Montreal, April 15, 2008 • No 255




Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is QL's English Editor.




by Bradley Doucet

          Marc Emery is the founder and publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine. He is also the leader of the B.C. Marijuana Party. Over the years, he has challenged a variety of unjust laws, from limits to free speech and obscenity laws to regulations about stores opening on Sundays to, of course, laws restricting the sale of marijuana. In a recent video address to the Western Standard, he said, "For 29 years, I have been attacking the government's regulations and laws that restrict human action and human thought and human freedom here in Canada."


          In 1994, he started his company: Marc Emery Direct Marijuana Seeds. Between 1994 and 2005 he gave away over $4,000,000 to activist groups across the world seeking peaceful political change, paying for class action suits and ballot initiatives, and getting people out of jail by paying for bail and lawyers. For over a decade, Emery operated his business in Canada, openly and transparently, declaring all of his income and paying all required taxes on that income. Then on July 29, 2005, his offices were raided by Vancouver police on behalf of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). As a result of that raid, he is facing extradition to the United States where he could be sentenced to life in prison for selling marijuana seeds and using the profits to finance marijuana legalization activities. It is almost unheard of for anyone to do any amount of prison time in Canada for such activities.

          QL's English Editor, Bradley Doucet, interviewed Mr. Emery by telephone on April 3, 2008. Emery is understandably angry at the U.S. and Canadian governments for their attempts to take away his freedom and for their roles in the Drug War more generally, but he does not seem to have any regrets. Below, he brings us up to speed on his extradition case, tells us how Ayn Rand and the Austrian economists changed his life, and why Ron Paul "is gonna kick some butt." He also gives us his opinion on why not everyone is in favour of drug legalization, why drugs are not the biggest threat to children, why fighting the Drug War is so important – and why he's a happy warrior.


Let me start by asking you a bit about the recent news. What was the deal you had worked out with the U.S. government?

Marc Emery: Last fall my lawyers started inquiring as to whether a deal could be made and they responded in writing at the end of the year that there could be a deal. And basically we had articulated and agreed to, between the U.S. Justice Department and myself through our lawyers, a five-year term in custody, mostly in Canada but about six to eight months in the United States – a five-year term of custody on a ten-year sentence. Now of course, that's pretty large, a ten-year sentence for an act where there's no victim, there's no complainant, and it's all about ideology. We're talking about seeds that were sent to consenting adults to do with what they may, seeds that contain no particular drug quality.

Everybody in Canada has known what I've been doing. It's been pretty obvious, from my income tax statements that say "marijuana seed vendor," to all the political activity we have financed through the giving away of this money, up to $4,000,000 from 1994 to 2005. So, everybody kind of knew what was going on, everybody was kind of complicit, in the U.S. and in Canada. You know, the Canadian government has made money from me, the U.S. postal service happily delivered my seeds for ten, twelve years and, I mean, they could've stopped doing that. Same with the Canadian postal service, and I used U.S. postal and Canadian money orders for all my transactions. They knew that that was going on for ten or twelve years, so everybody was content to be involved, from governments to government institutions to agencies to the people that took the money. I never met a person in all those years who turned down any of that $4 million: not a politician, not a charity, not an organization, not a group. Nobody said, "Marc, I'm not down with how you got this money, through this seed-selling thing."

So substantially, the DEA notices that I am effective, arrogant, mouthy, I'm always speaking about what I'm doing, I'm selling seeds, I'm using this money to subvert the government's War On Drugs, thwart the U.S. Justice Department, etc., etc. I say it on radio. I say it on the same stage as Prime Ministers. I've spoken on the same day, on the same stage, as John Turner and Kim Campbell, former Prime Ministers. So, you know, I've spoken to many high-powered audiences. I've spoken to Senate committees. I've spoken to many Members of Parliament at paid speaking engagements. So Canadians have grown up and are familiar with me and my activities.

