs.

“We’ve paid our dues. My feeling is if I am not allowed to sell marijuana after all the work I’ve done this far, then who does have that right?” Marc said. “And I don’t believe anybody else has that right over me.”

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Canada to be first G7 country to legalize weed – Gov-General

© Steve Dipaola

 

Next year Canada could become the first country in the G7 group of the world’s leading economies to legalize marijuana as the government announces its plans in a speech to parliament.

The freshly-elected Liberal government has reaffirmed their pledge to legalize marijuana as Governor-General David Johnson addressed the parliament with a speech that outlined the legislative agenda for the coming year.

“The Government will introduce legislation that… will legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana,” Johnson said, Canadian Global News reports. He did not elaborate on how the government plans to regulate or restrict access to the soft drug.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mandate letter to the Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould also includes a provision suggesting that the justice minister should work “with the Ministers of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Health, create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.”

Trudeau said that legalizing marijuana would fix a “failed system” and help remove the “criminal element” from marijuana production and trade, adding that Canadians would benefit from studying the experience of the US state of Colorado and Washington, which recently adopted similar laws.

The PM has stuck to that position since becoming the leader of the Liberal party in 2013. He says his support for the legalization of marijuana is influenced by the fate of his late brother, who was charged with drug possession for having “a tiny amount” of weed before his death in an avalanche in 1998.

Legalizing pot was a high profile election promise made by Trudeau during the latest election campaign that raised the Liberal Party to power after almost a decade of the Conservative rule. Two previous Conservative administrations also made such election promises but failed to live up to them.

In Canada, people are allowed to use medical marijuana in dried and edible forms on condition they do not smoke it. Growing marijuana at home is also legal, according to Global News.

Apart from legalizing marijuana, the new government also plans to cut taxes for citizens with middle income as well as to provide higher child benefits to the needy, which would be financed by a tax increase on the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.

The government also announced plans to provide significant investments in infrastructure, cut military spending, limit the budget deficit to 10 billion Canadian dollars ($7.5 billion) per year as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Marc Emery Returns…

Marijuana Activist Marc Emery Is A Man On A Mission

Posted by Johnny Green at 7:29 AM on August 27, 2014 Ending Marijuana Prohibition

By Phillip Smith

 

Marc Emery

Canada’s “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery has finally returned to Canada after spending just over 4 ½ years in US federal prison for selling marijuana seeds over the Internet. From his base in Vancouver, BC, Emery parlayed his pot seed profits into a pro-marijuana legalization political juggernaut.

Not only did the gregarious former libertarian bookseller relentlessly hassle Canadian and American drug warriors — including the dour then-drug czar, John Walters — he published Cannabis Culture magazine, created the BC Marijuana Party and helped turn parts of downtown Vancouver’s Hasting Street into a Western Hemisphere Amsterdam, complete with a vaporizer lounge and several other cannabis-related enterprises.

Emery also put a bunch of his money — several hundred thousand dollars — into financing marijuana reform efforts on the US side of the border. It’s hard to say what, exactly, got him in the sights of US law enforcement, but when he was arrested by Canadian police at the behest of US authorities, the DEA was certainly quick to gloat that it had struck a blow against the forces of legalization.

The US eventually got its pound of flesh from Emery, forcing him into a plea bargain — to protect his coworkers — that saw him sentenced to five years in federal prison for his seed selling. Emery did his time, was released from prison earlier this summer, then sent to a private deportation detention facility in the US before going home to Canada less than two weeks ago.

But if US and Canadian authorities thought they had silenced one of the biggest thorns in their side, they should have known better. Nearly five years in prison hasn’t exactly mellowed Emery; instead, he is more committed than ever to drug war justice, and he’s raring to go.

The Chronicle spoke with him via phone at his home in Vancouver Monday. The topics ranged from prison life to marijuana legalization in the US to Canadian election politics and beyond.

“If you go to jail for the right reasons you can continue to be an inspiration,” Emery said. “I got a lot of affirmation, thousands of letters, people helped to cover my bills, and that’s a testament to my influence. My experience was very positive. I network well and try to live in the present moment, just dealing with what’s going on.”

