In November 2002, Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery completed his second run for Mayor of Vancouver, Canada’s West Coast cannabis capital. The renowned pot seed merchant placed fifth on the crowded ballot, participating in all major debates and campaigning under the banner of the Vancouver Marijuana Party.
“I gave out thousands of leaflets outside games for our local Vancouver Canucks,” Emery told Cannabis Culture. “I am a big hockey fan and I had them make me a special 420 Canucks jersey. They said I was the only one they would do with a 420, because I am a season’s ticket holder.”
This isn’t Emery’s first foray into pot politics. He is founder and President of the BC Marijuana Party, which fielded candidates in every one of the province’s 79 ridings during the 2000 elections. The new party took part in one of the two major televised leaders debates, and took 3.5% of the total vote.
Emery is also a primary backer of the federal Canadian Marijuana Party, for which he ran as a candidate in the 2000 federal elections. Emery also ran for Mayor of Vancouver once before, in 1996.
Marc Emery is Canada’s most well-known marijuana activist, and among the world’s biggest dealers in marijuana seeds. He is a powerful influence in the global ganja culture and is singlehandedly helping to shape North American marijuana policy. The media has dubbed Emery “The Prince of Pot” and he enjoys the title, dispensing moral and financial support to all the activists that cross his path.
Emery became a full-time pot activist in 1994, when he moved to Vancouver and founded a small store called Hemp BC. At the time, bongs, pipes, and growbooks were all illegal in Canada, and available at few, if any, stores.
Emery broke open the country’s underground paraphernalia industry, and helped dozens of similar stores get started across the nation, wholesaling pipes and hemp products to a growing network of pro-pot businesses. Thanks to Emery’s pioneering efforts and the dedication of those who took up the challenge and followed his lead, Canada now has dozens of hemp stores and head shops, all independently owned but financially and morally committed to the same goal. The law has not changed, but it is now widely ignored.
“Spreading a revolution through retail is probably the niftiest idea that we ever came up with,” says Emery. “It inhibits a marijuana revolution to have a lack of money. With hemp stores, people are disseminating information in a self-sufficient way which puts them in the public sphere. This gets them lots of media attention, access to people, retail advertising, and the business community. You get social acceptance in a completely different way.”
Raids and rebuilding
By the end of 1994 Emery had added a small selection of Dutch marijuana seeds for sale at his store. Emery was inspired by a speech Ben Dronkers of Sensi Seeds made at the 1994 High Times Cannabis Cup. “Ben Dronkers got up and explained that he had been responsible for disseminating millions of seeds, creating millions and millions of marijuana plants!” enthused Emery. “I realized that this was the way to fight this revolution.”
Emery’s Hemp BC store and its over the counter seed business grew dramatically, and he began to get serious media attention. Emery made the front page of the Wall Street Journal in December 1995, leading to a deluge of media attention, and the Vancouver police launching a serious raid one month later in January 1996. Police cleaned out the Hemp BC store, seized Emery’s stash of seeds and charged him with multiple paraphernalia and pot seed related offenses.
Emery re-opened his store the next day, and took a year to slowly rebuild his business. By 1997 he had successfully expanded his store to include a Grow Shop, a Legal Assistance Centre, and the Cannabis Cafe, which featured a custom-built vaporizer built into every table. Yet police returned in December 1997, and then launched multiple raids during 1998, repeatedly seizing all the store’s stock and eventually forcing the store and affiliated businesses to shut down entirely.
Despite the financial devastation and legal challenges, Emery persisted, switching his marijuana seed business to mail-order only, and focusing his efforts on publishing Cannabis Culture magazine. By early 2000 he was successfully expanding again, this time onto the Internet, with the establishment of Pot-TV, the marijuana video channel. Pot-TV now has an archive of over 500 hours of video – about 1000 pot-related shows available for online viewing.
