British Columbia’s “Prince of Pot,” who has been waging a long campaign to reform marijuana laws and to evade the long arm of U.S. prosecutors, may soon have a decision to make.
In a few weeks, Marc Emery faces an extradition hearing in Canada that could end up sending him to Seattle. He faces drug charges in U.S. District Court over his former Vancouver business that sold marijuana seeds. The charges could send him to prison for 10 years to life.
Emery is quite willing to fight the extradition through every court in Canada. And if he ends up being sent to Seattle, making a spectacle of his trial.
But he may have an easier way out.
His two codefendants settled with prosecutors on April 24 in a sweet deal for them. They, too, faced at least 10 years in prison, but prosecutors have agreed to recommend no prison time.
And they can smoke dope without worrying about drug tests.
“If they gave me the same deal, I’d be hard-pressed not to take it,” Emery, 51, said in an interview in Cannabis Culture, an online magazine he edits in Vancouver.
Federal prosecutors aren’t commenting on a possible plea deal for Emery. They did have one in place a year ago, but it fell apart after the Canadian government rejected it.
However, it is clear that the case may be reaching a critical junction in what has been a long, strange trip.
This has been no ordinary drug case. It has raised outcries in Canada, prompted smug declarations of satisfaction at top levels of law enforcement, and been played out against shifting public views of marijuana.
At the center is Emery, the self-proclaimed prince. Calling him an activist or a gadfly is inadequate.
He is a founder of the B.C. Marijuana Party and a perennial candidate for public office (12 times since 1980). Now his wife is running for the B.C. legislature as a Green Party candidate on a platform of, among other things, drug law reform.
Emery has his magazine, a ganja-themed shop and a lounge where people can smoke grass.
His MySpace page includes a photo showing him playing a guitar the shape of a marijuana leaf and smoking a joint bigger than a Fidel Castro cigar.
He is an aging hipster and a Libertarian. Ayn Rand and Ron Paul are his heroes. He thought so much of the latter that he talked up his Republican run for the presidency in 2008. It was politics from afar since Emery lives in Canada and is subject to arrest if he crosses the border in the U.S..
Among his other heroes listed on his MySpace page are John Lennon and Spider-Man.
His marijuana seed business in Vancouver, Marc Emery Direct Seeds, was not the only one in a city where pot use isn’t cause for alarm or arrest, but it was certainly a successful one: $3 million in annual earnings and sales of 4 million seeds.
The court documents that give those breakdowns also say that about 75 percent of the customers were in the U.S. They got their seeds through the mail.
His Web sites said much of the proceeds from Marc Emery Direct Seeds went to fund reform of drug laws, especially in the Canada and the U.S.
“I was a pretty public seed dealer,” Emery said.
And, he said, he was “pretty mouthy” about marijuana and drug laws, especially in the U.S.
So in 2002, when then-White House drug czar John Walters spoke in Vancouver, Emery was there to heckle him.
The feds got what he thinks was payback in 2005, announcing the culmination of an 18-month investigation that produced indictments against Emery and two of his employees, Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams.
A grand jury charged Emery with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, to distribute marijuana seeds and to engage in money laundering.
An undercover agent from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had bought seeds over the counter from Emery’s business. But not marijuana plants, much less dried marijuana ready for smoking.
Then again, Emery wasn’t selling seeds to feed the birds or sprinkle on muffins. His business told customers that at least half the seeds would sprout.
Federal prosecutors have said that translated into more than a ton of marijuana produced from the seeds.
The basic facts in the case aren’t in dispute: Emery’s business sold seeds to grow marijuana. People in the U.S. could buy them
To U.S. law enforcement, this was a large, illegal business supplying marijuana growers in several states.
“We are not going to turn a blind eye to Marc Emery’s illegal, multimillion-dollar sales of marijuana seeds,” said then-U.S. Attorney John McKay as the indictment was announced. “The grows that sprout from those seeds are often protected by armed criminals or rigged with lethal booby-traps. They do significant environmental damage and fuel the organized crime and drug trade that destroys lives.”
The local head of the DEA spoke of the “tentacles” of Emery’s business that reached out across the U.S. and Canada.
In the past, federal prosecutors have always maintained that the case was simply that: An illegal business supplying illegal activities in the United States that they had to bust.
Emery’s politics and campaigns for marijuana legalization had nothing to do with it, officials in Seattle have said.
But back in Washington, D.C., the case took on a different tone. Karen Tandy, who was the DEA administrator in 2005, released a statement saying that the arrest of Emery was a blow to marijuana trafficking and “to the marijuana legalization movement.”
She contended that Emery’s profits went to fund campaigns to make pot legal in the U.S. and Canada. “Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on,” she said.