Still, Emery needed about $180,000 to get through those 4 ½ years behind bars, including more than $18,000 in email costs — it isn’t cheap for federal prisoners to send emails, but for Emery, keeping his voice heard in the outside world was a necessity. He reports having received between $70,000 and $80,000 in donations while in the slammer.

“That still left Jodie doing the near impossible,” he said. She traveled from Canada to the southern US 81 times to visit her husband, visiting him on 164 days and spending a like amount of time in transit. If it weren’t for Jodie Emery, prison would have been a much lonelier place, as it is for most inmates.

“In my prison, there were 1,700 prisoners, but on an average weekend, only 25 were getting a visit,” Emery noted, adding that most inmates were either black or brown. “And other than Jodie, only seven people came to visit me.”

While Emery waited in prison, the world continued to turn, and he has emerged into a different place. Now, two US states and Uruguay have legalized marijuana outright, and two more states and the District of Columbia are likely to do so this fall. For the Prince of Pot, it’s all good.

“I like that Washington and Colorado went for two different models, although I think the Colorado model is better and has been more quickly executed,” he said. “In both places, prices haven’t really dropped, but they will once other states come on board. It has been really encouraging to see that people would travel to another state to buy it legally.”

That’s a good thing for the cannabis culture, he said.

“We are a proud culture. Legalization means a lot of things, and one of them is the end of stigmatization. We’ve been picked on and scapegoated as if we were taking part in some evil practice, but that is largely over in Denver,” Emery argued. “They’re integrating it into the mainstream economy; we’re going to see a lot of interesting things.”

Unsurprisingly, the small-L libertarian and marijuana seed entrepreneur is not overly concerned that legalization will lead to the commercialization or corporatization of the herb.

“We need big money in order to have an effective lobby,” he said. “When there’s something that tens of millions of Americans want, the money will come, and the money is welcome. It’s going to put into new products, new technologies, and we have to welcome that. Capitalism is way to make things happen legally, and we need to get those people on board.”

But Emery wants people to be able to grow their own, too.

“It’s not legal unless we can grow it in our backyards or fields,” he said, “and as long as we can grow it, it’s basically legal.”

That’s life in these United States, but Emery, of course, doesn’t live in the United States — in fact, he is now permanently barred from entering the country — he lives in Canada, and things haven’t gone nearly as swimmingly there when it comes to freeing the weed.

A decade ago, Canada was the hope of the global cannabis culture. It appeared poised to make the move toward legalization, but first the ruling Liberals were unwilling to even push through their decriminalization scheme, and then they were defeated by the Conservatives, who went in the other direction on marijuana policy, for instance, by adopting mandatory minimum sentences for growing more than small amounts of pot.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives remain in power today, and Emery has sworn political vengeance on them. He has also aligned himself with the Liberals, whose leader, Justin Trudeau, is now an advocate of legalization. That’s in line with Canadian public opinion, which consistently shows strong support for marijuana law reform, including a poll this week that showed two-thirds support for reform, with 35% saying legalize it and 31% saying decriminalize it.

The Liberals are going to try to take back the federal government in elections in October 2015, and Emery is happy to help savage the Conservatives whether it makes Liberals squeamish or not. His return just two weeks ago has already ignited a firestorm of media coverage, with his pot politics naturally front and center.

“We’ve now hijacked the whole conversation about the election; we are dominating the conversation,” he gloated. “It’s the number one election topic and has been since the second I arrived back in the country. There have been more than 150 articles about me in the last two weeks. It’s a big deal, and I’m delighted it’s a big deal. I have critics using up column inches to say disparaging things about me, and that’s great, too. There’s a real dialog going on, and we have the opportunity to change the feelings of our opponents and get them to understand the benefits to their communities in legalizing marijuana.”

But can the Liberals win? Yes, says Emery.

“Election day — October 19, 2015 — will be legalization day in Canada. If Trudeau becomes prime minister, there is no going back,” he prophesied. “And I am confident the Liberals will win. Normally, the anti-Harper vote is divided among the Greens, the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Liberals, but this time, with Trudeau being so charismatic, I am urging everyone to just this once vote for the Liberals. And the feedback I am getting is that this is going to happen, a Liberal majority is going to happen, and you should be in on it.”