I wouldn't even be charged in Canada. I haven't been charged with anything other than passing a joint in the last eight years. So all of a sudden, I'm to be extradited, and face this 30-, 40-, 50-, 100-year sentence in the United States on these charges, and the DEA is calling me the largest drug-trafficking kingpin in all of Canada, crazy things like, "responsible for more marijuana produced than any other person brought before the U.S. criminal justice system." Well, I've been a bookseller all my life, so I have led the most remarkable double life if all that's true.

And I find it interesting that after $10 million and many years of investigation, the head of the Hell's Angels was acquitted the other day, but you know what? He got charged in Canada. I thought that was interesting. I mean, if the guy has done any business, he's probably done a little business in the United States, but he got charged in Canada, and he got acquitted in Canada, whereas I don't even get a trial or any kind of substantially evidentiary-based hearing in Canada at all. I just get whisked away off to the United States to face their judge, their juries, their stupid laws, their federal courts that don't allow you to introduce anything, and their completely crooked so-called justice system. I mean, we've outsourced our justice system to the United States by letting me be extradited.

QL: Now you're a Canadian citizen, you ran your business here in Canada…

Emery: Yes, I'm a Canadian citizen and I paid my taxes on this. I mean, I'm a big fan of Thomas Jefferson and the original Declaration of Independence, but America's become a tyrant state. One in every hundred Americans is in jail; in Canada, it's only one in every 725 Canadians. We have a completely different country, with a completely different regime, and they are heading into a state of barbarism. The United States is on a terrible, inexorable decline over the next twenty or thirty years, and either we go down with them or we struggle to stay afloat.

QL: Largely because of the Drug War, you mean?

Emery: Well, the Drug War and the Iraq War are going to destroy America, because you cannot imprison your way out of a crisis. Imprisonment costs money, it ruins people, it destroys families, it saps the morale of a nation. If you've got 2.4 million people in jail throughout the United States, you've got a huge industry in warehousing people and treating them badly. And you're obviously manufacturing laws. Why does the United States have seven times more people in its jails than Canada by population – 74 times more on an absolute basis, but seven times more on a per capita basis? Are they more evil than us? No, they've got a state that is out of control, that has a prison industry that's profiting by the punishment and cruelty towards fellow Americans, and they have become a tyrannical state. They're a rogue government, and they are inflicting this pain all around the world.

QL: The American government did cut a deal with you, though, right?

Emery: Yes, it required the Canadian government to merely rubber-stamp it, but they did not want to, because they did not feel they wanted to aid me in any particular way in dealing with this extradition – and of course, they would prefer to see me gone. They know I've been very influential in Canada, and have created quite a change in the environment, and Stephen Harper has clearly said he wants a war against our culture. He wants to reverse the culture of the 1960s, which he still regards as being the chief enemy to conservative ideology. You know, he says he first became aware of the drug problem, recently, when his son started playing his Sgt. Pepper album. Can you think of anybody who is older in spirit, more decrepit of mind, than somebody who's still harking back to the dangers of Sgt. Pepper? That album is 41 years old! And he still can't get the 60s out of his head. Stephen Harper is a
150-year-old man in a 50-year-old body.

QL: Is the deal truly dead? Is there any hope of reviving it?

Emery: Well, yes, and then all of a sudden after I offer to do that – and the reason I took that offer was by and large to spare my two co-accused any jail time – since the deal has been refused by the Canadian government, my co-accused have been offered three-month plea deals. If they turn themselves in to the United States, they'll get a three-month sentence in custody and perhaps even be out sooner than that. So I'm kind of glad I didn't take the deal now, because – and you're the first person I'm telling this to – substantially, I thought they were facing five, ten, fifteen years in jail. Okay, well that was worth me, you know, sucking on a lemon and going to jail for several years to save them, but if it's only three months they're looking at, they can put up with it. That's not an onerous burden, some period of time that can't be dealt with, so all of a sudden I'm thinking, "What? I was willing to sacrifice myself and they're only facing three months?"

