Tag Archives: decriminalize

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…

Indiana lawmaker to introduce marijuana decriminalization bill

Sep 22, 2012
Indiana Sen. Brent Steele said pot decriminalized in other states didn’t cause problems.
Written by
Associated Press

Indiana Sen. Brent Steele said pot decriminali-zation in other states didn't cause problems.INDIANAPOLIS — An influential Indiana lawmaker intends to sponsor a bill in the next session that would reduce penalties for people found in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

State Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said his legislation would make possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana an infraction rather than a criminal misdemeanor. Ten grams is about one-third of an ounce, roughly enough to make 20 to 30 marijuana cigarettes.

Steele, chairman of the Senate committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters, noted that many other states and college campuses already ticket offenders for possessing small amounts of pot instead of arresting them.

“Society didn’t melt down, and we didn’t turn into a drug-crazed culture as a result of it,” he told the Indianapolis Business Journal.

His support for decriminalization could be a turning point for Indiana, which only began considering the issue in 2011. Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, pushed for a summer study group in 2011 and this year introduced a bill that would have decriminalized possession of a larger amount, 3 ounces. Tallian’s bill received a hearing in the Senate but was not brought to a vote.

Currently, possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense. Possession of more than 30 grams is a Class D felony, which is the lowest level of felony.

Steele said he’ll include the marijuana provision in a bill that revises the Indiana criminal code. The Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, which is in its fourth summer of work, is looking to align charges and sentencing in proportion to the offenses.

In addition to driving up costs in the judicial system, Steele said, a lack of “proportionality” in the criminal code is unfair to young offenders.

He said he knows a man who stole gas out of a farmer’s tank when he was 19 and ended up with a felony on his record.

“His family had a lesser standard of living for years as a result of the stupid decision he made when he was 19,” Steele said.

The long-term consequences of harsh sentencing laws are starting to gain attention in the business community, especially as cities like Indianapolis deal with the employment challenges of ex-offenders.

Indianapolis Democratic City-County Councilor Vop Osili is trying to establish a bipartisan study commission on ex-offender re-entry, and the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce is surveying its members on how they treat criminal records in the hiring process.

CONTINUE…

Absolute Asinine Laws

 

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña brought some roadside weeds home from Kansas. Cops decided it was reefer, and a Texas court sentenced him to life in prison – without the evidence. It took a decade for Peña to get back some of the pieces of his life.

By Jordan Smith, Fri., March 16, 2012

Life in Prison for Hemp

José Peña was tired as he drove south toward Houston on the morning of Sept. 27, 1998. Following a quick trip north to Kansas in a rented van – to pick up the brother of a distant cousin’s son – he was on his way home to Houston, where he lived with his wife and four children. It was the kind of favor Peña often did for friends and family, no matter how distant the relation – and the kind of favor that irritated his wife. "I was tired, and I was trying to get home," the 50-year-old recently recalled. "My wife was mad at me for doing favors for other people" when he could instead be home.

That morning, just before 8am, Peña was cruising south down I-45, a little more than two hours from home. He was driving in the right-hand lane through Leon County when he passed a state trooper sitting in his car on the grass median. He thought nothing of it – just another Texas trooper on a long and nondescript stretch of highway – until he noticed the trooper pull out onto the road and follow him. The officer, Mike Asby, a veteran member of the Texas Department of Public Safety, drove in the left lane until his car was parallel with Peña’s. Peña looked over at Asby. "He pulled up next to me, and I looked at him because I wasn’t not going to make eye contact" with an officer whom Peña thought was definitely checking him out for whatever reason.

Although Peña steadfastly maintains that he wasn’t doing anything wrong or unusual, Asby would later testify that Peña caught his attention because he was driving more slowly than the rest of traffic in a van caked with mud; when the van "weaved across the center stripe and also across the solid yellow line on the shoulder," Asby testified in January 2003, he had to take action. "You’re required to stay in a single lane of traffic," he said. He activated his lights and pulled Peña over.

Within the hour, Peña would be in handcuffs in the back of the trooper’s car, headed to the county jail in Centerville on a charge of marijuana possession. Nearly five years later, Peña would be convicted and sentenced to life in prison for possession of what the state said turned out to be 23.46 pounds of freshly cut marijuana that Peña was transporting in the back of the muddy blue van. Although Asby testified that this was not a normal highway drug bust – "normally," he testified, marijuana moves north from Houston, already "dried out, cured, and ready to be sold" – he was certain that what he found casually laid out in the back of the van was pot because it smelled like pot – and he knows pot when he smells it. "It’s something that you learned in [28] years of experience being on the road?" prosecutor Whitney Smith (now Leon Coun­ty’s elected D.A.) asked Asby.