When it comes to marijuana reform, in Emery’s eyes, Canadian politicians should take a lesson from their counterparts south of the border.

“My opinion of Americans has only improved,” he said. “You did a great job in Colorado and Washington, and even your legislators are underrated. At least one from every state has gone to Colorado to check it out. It’s wonderful! Up here, if it weren’t for Justin Trudeau, we wouldn’t hear anything.”

Well, and now, Marc Emery. Again.

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Brooker: Emery’s reefer revenge just might work

By Kevin Brooker, Calgary Herald August 5, 2014

 

 

 

Brooker: Emery's reefer revenge just might work

Kevin Brooker

“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.

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“Don’t get mad, get political” says BC’s Prince of Pot

Shelby Thom

August 03, 2014 02:10 pm

“That old phrase don’t get mad get even, well in a democracy it’s don’t get mad get political.”

BC’s Prince of Pot Marc Emery vows to rally behind Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in an attempt to oust the Conservatives in the 2015 federal election.

“With this opportunity that Justin Trudeau has put forward to Canadians by saying I’ll legalize marijuana, this is our great opportunity, this is the most pivotal election for the millions and millions of Canadians who want to see marijuana legalized.”

He adds “legalization in one word is the entire message. Legalization means a completely taxed and regulated medium of exchange. It means people will not go to jail, it means people won’t be punished in possession of it, it means there would be a regulatory system at work like there is in Washington and Colorado.”

Emery was speaking with Roy Green on the Corus Radio Network from a detention facility in Louisiana awaiting paperwork to be completed before he can return home to Canada.

Emery’s sentence for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana ended July 9th, and he expresses his discontent with the delays.

“The Canadian government knows I’m here, the American government knows I’m here, they could have had my passport information all done and completed by the time I finished by sentence, but they don’t do that, they don’t share information with the bureau of prisons for the Department of Homeland Security.”

Emery expects to return home within the next few weeks.

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Cannabis Culture News LIVE: Marc Emery is Not Free Yet

 

 

VIDEO HERE!

 

POT TV – Watch Cannabis Culture News LIVE for the latest news and views on pot politics and the marijuana community.

In this episode: Though Marc Emery’s official prison release date has just passed, he has not actually been released and may not be for sometime. We discuss the details with Marc’s wife Jodie Emery. Justin Trudeau’s latest endorsement comes from none other than Marc Emery, the self-proclaimed “Prince of Pot” – what’s he smoking? Facebook Post by the Conservative Party of Canada by CPC.

Also on the show: Cannabis Day 2014 and Redbeard’s Great Canadian Glass Gathering!

Click here to watch PAST EPISODES of CCN LIVE.

Join the Pot TV Livestream chat to have your say during the show.

Jeremiah Vandermeer is editor of Cannabis Culture. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Drug Testing Robs Workforce of Talent and Creativity

By Ellen Komp, Cannabis Culture – Monday, February 11 2013

CANNABIS CULTURE – In Hillary Clinton’s farewell speech as Secretary of State last week, she said, "We need a new architecture for this new world, more Frank Gehry than formal Greek."

Clinton was referring to dealing with the complexities of working with NATO, the United Nations, and world powers, and used for her example the Venice, California-based architect Frank Gehry. Gehry molded a unique style of laid-back architecture that used materials like chain-link fence in the context of the urban sprawl of LA, and is now the world-class architect of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles and the forthcoming Dwight D. Eisenhower memorial.

Someone who worked with Gehry in the 1980s reported him "coming out of rooms with clouds of [marijuana] smoke behind him." It wouldn’t be too surprising. Even Meghan McCain says pot smoking is everywhere in LA.

The well-entrenched drug testing industry is touting their services as the means of achieving a safe and productive workforce, even in the wake of marijuana smokers winning their rights back in Colorado and Washington.

I beg to differ.

First of all, drug testing has never been scientifically shown to be safe or effective at improving workplace safety or productivity, and studies indicate that the great majority of drug-positive workers are just as reliable as others. Medically, the consensus of expert opinion is that drug tests are an inherently unreliable indicator of drug impairment. Dr. George Lundberg of the American Medical Association has called them "Chemical McCarthyism."