So, right now, the United States government is negotiating with my co-accused, and so I would much rather fight the extradition. If I'm the only one whose life is at stake, then I'm much more prone to being a fighter than someone who's going to make a concession to save others if they don't need to be saved. I'm content to battle the United States in an extradition fight, and people can go to if they want to help us out, or And I think that the courts and this Canadian government would be making a tremendous mistake politically by allowing me to be extradited. I think there would be significant and volatile reaction to that, and I think that would really harm the Conservative Party's reputation as a defender of sovereignty.

QL: Now, you have a court date next week. What happens there?

Emery: On the 9th of April, yes. Well, we'll get a week set aside sometime in the fall to have our extradition hearing, and that's where we'll have to present as many good ideas as we can. And we're restricted on what we can introduce into court. The treaties the Canadian government has signed with the United States are very bad treaties, and allow the United States to sort of operate Canada as a quasi-legal jurisdiction of the United States. So it's not a trial, it's just a hearing, there are very low thresholds of evidence, there's a lot of things we can't introduce, and there's a lot of people we can't question who have a hand in this indictment. [Editor's note: According to The Vancouver Sun, the hearing was set for the first week of December 2008, with another week to follow in February 2009. There is also another court date later this month to review bail conditions.]

QL:  And what would happen if you were charged here in Canada? What kind of penalties would you face for these supposed crimes?

Emery: Well, as it turns out, two weeks ago, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that a man on Vancouver Island who had seven pounds of seeds for sale, and was advertising them through High Times and had samples of the marijuana they produced – and so here he was in business, advertising in U.S. magazines, shipping to the U.S. but not charged in the U.S., charged in Canada – and he got one month in jail, and a year's probation. The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that was fair, and that remains the only review court decision to ever cite any kind of jail term for any amount of selling of seeds. So, if I were charged in Canada, it's quite possible I could get maybe up to three months in jail or six months in jail, possibly. It's never happened before in Canada, but certainly, if you could convincingly describe me as the most successful and arrogant of them all, you might get that.

There are other people, though, who have sold more seeds than me, and you have to bear in mind that seeds aren't illegal in most of the world. In Britain, Holland, Spain, seeds are sold openly on the Internet, in magazines, in stores – just like they are in Canada. In Canada we have over 100 retail outlets selling seeds either by mail or Internet or in stores, so it's not like I'm the only one. There's four stores selling seeds to anybody who comes by and asks for them within a block of my store downtown in Vancouver. I'm now prohibited from selling seeds as part of my bail conditions, so we're no longer doing that, and I don't particularly miss it, but I want people to understand that it is extremely common. And there's no drug quality to these seeds. They're identical in shape, size, and in every way to the billions and billions of cannabis seeds we make in Manitoba every year that are processed into cereals and breads and grains and various products like hemp chips and hemp oils.

So, there are hundreds of people doing what I'm doing, but there's no politics involved in what they're doing. They don't give the money away like I gave the money away, nor do they even pay their taxes on it, I suspect – like I did. I think everybody's benefited by my doing what I've been doing, except the government, so the fact that the U.S. government and the Canadian government have sort of decided they're my enemies is no surprise to me. But the Canadian people hold it in their hands to reverse this. They can put enough pressure on the Conservative government, especially people who voted for the Conservative Party in the last election. They have a lot of power in telling the Conservative Party not to extradite me, to keep me in Canada. They should encourage the Crown attorneys to charge me with the same things I'm charged with in the United States, and that would negate the extradition. Then a Canadian judge would decide under Canadian law, in a Canadian trial, what punishment I should face. And I would agree that at least that would be consistent with Canadian law and the Charter of Rights under which I'm guaranteed these rights.

QL:  What did I read recently in the National Post, that one in three Canadians has at least tried marijuana?

Emery: Well, they say 16% have used it within the last year, which is about 5 million Canadians, and about one third – forty percent it was closer to, really – have said they've used it at least once.

QL:  At least once, yes. Why isn't everyone in favour of drug legalization? It seems like a no-brainer to me. What are some people afraid of?

