Marc Emery on Prison, Politics & the Pursuit of Happiness (Print Version)
by Bradley Doucet*
Le Québécois Libre,
September 15, 2009, No 270.

Marc Emery is the founder and publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine. In 1994, he started 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 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, first interviewed Mr. Emery on April 3, 2008. The two spoke again last Friday, September 11, 2009, just weeks before Emery is to be sentenced by the Seattle Federal Court of Ricardo Martinez. Below is an edited transcript in which Emery talks about his case, the looming Canadian election this fall, drug legalization in Argentina, why Barack Obama won’t end the Drug War, Ron Paul in 2012—and why he’s still a happy warrior.

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QL: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me again. How about we start with some good news?

Emery: All right, what have you got?

QL: Well, I think your two co-accused were each recently given probation, is that right?

Emery: Yeah, they got two years probation, which was originally going to be in exchange for me going to jail, largely in Canada, for five years. But then when that deal went sour because of the Canadian government, they got the same deal anyway, so that was good. But then my deal remained the same, except now I have to serve the time mostly in the U.S., it would appear. I’ll be turning myself in on September 28th, and I’ll actually be in jail in Canada for a couple of weeks, two to four weeks, and then the Justice Minister has to sign the extradition notice. Now the interesting thing is, that’ll be during an election campaign.

QL: Do you expect any surprises there?

Emery: Well, I don’t expect any surprises. I’ll just be curious to see if he’ll sign it during an election, or whether he’ll wait till afterwards, until we see who the Justice Minister is. But then, he might want to do it to boost his “tough on crime” bona fides. They’re fairly arrogant, the Conservatives, so they might do that.

QL: What is the basic outline of the deal that you’re cutting?

Emery: Well, I plead guilty to one charge of distribution of marijuana and I get a five-year sentence in the United States, instead of three counts, which all had mandatory minimums of five and ten years to them. That would have been twenty years minimum, and possibly much longer anyway, since they’re saying I’m the largest marijuana producer in the history of the U.S. criminal justice system, so you know that’s not going to be at the low end of things. So I’m doing this five-year deal just to avoid getting maybe a fifty-year sentence next year if I were to oppose it. The thing is, the Canadian government has never refused an American request for extradition, so there’s no historical precedent out there that suggests I have a hope in hell of fighting it.

QL: I see. What can people do to help Marc Emery at this point?

Emery: Well, already thousands of people have written the judge—they’re swamped with letters down there, they’ve told me. Now, Canada and the United States have a treaty that provides for the automatic transfer of all Canadian prisoners in America and vice versa. The difficulty there is, normally that would happen within six to twelve months, but the Conservative government has stopped accepting prison transfers for people convicted of marijuana crimes. Prisoners that are caught smuggling marijuana, and what have you, are still stuck in the United States and not being granted prison transfers.

So, a lot of lobbying will need to be done to convince the Minister of Public Safety that I should be brought back. Now, they do hate me with a passion! Even Stephen Harper dislikes me, and people have told me that, you know, there’s no love lost between Rob Nicholson and me, or between Stephen Harper and me. So Canadians will really need to lobby the Federal government, the Public Safety Minister, and our Department of Corrections to bring me back to a Canadian jail. Because once in a Canadian jail, as a first time, non-violent Federal offender, I could be on day parole within a year, and full parole within two years. Whereas in the United States, I’d have to stay there four years and three months before I got out in any other advanced way.

QL: Would a Liberal minority be better for you?

Emery: Well, that’s really important, actually, and my wife’s gonna emphasize that during the election, that you can actually vote my freedom. Because all prison transfers were automatic under the Liberals. They just happened without any political decision making, whereas the Conservatives are reviewing each case one by one. So therefore, Conrad Black’s partners, Radler and them, all got transferred back, but a guy convicted of smuggling cocaine or smuggling marijuana isn’t being transferred back.

QL: The Cato Institute released a study this year looking at Portugal’s 2001 decriminalization of drug possession, showing clearly that none of the nightmare scenarios feared by opponents had materialized. Now, just last month, Argentina seems to have started down the same path.

Emery: That’s even more significant than Portugal, because Argentina’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that all people have a right to drugs as long as they’re not hurting others, and that’s really important. And that can’t be overturned. There are no dissenting judges to ever bring it up again. It was unanimous, and the Parliament in Argentina is now drafting legislation to allow for the distribution of all these substances. Now that it’s legal to possess them, the government’s making the move there to legally distribute them, to follow through with that. So that’s the most significant thing that’s ever happened in modern times, what’s happened in Argentina—much more important than Mexico’s very tiny decriminalization of some substances in small amounts. Even Portugal doesn’t provide for a legal distribution apparatus, merely a tolerant regime for people possessing drugs. Portugal is an improvement, but it doesn’t satisfy a lot of things that the Argentina decision will satisfy.