Second, by pre-screening away marijuana smokers, we’re weeding out (so to speak) some of our most creative and, I would argue, productive employees. If you doubt that marijuana smokers have contributed to our society, see VeryImportantPotheads.com. In the case of someone using marijuana for medical purposes, it’s downright discrimination to deny them employment for using what a doctor has legally recommended under state law.

Silicon Valley, the brainchild of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (who both admittedly smoked pot in their youth), notoriously does not drug test its employees, knowing they’d lose much of their talent that way. Yet the region is responsible for much of California’s economic productivity, in one of the few non-military industries the US has. Pot-friendly Hollywood is another shining example of an industry that exports instead of imports to the US, like most of our consumables.

It’s not surprising that Clinton would mention a possible pot smoker, since quite likely she was one herself and the president she worked for certainly was. Would either have benefited from a world that imprisoned or discriminated against them for their youthful or weekend indulgences? I think not.

Henry Ford’s method of sending investigators into his workers’ homes to observe their drinking habits seems outrageous today, yet employers are basically doing the same thing by demanding its workers pee in a cup on Monday to find out what they did on Friday night. Is it really their business?

There is an alternative called impairment testing that has been shown to be more effective than drug testing at assuring workers’ safety. But chemical tests are entrenched, in our political process, and with businesses and insurance companies. The more forward-thinking ideas are, so far, crushed under the Greek architecture of the old days.

Of Gehry, Clinton said, "Some of his work at first might appear haphazard, but in fact, it’s highly intentional and sophisticated. Where once a few strong columns could hold up the weight of the world, today we need a dynamic mix of materials and structures." We also need a dynamic and varied work force, one that might even look haphazard from the outside, to meet the challenges of today’s world.

Carl Sagan, one of the many productive members of society who enjoyed marijuana, said, "The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world."

It won’t do us much good to end the injustice of marijuana prohibition if only the unemployed can exercise their right to use it. And those companies who exercise drug testing have only a piss-poor workforce.

Ellen Komp is Deputy Director of California NORML and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture. She manages the website VeryImportantPotheads.com and blogs at Tokin Woman.

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Marc Emery Prison Blog: How I Began My Plan to Overgrow the Government

By Marc Emery – Thursday, February 27 2014

 

CANNABIS CULTURE – Since the 20th anniversary of my activism in British Columbia is approaching on April 11th, I thought I would write a series of blogs about my early years, when there was no movement, no legal medical marijuana anywhere, books and magazines about cannabis were banned in Canada – in essence, there was nothing. Over the next few months I’ll tell you about great moments in my life where I contributed to the marijuana movement and helped changed several laws.

My history is packed with well-documented campaigns and pivotal moments. It includes the day in August 1996 when Dennis Peron was was with me in Vancouver for a large rally in historic Gastown, occupying the intersection that, 25 years earlier, had been the scene of the "Grasstown Police Riot" (where cops attacked and injured dozens of peaceful pot advocates and innocent bystanders), and his pioneering medical cannabis building in San Francisco was raided. I encouraged him to make a phone speech rallying his supporters to not back down – the after-effect of which really pushed the California voters in favour of Proposition 215.

Other significant events include my times with Jack Herer in the very early days (1991); selling banned marijuana books and magazines door-to-door in early 1994 to establish myself in Vancouver (after doing the same in Ontario years earlier, to challenge the laws prohibiting marijuana literature); producing the first issue of The Marijuana & Hemp Newsletter in 1994, which became Cannabis Canada magazine a year later, then Cannabis Culture in 1998; how I was inspired in November 1994 to "Overgrow the Government" by funding activism through seed sales; publishing my 1995 article "How To Open Your Own Hemp Store" that kickstarted a revolution across Canada (and continues to this day); underwriting the early days of the Marijuana Policy Project (1998); contributing to the success of the medical marijuana initiative in Washington DC (1998), Colorado and Arizona (2000); my role in making medical marijuana legal in Canada (1999); creating Pot TV, the first online cannabis video website in the world, with its construction beginning on January 1, 2000; going to the Canadian Supreme Court to legalize pot in December 2003 (and the ten years of court battles leading to that); and stories of how my many adversaries who once persecuted and prosecuted me became activist anti-prohibitionists, including Vancouver Mayors Philip Owen and Larry Campbell, Vancouver ‘GrowBusters’ chief Kash Heed, and Washington State District Attorney (and my prosecutor) John McKay.