“I’ve been arrested 10 times since 1994, and jailed on eight of those occasions,” explains Emery. “I’ve been found guilty of numerous counts of trafficking in marijuana seeds, but the courts here don’t give me anything more than a reasonable fine. Since I stopped selling seeds over the counter the police seem to have decided I’m not worth the effort, as my seed business hasn’t been raided since 1998. I continue to carry the world’s largest selection of marijuana seeds available by mail-order.”
Seed sales pioneer
Before Emery began his marijuana seed business, pot seeds were not commercially available in Canada at all. Now there are a dozen businesses which offer mail-order seeds, and a half-dozen more who do over-the-counter sales. Yet no single dealer offers the wide variety of strains and companies which Emery continues to provide.
“I’ve sold about four million seeds,” claims Emery. “That represents tens of millions of plants because most of these plants are grown out from seed and then cuttings are taken and hundreds of copies are made. There’s just no way the government has destroyed as much pot as we’ve created. So it’s possible that one person can undo the evil of several thousand people. You should never underestimate your power.”
“Unlike most other seed dealers, I use my real name and I’m easy to find. I’ve been selling marijuana seeds for eight years, sending seeds to growers all over the world, including diverse places like the Czech Republic, Japan, Australia, England, South Africa, and even Korea. Business is better every year. If I wasn’t honest I’d have been run out of business or killed a long time ago.”
Unlike many businessmen in the marijuana movement, Emery puts his money where his mouth is. “I redirect the money I make on seeds back into the movement,” explains Emery. “I am totally committed to ending the war on marijuana.”
Emery is a major financial backer of almost every pro-pot effort in North America and many more around the world. Emery has funded almost every significant Canadian cannabis court challenge, including the major constitutional challenge coming to Canada’s Supreme Court this Spring, which could rewrite Canada’s marijuana prohibition. Between 2000 and 2002, Emery invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in election campaigning for the Canadian Marijuana Party, BC Marijuana Party and the Vancouver Marijuana Party.
Emery has also made significant donations to various pro-pot ballot initiatives in US states such as California, Nevada, Alaska and Arizona, as well as buying full-page ads to support the election campaign of the Legalize Cannabis Party in New Zealand.
Other major donations to the marijuana cause include efforts as diverse as helping out refugee activists like Renee Boje and Steve Kubby, donating to Australia’s Nimbin Hemp Embassy, supporting Russian cannabis researchers, aiding American drug-war prisoners, financing Canadian compassion clubs, backing the worldwide Million Marijuana March, and helping dozens of individual activists around the world with cash donations.
His tireless activism has garnered Emery some serious media attention. “I’ve been profiled in Time magazine, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, USA Today, the Sunday Times of England, the Asian Wall Street Journal, even the National Enquirer, plus Mexico’s national newspaper, all of Canada’s major newspapers and TV stations, and countless other radio, TV, newspaper and magazine interviews I’ve given over the years,” explains Emery. “In all of these forums I have always put forth a clear denunciation of prohibition and the many beneficial uses of marijuana and hemp.”
Long before he got involved in marijuana, Emery was always an activist for social justice and civil liberties. In 1975, at the age of 16, he opened a bookstore in his hometown of London, Ontario, which he ran for 18 years before coming west to British Columbia.
“During this time I did dozens of freedom crusades,” explained Emery. “That was the whole idea of the bookshop; to allow me to forward all sorts of unusual civil rights and individual liberties issues that no one else seemed to do. I soon realized why – they were all endlessly time consuming, money consuming and very discouraging.
“For two years I went out four or five nights a week to distribute pamphlets in the city, to get people against a tax-paid sports event or what have you. I was also constantly defending variety stores that sold explicit literature. I sold the banned 2 Live Crew CD. Every kind of culture or information that was under assault, our store would defend it or go to court, or do something to draw attention to it.”
Emery broke Ontario’s laws banning shopping on Sundays for eight straight weeks, a different way each time. One Sunday he gave away books for free and still got charged. After eight weeks of being charged every Sunday, he got convicted.