QL: Are other countries going to catch on, maybe take it even further?

Emery: Well, I think Evo Morales in Bolivia will do anything he can to piss off the United States, so I think they’ll legalize coca production shortly, in a very official way. And I think you’re gonna find that Peru will consider similar measures for similar reasons, too, and to undermine the black market and bring these things up into their taxed realm of government. See, because those governments are further away from the Drug War, they can see the legalized drug market as a potential for income and savings in policing. Whereas in the United States, because they’re allowed to have such incredible deficits at both the State and Federal levels, nobody really cares about the unsustainability of the Drug War. They don’t consider the resources they get as unsustainable the way they’re doing it. Even though we know the prisons are full and the treasuries are empty, and State and Federal governments are gasping for revenue, they still won’t consider ending prohibition and legalizing and taxing drugs because control of the people is far more important than any kind of financial, fiduciary matter.

QL: Right. Not that it would be the primary reason to do it, but drug legalization would be a great way to bolster government coffers and help get us out of the recession.

Emery: It certainly would, and we could finally cut the number of police down in this country significantly. The problem is, police often blackmail politicians. Most politicians have something in their past, and politicians are quickly made aware of it when they try to oppose various policing initiatives that involve the budget or staffing. The police know plenty about everybody, and everybody, I think, has something to hide—something they once did that was illegal, that maybe shouldn’t be illegal, but is nonetheless illegal. Virtually every politician has done some drugs of some kind, or has got some nasty sexual incident in their past, and police exploit that when they’re dealing with politicians.

QL: Well, speaking of that: U.S. President Barack Obama has admitted to using both marijuana and cocaine. It seems hypocritical for him to throw people in jail for doing what he himself has done. Is he the President to end the War on Drugs?

Emery: Oh, goodness, no. It’ll be President Ron Paul in 2012.

QL: Well, that would be good!

Emery: No, that’ll be awesome, and that’s what’s gonna happen. Barack Obama is a likable, seemingly intelligent person, which is what allowed him to win, but he has exactly the same policies as his predecessor, right? So, he’s not that intelligent, nor is he that advanced or that liberal. He’s just the status quo. But Ron Paul will appeal to conservatives, and will appeal to libertarians, and will appeal to disaffected liberals who will be crushed when those wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t end. I mean, who’s Dennis Kucinich gonna support in 2012 if troops are still in Afghanistan and still in Iraq? Dennis Kucinich would vote for Ron Paul, and I think a lot of liberals would probably vote for Ron Paul.

You know, Barack Obama only beat John McCain by nine million votes. I think Ron Paul could easily steal five to ten million votes back from Barack Obama and win the Presidency in 2012. And he said his first act would be to strike out all DEA raids on medical marijuana patients. He said that would be the first thing he would do as President. Unlike every other candidate who almost never even wants to talk about marijuana, Ron Paul said that would be his first policy decision as President of the United States.

Oh, I’m totally down with Ron Paul. Best American politician this century, last century. The greatest man in America today. And I think his health is gonna stay great, and I think he’s gonna make Gary Johnson his Vice Presidential candidate, which would be excellent because it would maintain fidelity of the philosophy if Ron Paul were to die in office. I think a Paul-Johnson ticket is what you’re gonna see. Excellent names, really good guys. People who aren’t gonna embarrass us by having had affairs. Heck, Ron Paul’s never even seen marijuana, and he is still in favour of repealing prohibition. Those are the two best libertarian politicians that have a chance for the Republican nomination, and I think Ron Paul’s gonna be able to raise a hundred million dollars. I think he’ll be able to raise that in a heartbeat. They’ll raise 25 million for him in one day, you watch.

QL: Why wouldn’t Barack Obama end the Drug War? The Drug War is carried out in a very racist manner, after all. Why wouldn’t he grab that as an issue?