Some great history reviews lay ahead, in this, the 20th anniversary year of Cannabis Culture and the retail-activist revolution that is now growing everywhere. I should start with my early efforts in my hometown of London, Ontario.

 

In 1990 I had a radio show at the University of Western Ontario’s CHRW-FM called "Radio Free Speech: Revolution Thru Rock N’ Rap" and I loved playing the Dead Kennedy’s and the spoken-word albums of lead singer Jello Biafra. When his 1990 spoken word album "I Blow Minds for a Living" came out, I decided to have a Jello Biafra spoken-word performance at Centennial Hall (Dufferin Ave by Victoria Park). We sold 450 tickets to cover the cost of Centennial Hall and Jello’s $3,000 fee. As part of the contract, he was obligated to go on CHRW with me for a special 3-hour show the next day (Saturday), which was a highlight of my 18-month London radio career before I was fired in 1991 for criticizing the station’s lame newscast.

In this new album and at his Centennial Hall performance, Jello did as segment called "Grow More Pot", wherein, though not a pot smoker himself, he urged the audience to grow more pot based on his reading and recommending the (seminal) work of the then-ascendant hemp movement, "The Emperor Wears No Clothes". It was a book by Jack Herer – and it was banned in Canada!

Nowhere in Canada was this book offered for sale (and remember, this was before Amazon.com and the internet existed!) and I found out that the federal government of Canada had prohibited all books and magazines that spoke honestly of marijuana. Since I had a bookstore in London, the City Lights Bookshop on Richmond Street (now owned and operated since July 1992 by then-employees Jim & Teresa), I decided I would get this book and challenge the ban by selling it at City Lights.

After some cursory research, I found that everything to do with marijuana was illegal in Canada since an act of Parliament in 1987 had banned all books, magazines, pipes, bongs, video – all and anything to do with marijuana culture was prohibited under section 462.2 of the Canadian criminal code. Since 1987, over 500 shops selling bongs, pipes, High Times magazine, etc. had been shut down, and now in 1991 there were no longer any head shops (as they were called then), nor was High Times available on any newsstand in Canada! Penalties for a first-time conviction for selling books like "The Emperor" or magazines like High Times, or bongs and pipes, included a fine of up to $100,000 and/or up to six months in jail for a first offense, and up to $300,000 for a second offense!

 

So I bought an ad in the daily London Free Press newspaper and announced that I would be selling the banned Jack Herer book to get arrested and go to court to challenge this law.

I sold over 100 copies of "The Emperor", but got no charge by police, nor was I raided. As a historical note, I had already been arrested and charged in previous attempts to change laws regarding Ontario’s Sunday-shopping prohibition (1986), and the province’s ban on explicit rap music (1990), so this was a technique that I had had good success with, up until this time. So I decided to go a little further and smuggled in hundreds of copies of every available marijuana grow guide, dozens of copies of back-issues of High Times, every copy of The Freak Brothers comics, all in huge quantities.

When we bought an ad in the London Free Press announcing this massive sale of over fifty different books and magazines – more than one thousand individual copies – I had over 150 people lined up outside the doors of City Lights at the 10:00am opening. Still, no police raid or arrest.

So I brought Jack Herer to town, to autograph copies of the book, and bought more ads flouting the law. Still… no arrest or charge. Then I flew in Ed Rosenthal to autograph copies of his books; Steve Hager (editor of High Times) for a special celebration dinner at the City-owned London Art Gallery, where over 100 people paid to attend; Paul Mavrides, writer and artist of the Freak Brothers, to autograph his comics.

 

I even gave away 300 copies of High Times to 300 people in front of the London police headquarters in February 1992 (since they law said ‘distributing’ any book or magazine was illegal, not just the selling of them) to force the London police to charge me. But they didn’t! So while I may not have had my day in court then to make marijuana literature legal, by having the law overturned, I did succeed at bringing important cannabis and hemp information into Canada when we had nothing available at all.

In 1994 I moved to Vancouver, and continued selling banned books and magazines on what became a huge scale. It was the cornerstone to getting established in my new West Coast base of operations; by June 1995, I was distributing 2,000 copies of High Times every month.