Emery and his supporters seized on Tandy’s statement to show that his indictment was all politics and his prosecution would be a show trial.
Then there was the matter of drug laws in the United States and Canada. Selling seeds in British Columbia is rarely prosecuted. When it is, punishment is lenient.
Emery himself was convicted in Canada of selling seeds in 1997
He was fined $500.
Still, Emery kept selling seeds openly and even paying his taxes on income from it.
Then there is the matter of U.S. drug agents who were running an undercover operation in sovereign Canada, then having local police make the arrests.
All in all, it made Emery a visible figure, maybe even a martyr for the marijuana cause and Canadian sovereignty.
Public opinion polls in that country showed people favored not letting him being extradited to the U.S. One Canadian newspaper, The National Post, called his extradition a “farce” and said in an editorial that the differences in the two countries’ drug laws would make “extraditing Emery a shameful abdication of judgment by Canadian authorities.”
A Canadian television network did a documentary on the Prince of Pot. CBS’s “60 Minutes” also weighed in.
But even the head that holds the crown must bend in compromise.
So after fighting extradition and campaigning against the prosecution and for legalization of marijuana, Emery seemed willing to go to prison to settle the case.
He worked out a deal last year in which he would plead guilty and end up spending five years in prison, most of it in Canada. The Canadian government rejected the deal, saying it could not legally agree to Emery’s not being released before his five years were up, according to The National Post.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle would not discuss that plea deal.
“They had me agreeing to five years to save my friends (Rainey and Williams),” Emery said. The deal would have meant no prison time for them, he said.
“But now my friends aren’t at risk.”
In exchange for agreeing to plead guilty to one charge of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, prosecutors agreed on April 24 to drop two other charges against Rainey and Williams.
And prosecutors have agreed to recommend two years of probation to a judge who will sentence the two in July.
Prosecutors have also agreed that neither will have to undergo drug tests during probation.
There is no provision in the deal that either must testify against Emery. The court documents mention details of Emery’s business: the 4 million seeds, the $3 million in earnings, and that 75 percent of the customers were in the U.S.
Those came from a Web site for the business, which closed after the indictment.
“All that stuff I used to advertise. That’s no surprise,” Emery says.
The plea deals Williams and Rainey signed do not mention any criminal enterprise in the U.S. that used the seeds to grow pot.
“They are secondary defendants, and we chose to resolve their cases,” said Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.
She also said: “It is very common for the government to resolve cases with secondary players in this way. Mr. Emery is, and always has been, the lead defendant in this case. In the statement of facts in their plea agreements, these two defendants verify and confirm the allegations made by the government in the indictment.”
But Emery thinks the plea deal reflects a change in attitude toward marijuana in the U.S.
“I don’t think the ideological will exists to pursue the case,” he said.
The investigation and prosecution began when George W. Bush was in the White House, and his administration was hostile to liberalizing marijuana laws. Walters, Bush’s drug czar, was antagonistic to medical marijuana, saying it was simply a ruse to legalize pot and even other illegal drugs.
But there is a new administration. The Bush appointees who ran the Justice Department, DEA and Office of Drug Policy when a grand jury indicted Emery are gone.
But Langlie, the spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in Seattle, said changes at the top won’t alter a prosecution here.
“The case is being handled by a career prosecutor and is not impacted by any change at DOJ or in the administration,” she said.
Public attitudes toward marijuana are also changing. More than a dozen states allow medical marijuana. Seattle voters have told p0lice to making busting people for private use of a marijuana a low priority. And moves are under way in California to legalize pot.
So is a deal in the works for Emery? He said he hasn’t heard directly from prosecutors. His lawyer was unavailable for comment.
Todd Greenburg, the prosecutor in the case, wouldn’t comment. In fact, the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a matter of practice doesn’t comment on plea negotiations.
Emery would take a deal that keeps him out of prison. With the case pending, he said he can’t leave British Columbia for elsewhere in Canada without the approval of a court. Crossing the U.S. border means handcuffs and jail.
“I would like to go to the United States someday,” he said.
But he is torn.
“For me, we get more mileage for our overall objective if they tried to extradite me,” Emery said. “It would galvanize support (against drug laws).”
An extradition hearing is scheduled for June 1 through 5 in Canada. If it takes place — others have been scheduled, then postponed — Emery plans to fight and take his battle through the Canadian appeals process.
Time is on his side.
The Conservative Party rules Canada as a minority, unpopular government. National elections and a change in government could take place this year.
“It would be unpopular to extradite me,” he said. “So it would be beneficial to me for a change in government.”
If he ends up being sent to the U.S., expect quite a show. Imagine hundreds of folks crossing the border to protest.
“I’ll see what kind of crisis I can create there,” he said.
By SCOTT SUNDE