Moving Beyond Cannabis Culture: An Interview with Jodie Emery

By Jon Hiltz on March 23rd, 2017 at 8:20 am

6 ways

 

It’s impossible to look at the history of marijuana activism in Canada and not think of Marc and Jodie Emery. Their decades-long fight with the powers that be have culminated into a good part of the reason we are heading toward adult-use cannabis across the nation.

Throughout this battle, they have lost everything, and regained it again, just to lose it once more. The perfect example of this would be the four years Marc Emery spent in a U.S. prison for openly selling mail-order seeds across the border.

Canada’s unwillingness to stop this extradition of a nonviolent “criminal” was a stark example of a government not supportive of the needs of cannabis users everywhere.

Now, we are at a point where Canada is scheduled to legalize marijuana for everyone 18 and older. Despite that fact, the Emerys have once again been targeted by authorities; and this time, the government has taken away a most precious possession — their life’s work.

This week, as part of their bail conditions, Marc and Jodie have been forced to cut all ties with their brand Cannabis Culture.

Yesterday, Marijuana.com reported the facts on the ground as Jodie Emery headed to Vancouver to remove herself as director of the company. Once that task was complete Jodie took the time to speak with us about the reality she and her husband must confront.


What does it feel like to hand over something that you essentially put your blood, sweat and tears into?

When I moved to Vancouver in 2004 I wanted to do activism so I started working with Marc Emery at Cannabis Culture Magazine and Pot TV. In 2005, I was made the Assistant Editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine. I spent every day slaving away over that beautiful print publication and also engaging in activism because that very same year Marc was facing life in prison. I took great pride in what I did.

It’s not just a magazine, a head shop, a vapour lounge or dispensaries, it’s an idea of what legalization looks like. It’s a mission statement for people who believe that we shouldn’t go to prison for a plant. So, it is deeply upsetting to have to give up my involvement with what really has been my identity since I became an adult.

Now that you are free and clear of your business obligations, what are your next steps?

Marc and I are going to do a cross-Canada tour, because we need to have a marijuana truth tour. Right now [MP] Bill Blair is going across Canada and telling all of the police to enforce the [current] laws.

We need to educate the public on the facts about marijuana and remind them that this is a civil liberties issue. We have to make sure no one is being arrested anymore before people are able to profit. We need to talk about how marijuana is a safer choice for recreational consumption than alcohol and talk about the opioid crisis which is extremely newsworthy right now because so many people are dying.

How is Marc handling all this? I know he spent years locked up in a U.S. prison, which by comparison is much harsher, but how is he taking the loss of Cannabis Culture?

Marc is very used to this. He has been arrested, raided and jailed so many times. Marc has had everything taken from him numerous times and he always comes back, builds up again and fights for the cause.

He’s taking it well and he is giving me a hard time because I haven’t been arrested and put in jail before, except for Montreal, but I was arrested for four hours at a hotel, not too hard. This time I actually went to jail so I experienced what people go through and that was upsetting.

At the same time, Marc is wondering what to do next. He’s had many decades of work behind him and he’s tired of all this prohibition nonsense. I’m sure he would like to finally just retire and relax.

Are you concerned about your charges? Do you think they will be dropped?

My concern about our charges is that they’re conspiracy charges. That is a very broad charge to lay on somebody because you don’t even need to commit a crime to be found guilty. The fact that three people agree to break the law makes a conspiracy. They have chosen a very easy way to give us tough punishments and these allegations are very serious.

This government very much wants to shut us up, since they were unable to do so even when they called in the U.S. government to do it for them [through Marc’s previous sentence]. Our [case] will be in the court for a number of years and we do intend to fight it to the fullest. That will probably include a Charter challenge, where we will try to go to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the validity of prohibition entirely.

Do you think that the severity of the charges against you were because you were selling adult-use cannabis to anyone 19 or older, as opposed to at the very least, only selling to those with a prescription?

[Our]  stores being for 19+ adults and not pretending to be recreational was groundbreaking and a lot of people thought we were very courageous to do that.

It was something we wanted to do differently than everyone, but we were also addressing the concern people had about Canadians faking their illnesses or paying doctors for access. We thought we could just do away from that model, which was half farce and half unfairness for those who are [actually] sick.

We said time and time again, this is what legalization looks like. For the government and the licensed producers and police, they don’t like that model of legalization. They don’t want people to see that vision, they want people to accept their limited oligopoly.

We don’t have a liquor registry where if you want to drink booze you have to sign up with the government and give them your information, but for marijuana right now that’s what they are doing.

For myself, part of my bail conditions say that I have to use government-approved marijuana medically if I am going to possess any marijuana. In a very sad irony, what they are doing to me is what they are trying to do to Canada.

Do you have hope that things will change? Do you think that when adult-use marijuana comes into play that the government will have listened and that dispensaries will be a part of the mix?

It will take a lot of engagement for people to change the rules. Once it’s legal federally, it’s going to be up to the provinces and municipalities to do most of the regulating. We are going to need people to engage with their provincial governments to tell them what kind of model of distribution we should have.

Change will come, but it only comes when you keep pushing and campaigning. If you sit back and wait they will never do anything. That’s why it’s so important to push the envelope.

So to end on a happy note, what is your fondest memory of running Cannabis Culture?

The people. The wonderful love that we all have for this plant and this culture. It is almost spiritual in a way. It’s a calling that we know this plant is not just a simple little garden flower or vegetable.

We know that cannabis can help save lives. It can prevent people from dying, from sickness, or hard drugs. It’s endless the way this plant can truly help people. It sounds insane, but it’s more true than any god that I have ever heard of.


As Canada edges closer to some form of adult use cannabis, however that may emerge, the Emery’s will do everything in their power to ensure Canadians are given the access they deserve.

It’s clearly not just about being able to get high in peace, it’s about what we are allowed to do as adults in a free society. From Jodie’s point of view, marijuana may be the focus, but freedom to choose is and always has been the ultimate goal.

Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

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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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