In the autumn of 1994, my friend Umberto Iorfida of Canada NORML was charged by Toronto police for handing out pamphlets to students at a high school where undercover narcs had entrapped teens by asking for marijuana. I undertook to finance his defense, and in July 1995, with lawyer Alan Young, Umberto and I got the aspect of the 462.2 law regarding media (books, magazines, video) struck down by Judge Ellen McDonald, in the Ontario Superior Court. This law, by the way, is still in the criminal code, because it was not overturned in the Canadian Supreme Court, but since the Ontario Crown did not appeal the Superior Court decision, the decision stands as law in Ontario.

That having been said, over the years, I have traveled to places that tried to ban my Cannabis Culture Magazine or High Times, like in Timmins, Ontario in 1999. The police went to convenience stores and told them that selling those magazines was illegal, and they’d have to stop. So I bought a half-page ad in the Timmins newspaper and went there to hand out 300 copies of my publication, Cannabis Culture Magazine, for several hours in front of the Timmins police station, daring them to try to charge me under 462.2. We ended up having an hours-long smoke-fest and street party in front of the police station. Media from all over Ontario covered that event, and Timmins police never tried that again.

In my peaceful civil disobedience regarding marijuana laws, I have been arrested 28 times in Canada, and jailed 22 times, in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and this one very long stint in federal prison in these United States (where, as most people know, I did not travel to or spend any time as a seed seller).

I regard all of this as punishment for my political activities, as all of them were acts done under clearly-political auspices, and most – if not all – are unique in North America, Canada, or the USA. For example, I have been arrested and convicted in Vancouver of giving away one gram of hash (the witness was brought 2,000 miles from the United States to testify against me for one gram I gave him, for free, at my Cannabis Cafe in 1997); arrested and convicted for promoting vaporizers, a charge I can hardly believe exists; arrested and convicted for selling seeds (to my knowledge, no other Canadian has ever been convicted of selling just seeds); and arrested and convicted (and sentenced to three months in prison!) for passing one joint in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, at a rally after my speech at University of Saskatchewan in 2004 (although no joint or pot was ever produced to prove their charge, merely a 22-year-old witness’ claim, upon police inquiry, that I passed him a joint).

 

I was arrested and jailed six times on my 2003 Summer of Legalization Tour across Canada, which was a campaign to demonstrate that the marijuana prohibition laws were of no force and effect due to a court ruling in Ontario (click here to see archive coverage on Pot TV and Cannabis Culture). To challenge the law nationwife, I promoted a tour where I smoked a bong or one-ounce joint in front of police station headquarters in every major city in Canada – eighteen stops in nine provinces – and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in front of a huge RCMP phalanx. In those six arrests in Alberta (Calgary and Edmonton), Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick, I was charged, but my charges – and charges against many Canadians – were later dropped when the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in October 2003 that there was, in fact, no valid marijuana possession law in effect in Canada from 2001 to 2003 (it was reinstated by that court at the time, unfortunately).

I was not arrested during the other 12 stops that tour, in cities in British Columbia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. I was also not arrested when I led a march in 2002 in Montreal at the Quebec Cannabis Cup after Montreal police arrested the organizer. I quickly responded with a bellicose protest immediately, took over the streets en route, and had a very confrontational conflict with riot-clad Montreal cops at the police station. I was also not arrested in my numerous attempts to get charged for selling banned marijuana literature in London, Ontario or Vancouver.

So whereas I have been arrested 28 times, jailed 22 times, and convicted on about ten of those arrests since 1990 to 2010, I have also attempted to get arrested – or risked getting arrested – well over 45 times, all related to fighting against marijuana prohibition or promoting cannabis culture.

And you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!

If you’re interested in seeing more about Marc’s earliest freedom activist causes and campaigns, watch the 1992 documentary "Messing Up The System" by the late Chris Doty (one hour), the 2006 CBC documentary "Prince of Pot: The US vs. Marc Emery" by Nick Wilson (one hour), and the thorough multi-part 2010 documentary "The Principle of Pot" by Paul McKeever (four hours).

CONTINUE READING ON CANNABIS CULTURE…