High Crimes, or A Tokin' Figure?

Marijuana activist Marc Emery smokes pot outside police headquarters in Toronto and, below, shows off his Vancouver bookstore. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has targeted Emery for extradition as a drug kingpin.
Marijuana activist Marc Emery smokes pot outside police headquarters in Toronto and, below, shows off his Vancouver bookstore. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has targeted Emery for extradition as a drug kingpin. (By Vince Talotta -- The Toronto Star)

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By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 18, 2006

VANCOUVER

Sweet marijuana smoke tumbles down the steps from "the Vapor Lounge," a corner of Marc Emery's bookstore where customers toke up at will.

"We get high with everybody," Emery says, shrugging. "This is a pilgrimage spot, and people come here from all over the world. We get high."

Illegal? Yes.

So were the seeds he used to keep in a case in the store, with exotic names like Afghan Dream and Chemo Grizzly. So was the booming business he ran, complete with glossy seed catalogues describing the subtle and sublime nuances of his varieties. ("Nebula: Fruity flavor and scent. Transcendental buzz. Harvest outdoor.") So, for that matter, are the other marijuana businesses that have sprouted up in the block around his Vancouver bookstore. The street is nicknamed "Vansterdam," with pot-hazy cafes, headshops filled with pipes and bongs, and neon signs advertising illegal seed sales.

Until recently, nobody much cared, it seemed. The police hadn't bothered to come around for eight years. Before that, they busted Emery for seed sales and raided him four times. But he just got fined -- once with "a nice speech from the judge saying what a nice person I was and how marijuana probably shouldn't be illegal," Emery says -- and the police stopped trying.

In truth, Emery hated being ignored. He tried to stir up notoriety. Every year, he filled out his income taxes listing his occupation as "Marijuana Seed Vendor," paying heftily and honestly, he says, on his multimillion-dollar business. The Canadian Revenue Service never questioned him.

He told the Canada post office he was getting and sending his seeds through the mail. They never stopped delivery. He started the B.C. Marijuana Party, fielded 79 candidates in 2001, and ran repeatedly for local and federal offices. He never won.

He broadcast "Pot-TV" on the Internet, entertained politicians, and openly funded marches, lawsuits and marijuana-legalization drives from Arizona to Israel to Washington, D.C.

When it was too quiet at home, he would go somewhere to rattle up a pro-pot demonstration. He would light up a fat joint in front of a police station, daring the cops to arrest him.

Twenty-one times they did. Usually he got off, or was released after a night in jail, or fined. His longest stretch was 61 days in jail in 2004, ordered by a Saskatoon judge clearly irked at Emery's in-your-face apologia. No big deal, Emery says. He read the Bible behind bars.

Then came the DEA.


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