"Yes, sir," Asby replied.

Just Trust Us

There are at least two problems with the official story of Peña’s arrest and prosecution. First, Peña is adamant – and has been since 1998 – that what he was transporting was not marijuana, but actually hemp, pot’s non-narcotic cousin. Peña says he found the plants growing wild in Kansas and cut them down, thinking that he could use the stems and leaves in the various craft projects he made with leather and wood in his garage workshop; there was no doubt in Peña’s mind that what he was transporting was not marijuana. The second, and eventually more decisive problem with the official story of the Peña bust, is that prior to his trial, officials with the Department of Public Safety lab in Waco, where the plants were taken for testing, completely destroyed all of the case evidence – all 23.46 pounds of plant material – and then also lost the case file with all of the original documentation of the lab’s work on the case. By the time Peña was finally tried – more than four years later – there was absolutely no evidence to show the jury; instead, the state relied completely on the "experience" of Asby and of Waco lab supervisor Charles Mott (now retired) to persuade jurors that what they say they saw and tested was actually marijuana.

It worked.

That is, it worked until late last year, when Peña’s conviction was finally overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, and Leon County subsequently dismissed the charges for good. In the intervening decade, however, Peña’s case became a political hot potato, catching the attention of judges and lawyers across the state who watched as the 10th Court of Appeals, based in Waco, played tug-of-war with the Austin-based CCA over the power of the Texas Constitution, and whether it affords citizens greater rights and protection against state power than does the U.S. Constitution.

It’s a conflict that has left the state of Texas divided and may mean – at least for the time being – that persons tried for crimes in one part of the state will be afforded greater protection from prosecutorial errors or malfeasance than are others. Frankly, says Keith Hampton, an Austin defense attorney who represented Peña just before his case was dismissed, you just "don’t see this happen very often." Ulti­mate­ly, whether the protections gleaned from the Texas Constitution by the 10th Court will remain in force and be applied to all Texans is still to be determined.

Weeds, Not Weed

Peña had a knack for creating handcrafted leather and wood items that sold like hotcakes, he says, at flea markets in and around Houston. He made personalized shellacked plaques and leather key chains with popular first names spelled out in tiny beads, and at a dollar a key chain, they sold well. So when he first saw the hemp plants growing on the roadside near Manhattan, Kan., they gave him an idea. He would take the plants – which, to an untrained eye, look exactly like marijuana plants – press the leaves, and then use them on plaques or affixed to the small leather wallets that he also had become expert at making. He recognized these as "volunteer" hemp plants – they grow wild across the country, reminders of the days when hemp farming was commonplace and even, during World War II, encouraged by the feds as supporting the war effort. By the Kansas roadside, they were scraggly and abundant. When he pulled into the Tuttle Creek State Park outside Manhattan, and saw the plants growing everywhere, he "loaded … up."

Indeed, Peña thought nothing of the fresh-cut plants that he’d laid out in the back of the blue van he was driving. He knew – partly from experience of having smoked pot when he was younger, and partly because he knew that hemp was once a major agricultural commodity – that the plants were nothing more than weeds that looked like weed.

However, that’s not how Asby saw it. To him, it was clear that one thing, and only one thing, was taking place. Peña was moving a large amount of marijuana to Houston – as unusual as that might be, Asby acknowledged.

Peña repeatedly told Asby that the plants were hemp, and his insistence clearly gave some pause to Asby and the two backup officers who soon joined him. The three men stood next to the van pondering the notion that a plant could look like, but not actually be, marijuana. "I … questioned them, I said, ‘Well, he says it’s not marijuana,’" Asby recalled in court. "I knew that there was a substance called hemp and I was asking them. … And I asked them, ‘You ever heard of something like marijuana, just hemp, that is legal to have?’" he continued. "I don’t know that there is a legal kind. That was the question I was asking the officers: ‘Have you ever heard of this … where marijuana was cut and it turns out to be legal?’"

In the end, Asby was unpersuaded. "I just know marijuana smells like marijuana," he testified in 2003. "And I have never found anything that I thought was marijuana that wasn’t." He cuffed Peña and hauled him off to jail.

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