“I refused to pay the fine,” explained Emery, “and I was sent to jail. You get $30 a day off the fine for every day you spend in jail, and the public raised $380 of the $500 fine, so that was enough to get me out of jail after four days. They dropped the other seven charges because I was getting too much publicity.”
Emery also tried to get charged for selling banned marijuana literature from his bookstore. “I gave away High Times magazine in front of the police department. Hundreds of people rallied to get charged for that, but we didn’t. They refused to charge me.”
Rattling the Czar
Emery hasn’t slowed down over the years, if anything he is managing to bring his brand of in-your-face activism to higher levels than ever before.
In late November 2002, shortly after the Vancouver election, US Drug Czar John Walters paid a visit to the city. Walters was scheduled to speak before a $500 per table luncheon sponsored by the Vancouver Board of Trade.
Emery bought tickets for a table and invited fellow activists like David Malmo-Levine and Chris Bennett to attend.
Emery walked up to Walter and asked if he could have his photo taken together. Walters asked who Emery was, and when Emery smiled and replied “I’m publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine” Walters turned red and quickly backed away.
With secret service agents at every entrance, eyeing the room behind dark sunglasses, Emery and his crew sat at their table, ate their lunch and politely booed America’s highest anti-drug official as he took the microphone.
Emery, Bennett and Malmo-Levine called out “liar” and other short comments while Walters spoke about America’s high rate of “marijuana addicts,” and how tolerant “harm reduction” policies would destroy Vancouver.
A nearby table consisted of all police officers, who were eager to hear the drug czar speak and resented the presence of the potheads. “Why don’t you shut up?” asked officer Toby Hinton angrily, but it was to no avail.
The officers were also likely upset that Emery had recently filed an official complaint against the Vancouver Police. Emery had complained because these same officers had improperly used a police car to pick up American anti-drug crusader Betty Sembler and drive her to an anti-drug conference. Officers had also put information from their private database onto an overhead display at the conference (CC#39, Anti-pot conference panned). Emery’s formal complaints were eventually dismissed.
The showdown between Pot Prince and Drug Czar concluded peacefully, with a shaken Walters finishing his speech and being hustled off. Emery went outside to smoke joints with the handful of protestors holding anti-drug war signs in front of the building.
The next day, Emery reveled in the attention. “We got more media coverage from this one event than my whole campaign for mayor!” exclaimed Emery while looking through the papers and answering calls for interviews.
Vancouver’s past and present Mayors were both at Walters’ speech, both strong proponents of harm reduction and safe injection sites for heroin users. In interviews after the luncheon, new Mayor Larry Campbell questioned Walters’ statements, and said that he still intended to continue with his plans to introduce more tolerant drug policies.
Vancouver pot activists celebrated when the Hemp BC location was re-opened in 2001, as the storefront of the BC Marijuana Party. “I’m glad to see the old location up and running again,” smiles Emery. “As a political party we don’t need to get a city business license, so the municipal bureaucrats can’t mess with us anymore.”
“I had the pleasure of testifying before the Canadian Senate Committee which has recently recommended total legalization of marijuana,” says Emery, “and I got to meet with and even interview MP Randy White, the head of the Parliamentary Committee on Drugs which recommended decriminalizing personal possession. Plus, I just had the honor of interviewing Tommy Chong for Pot-TV! So there’s fun to be had even while we fight the forces of oppression.”
When asked to explain why he devotes his time and money to this altruistic cause, Emery waxes philosophic.
“You have to know with absolute certainty that what you are pursuing is the righteous and the good and the proper and the just, and that the people we are dealing with are evil and wrong, and as long as they’re in control this world will never be a safe and moral place to be,” declares Emery solemnly.
“I advocate the position of liberty, the position of justice, the position of non-violent freedom for all people to do what they want, to put in their body what they want, and to act in a manner that is suitable to them without interference from others, especially their government.
“The war on marijuana and other sacred plants is the most important issue of our time. I want to see drug-peace in my lifetime. I hope that we can make Canada into a beacon of tolerance and freedom for our American neighbors, and for all pot-people around the globe. Together, we will overgrow the government!”