U.S. in Pursuit of Canada's Prince of Pot"
By Stephen Leahy
The United States is requesting extradition of Canadian Marc Emery, who sold marijuana seeds over the Internet for 11 years. "I am not a dealer, but a political activist in favor of legalization," Emery told Tierramérica.
TORONTO, (Tierramérica).- Canadian Marc Emery, known as the "Prince of Pot", says the U.S. extradition request hanging over him for selling marijuana seeds over the Internet is a "sadistic" move by the George W. Bush administration to silence the drug legalization movement.
"It's a cruel and sadistic (U.S.) government intent on punishing free-thinking people," Emery told Tierramérica. "The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency acts as an all-powerful death squad that fills up prisons and wastes billions of dollars," he said.
Emery's extradition hearing is likely to be held in December, and expected to be granted, given Canada's new Conservative government, which has a staunch anti-drug, pro-U.S. stance. If so, Emery faces more than 20 years in prison.
Always in the spotlight, Emery sold marijuana (Cannabis sativa) seeds over the Internet over an 11-year period, with annual sales reaching three million dollars, by his own account. But he never sold marijuana, even though DEA agents posing as buyers often tried to entice or trick him in to doing so.
His business collapsed in July 2005 when the DEA and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) confiscated all his property and practically everything else related to his seed sales.
Emery says he is not a drug dealer, but a political activist fighting to end the prohibition on marijuana. He is editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine and the leader of the British Colombia Marijuana Party, a registered political party in that west coast province.
The Prince of Pot has given more than four million dollars of his seed profits to pay the legal fees of pot growers fighting prosecution and to help organize conferences in favor of drug legalization.
The latest such event took place in the Canadian city of Montreal the second week of May, in parallel to the 2006 International Drug Enforcement Conference organized by the DEA and the RCMP and attended by police and drug enforcement officials from more than 80 countries.
The DEA and RCMP were invited to participate in a counter-symposium called "Can We Talk?" They declined, just as they declined to be interviewed for this story.
Taking part in the alternative event were some notable speakers like Argentine Judge Martín Vázquez Acuñas, Canadian judge Jerry Paradis, law professors, attorneys and civil rights activists.
"The war on drugs is not working. It's broken and it needs to be fixed," said Terry Nelson, a Texas police officer for more than 30 years who arrested many drug dealers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The best way to fix the problem is to legalize everything from marijuana up to hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin, he said in media reports.
"Prohibition of drugs has been a failure. New ways need to be explored, " agreed Marc-Boris St-Maurice, executive director of NORML-Canada, a group advocating the legalization of marijuana that helped organize the counter-symposium.
"Legalization and government regulation of drugs is what most here at our meeting believe is the way to go," said St-Maurice.
Many also agree that the prosecution of Emery is part of an attempt to quash the legalization movement.
The seed seller has been arrested 21 times and jailed 17 times. His latest arrest was in July 2005 -- when his property was confiscated.
"Marc Emery Direct was the largest marijuana seed business in the world with 1.5 to three million dollars in annual sales," Emery says proudly. His seed catalogue featured 540 varieties of marijuana from all around the world. "We had all the types people liked: ones with different leaf color, tall or short varieties, frost and cold hardy ones."
A network of independent seed breeders mainly from Canada obtained seeds from other countries and bred them for unique characteristics. Emery's customers made their selection from his seed catalogue and sent in their orders with payment in the form of a postal money order. The seeds were mailed in a small, standard business envelopes with piece of corrugated plastic inside to hold the seeds in place. The seeds were treated with oil to hide their odor.
"Customs officials never found a single envelope and I've almost never heard of anyone getting caught by police as a result of buying seeds online," Emery said.
The "Prince of Pot" never kept records of his estimated 140,000 customers or the seed growers, but he never hid what he did for a living. He paid over a half million in taxes on his sales even though selling marijuana and its seeds is illegal in Canada.
When medical use of marijuana became legal here a few years ago, government health officials recommended Emery as a source of seeds, he said.
The government now grows its own seeds. Although Emery was fined for seed selling, "no one has ever gone to jail in Canada for selling seeds."
Things are different in the United States. A friend of Emery's is serving a 30-year sentence in the central southern state of Oklahoma for growing 200 plants.
Towards the end of last year, an independent opinion poll showed that 58 percent of the Canadians surveyed opposed the extradition to the United States, and Emery says even more oppose it today. "My arrest has been politically motivated."
* Stephen Leahy is a Tierramérica contributor.