Emery: Well, people interpret something being legal with moral condoning, and the thing is that you don't do that. Just because French fries are legal doesn't mean we should eat them. They're bad for you. Just because guns are legal doesn't mean you should own one. Just because fast cars go 260 kilometres an hour doesn't mean you should drive at that speed. Lots of things are legal in life that are bad for you and are inadvisable, but the whole point of being an adult in a free and democratic society is to be able to make these choices about what's good for our own life, and then suffering the consequences of our own decisions. And I'm a big believer in that. I think we learn the most when we suffer the consequences of our own decisions – as opposed to the fact that the state has no inherent moral right to pass these laws.

But you know who's in support of prohibition typically? People over 65, who typically say they're conservative, and mothers. Mothers of children tend to be very reactionary, and anybody who's described as using drugs is thought to be a threat to their children. Although in reality, the biggest threat to any child is usually the parent. The parents, if they are bad parents, inflict more damage and harm than any stranger, any teacher, any guidance counsellor, any Scout master, any abuser. Nobody else has the impact on a child's life that their own parents have. And when I was treating drug addicts, of the 60 people I treated for hardcore drug addiction between 2002 and 2004, I found that almost all, without exception, did not have their biological father in their life for all or part of their childhood. So we're blaming the wrong people in the case of drug abuse, much of the time. We shouldn't be blaming the drug user, we should be trying to help them, but we should be looking to the people who brought them into this world, and how they were brought into this world, and exacting some responsibility from those people.

"Lots of things are legal in life that are bad for you and are inadvisable, but the whole point of being an adult in a free and democratic society is to be able to make these choices about what's good for our own life, and then suffering the consequences of our own decisions."

QL:  What effect do you think drug legalization would have on crime prevention?

Emery: Well, drug legalization would end the gangs, because the thing is although gangs do other things that are illegal for money, there is nothing as profitable as drugs. And 70% of all drug crime in Canada is based around marijuana, so if we legalize marijuana, we take about $7 billion that's currently being funnelled through organized gangs and people operating in the black market and bring that out in the open, so that it's taxed, GST and PST; so that it's sold in quantified, visible amounts; so that it's not tainted with anything, it's actually pure marijuana that's graded, and everybody knows what they're getting. And then all that money is flowing into legitimate, above board industries that we can all see and are transparent, and that are paying their taxes. I think everybody would be happy with that model. I think that depriving organized crime of billions of dollars is desirable, and it can be done immediately with the stroke of a pen.

And you know I'm not some young, punky kid saying this. That's what the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs of Canada's Senate said in 2002: that the continued prohibition of cannabis jeopardizes the health and wellbeing of Canadians much more than the substance itself does. So a bunch of old men, all over sixty, all said that prohibition is harmful to Canadians, that it causes problems, that it causes crime.

And one of the things people need to be aware of is that as long as drugs are illegal, we attract tens of thousands of teenagers into the illegal drug market every year. They would rather do that than work at McDonald's and get a job at eight, ten dollars an hour, because there's so much money to be made. If we legalize it, regulate it, tax it, put it in the hands of regular business people, regular farmers, then we're going to see a massive reduction in the number of young people attracted to drugs generally. If there's no money in it, then they're not gonna be that interested in it. For a lot of them, that's the thing that lures people into using drugs: the profits involved in selling drugs. A lot of people smoke marijuana for fun, but you know what? To get really involved in drug transactions and selling and buying, you need to have a powerful profit motive, and that would evaporate in the black market if they were all legal. You could end so much prostitution by making drugs legal. You could end all these gangs and all these shootings and all these urban killings. So many of them would evaporate overnight if we took away the causes that make people carry guns to protect drugs and to protect money.

Things get worse under prohibition because the same things exist, but then they exist without any transparency, they exist in the underground, they are hidden away. We cannot deal with the problems in our society if they are hidden from view. And that's the great thing about an open society, and ultimately legalizing and regulating these products, is that we can see what's going on.

QL:  You mentioned in the video address you gave for the Western Standard that you had been influenced by Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises?