Emery: Well, because he’s not as enlightened as people want to believe, that’s all. Also, the institution of the Presidency tends to change people. He keeps becoming more establishment, more fundamentalist, more Christian, more religious, and getting away from his liberal roots, his roots with the people, roots when he was a pot smoker and all of those free-spirited, critical thinking kinds of things. Well, he doesn’t do any of that now. He’s a Harvard professor who’s propped up and supported by the banking industry and the financial industry. He’s made tons of deals left, right, and center to get to become President. And basically, he’s a very cautious, pragmatic man. And that’s not the kind of person you need to be President, the kind who’s gonna change anything. He’s maintained the status quo perfectly in every possible way without changing anything fundamentally whatsoever, and that’s why Ron Paul’s gonna look very attractive after people are disillusioned with Barack Obama—and boy, they will be really disillusioned in four years.

For one thing, we’re gonna have these bubbles a lot, because the United States has inflated the currency. The dollar will continue to tank, gold will keep going higher, and eventually we’ll see the price of commodities all rising, and there’s gonna be a period of stagflation in the United States for several years. We’re gonna see rising prices without any corresponding increase in production, and you know, people are gonna be disappointed. We’ve got nine percent unemployment in the United States now, which is unprecedented in recent times. And it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any swing back any time soon.

So I would say that the United States is going through a crisis of confidence, and someone like Ron Paul—confident, forthright, honest, straightforward—will be very, very appealing to a wide range of Americans in 2012. You know, sometimes you need the perfect storm to make things happen. How do we make Ron Paul popular? Well, first of all, every other Republican, I think, has been discredited—except maybe Mitt Romney, but he just doesn’t have any traction with a wide number of people in America. I think Ron Paul’s gonna continue to shine, and I think we’re gonna see a lot of his influence in Congress and the Senate—with people like Peter Schiff and Tom McClintock—guys that are very much like Ron Paul. So he’s getting a kind of caucus together now in the Congress, and he’s trusted by more people than ever before, when he used to be considered a pariah. So I think Ron Paul is still in the ascendant.

QL: Just getting back to Barack Obama for a second: No hope of a Presidential pardon from him, then?

Emery: Well, it’s probably a better bet than it was with George W. Bush, but that’s not necessarily saying much. He might decide to do it. Depends how many letters he got, or whether we could make it the number one Internet issue. You know, if he had another town hall and took questions from Americans and three million Americans made it their number one question, he’d probably consider it. If you’ve got a few million people making noise on your behalf, things are gonna happen, let’s face it. So, that’s what it’s gonna require. It’s gonna require hundreds of thousands of Americans unrelentingly bothering someone to make things happen. And that’s the only way anything ever happens.

QL: One last question: After everything that’s happened, and with what seems likely to happen soon, are you still a happy warrior?

Emery: Oh, yeah, pretty happy. I’m really happy now. But then I don’t think of the future any more than I typically think of the past—except I romanticize the past, so everything I ever think about the past is all good, right? But as you get further away from the actual centre of the pain that you were once in, you remember the lessons of the difficult times, but you don’t feel the pain, so that’s why everything gets better with time. So, for example, my first stint in jail, when I was in Saskatoon Correctional for 67 days from August to October 2004, I didn’t like it while I was there. It’s very difficult. I was very traumatized by it. But when I got out, and I thought about it, and I looked at all the work I did, all the things I read, and all the lessons I learned, I had many epiphanies and great revelations in jail. So now when I look back, I see all the lessons I learned, but I don’t feel any of the pain, because that was then and this is now and I can’t feel something five years later that happened then. But I can remember it, and I can remember with some degree of wisdom what the good parts were, more than I remember how painful it was. So that’s what happens when you get older. And that’s a good thing to know, that whatever pain we’re in right now is not necessarily the way we’re always going to feel about this experience.

QL: Right. And you can take something from it, something positive.

Emery: Well, through our adversity, we achieve higher levels of consciousness. As someone who smokes marijuana, I’ve gotta believe that, right? That’s what the Buddha meant when he said, “Life is suffering.” He didn’t mean you were supposed to suffer. He meant that through suffering, we come to a higher level of consciousness because we begin to appreciate things like life, mortality, and health. We begin to develop empathy. So, through suffering, we find out where we’re going in life and make decisions and plan our paths based around what we’ve learned from that suffering. That’s what he meant. So, let’s hope I take something good from this experience, too. The key thing is you never want to get jaded and bitter because of the pain that’s inflicted on you. Because that’s when you get vengeful and start lashing out. You always hope that you can keep your Zen centre so that when you get out, you’re an even more peaceful, benevolent person than you were when you went in. So you can’t let the experience destroy the character within you that’s good.

QL: Well, that sounds like a great message to leave people with, so thanks again for your time.

Emery: Talk to you when I get out!

* 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.