Emery: In fact, my first column in the Western Standard shows up tomorrow [April 4], and I mention my conversion to Ayn Rand in 1979, and how significant and influential that has been, that all my actions since that time have been based on the philosophy I learned by reading her works. And of course, I read everything by Ayn Rand, The Objectivist, The Objectivist Newsletter, The Ayn Rand Letter, all her books, etc., etc. And she's certainly been the most profound influence in my life.

QL:  And you mentioned Ludwig von Mises as well?

Emery: Well, then afterwards I started reading the entire Austrian economic canon of Hayek, Mises, and their acolytes, and then Milton Friedman of course, and some of the conservative thinkers of the day. But mostly Bastiat, Mises, Hayek, people in that school. Now, I didn't realize that was a relatively unknown school back in those days. I started reading in 1980 and now I see Ron Paul has in a large way popularized the Austrian School of economics, so I'm very happy about that. I'm a huge admirer of Ron Paul. We've supported him for over a year and a half. We've written three editorials promoting him. We have an 11"x17" poster in the centre of Cannabis Culture magazine this month, saying "Ron Paul: Champion of the Constitution." We have him on our front cover of our current issue, encouraging people to get involved in the Ron Paul Revolution.

And I think Ron Paul is going to be incredibly influential in the November Election – not so much as the Republican nominee, which he probably won't be, but because he has five and a half million in the bank, 400,000 people on his email list, and he's endorsed Bob Barr for the Libertarian nomination. He could always swing all that money and all that influence and that email list and those 400,000 zealots and converts over to Bob Barr's Libertarian campaign if the Republican Party doesn't play ball with Ron Paul. So it shall be quite interesting to see how John McCain gets payback for being rude to all the Ron Paul people in the upcoming November election. He's gonna get his ass kicked and those Ron Paul people are gonna help kick his ass.

QL:  He certainly seems to be raising the awareness of libertarian ideas.

Emery: Well, Ron Paul has increased the status of these ideas. You know, he's got zealots; he's got people with intensity. Those people will do stuff if he tells them to. So when he tells those 400,000 people to call their congressmen, it's gonna be a very busy day on Capitol Hill, let me tell you. And remember, he doesn't need to be re-elected in the fall. He has already got the Republican nomination for his congressional seat, and there is no Democrat running against him. So, he is in for another two and a half years. Boy, he is gonna get a lot more polite responses from his fellow congressmen than he's ever had before. That guy now has more clout than anybody but about ten congressmen in the entire House of Representatives.

John McCain is gonna get clobbered in the November election, and Ron Paul's gonna help him get clobbered because McCain is a warmongering old fool who doesn't understand anything about economics. He's completely unqualified. He's been an angry guy with a chip on his shoulder since he was in high school, and it's remarkable that he's even gotten the Republican nomination. But when you see that about three times more people voted for Democrat Barack Obama in the primaries than voted for John McCain, you know that any Republican is gonna get his ass kicked by Barack Obama in this fall election. So I think it's time for Ron Paul to show his clout, support the Libertarian Party candidate, Bob Barr, who once was a Republican. And it will be a very bad year for Republicans as they see desertions and all sorts of bad things happen to their party. The Republican Party will come out at the end of this year worse than they've been in 50 years. And the Ron Paul people are gonna have a hand in it, and they're gonna help remake that party. That party's not coming back to life again unless it becomes a party of fiscal conservatives.

QL:  Yes, there's a battle between the libertarian wing and the religious wing.

Emery: Well, yes, the God people. The God people don't care if you go a billion, trillion, jillion dollars in debt as long as you say you're against abortion and you think that marriage is a thing between a man and a woman. Well, then all other things can go to hell as far as the religious people are concerned, 'cause if you mouth those two things, you're golden. And of course, that is so idiotic and absurd that only one result can come from that kind of support, and that is disaster.

QL:  There are some members of the freedom movement who more or less agree with libertarian ideas – people like John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods – who agree the Drug War is wrong, is harmful, but who don't think we should focus on it. Mackey wrote, in an article for Liberty magazine, "Aligning ourselves with these issues [drugs, prostitution, etc.] has hurt our brand tremendously…" He thinks as libertarians, we should focus on things like reforming education and health care.

Emery: No, because those are incremental things that would take decades and generations to change, whereas people are going to jail every day. Remember, what are people going to jail for? The things that need to be rectified the soonest and most urgently are the things that put people in jail unjustly. Are people going to jail for homeschooling? Aw, there might be a couple of dozen in a year. But let's face it, people aren't going to jail for homeschooling – although, I'll tell you, I nearly went to jail for homeschooling my kids. But typically it doesn't happen, just like people can get all upset about the gun registry in Canada, but hey, is anybody going to jail for the guns they haven't registered yet? No, they are not. So let us get realistic about who is suffering from the pernicious powers of the state, and who is not suffering so much. In a general way, because we all pay taxes, we all suffer. But when you go to jail, you suffer particularly and noticeably and cruelly. So I think the most urgent things that any active political movement wants to do is get people out of jail who are there unjustly. And that would be the War on Drugs, and then after that, the damage of the war in Iraq, and you go down the scale as to the harm inflicted on the people and that's the urgency you give it to address.

So, yes we need educational reform, but that could be done with the stroke of a pen, if the parents get a voucher and get to send their kids to whatever school they want. But that's not gonna happen. That's like another ten or twenty years of debate. And ultimately a lot of libertarians don't even believe in the voucher system, like Walter Block and Ron Paul. So you don't have consensus there on how to improve education. The one thing we do know is that state involvement in education makes it very bad. But then, state involvement in everything makes it bad. Some people tell you we shouldn't focus on the Drug War, but when 1.8 million Americans are being arrested every year for the Drug War, is there a more important issue regarding liberty out there? I don't think so. Not even close.

QL:  Martin Masse, editor of Le Quιbιcois Libre, has written an article on reasons to be optimistic about the future of liberty. Do you see reasons to be optimistic?

Emery: I never think about that. I'm just optimistic anyway. Liberty is fun to promote; liberty is necessary to promote. It's an unusual battle that you get to wage, and you know, it's wonderful to be able to say that you waged your entire adult life fighting for liberty, like I have. It's been thirty years since Miss Rand converted me, and I've been trying to make converts around the world and I have made many, many, many converts. I'm sure we achieved our goal of getting thousands of people to join the Ron Paul campaign. We've enlisted tens of thousands of people to the libertarian cause in thirty years, and I've seen my acolytes all over the world do really good things, as I hope I have done from the teachings I received thirty years ago from the Austrian School and from Miss Rand and from all the people I met who were teachers of her ideas.

So, you know, the revolution is fun, the revolution is eternal, the struggle goes on. People ask me, "Marc, do you think pot will ever be legal?" I say, "Yes, well, listen, whenever it is, there'll be some evil bastard trying to prohibit it again, and making the laws so that we have to go to jail come back to force." So, you know what? You might win a battle for liberty, but it's very temporary. The tyrants and the people who seek to oppress us are always out to get control of our lives through the democratic system and so we have to be vigilant at all times. The battle is never won; it's merely waged, and you have to enjoy it. If you don't enjoy the battle, you're not gonna like life, because it's going be a struggle from beginning to end. And it should be. Why should we get freedom for free? We wouldn't appreciate it if we got it that way.

QL:  Maybe that's the problem: we take liberty for granted.

Emery: Aw, we're a bunch of soft people. People, they have comfort, they don't want to give it up. People love comfort, and the older you get, the more comfortable you get. That's why, you know, you've got the older movement people saying, "Aw, we shouldn't deal with drugs." Well, that's because that's a young person's thing. Young people take drugs; old people don't take drugs, typically. Well, they take drugs of a pharmaceutical, prescribed kind. Old people are not in favour of talking about the Drug War politically because that's not where they're at. They're into the health care and the money issues 'cause that's what they've got, and they want to keep it.

QL:  Any final thought you'd like to leave us with?

Emery: No, other than that I'm a happy warrior and I look forward to talking with you again.

QL:  Thank you for your time.