Photo by Rebecca Cook
Canadian publisher and cannabis activist turned American federal prisoner Marc Emery was released back into Canada a free man today and says he is ready to get back to work.
“I relaxed four and a half years in prison, that’s enough of that. I did, reading is relaxing. Reading the New York Times every day is relaxing, books are relaxing, doing crosswords is relaxing – boredom is relaxing. I don’t need to go on holiday,” said Emery, addressing a crowd in front of City Hall in Windsor, Ontario shortly after being released from U.S. custody.
Emery, known as the “Prince of Pot”, was released out a side door at a Canadian customs facility in Windsor — a border crossing point from Detroit — shortly before 4:20 pm local time to a crowd of media and supporters. The crowd caravanned Emery and his wife, Jodie, to a press conference set up in front of Windsor City Hall where Emery took the podium in a worn prison-issue white t-shirt and shorts alongside Canadian flags. After four and a half years in a United States federal prison, Emery made it clear that although he is now a free man in Canada, he is ready to get back to work, even if that means heading back to prison.
“I have been arrested 28 times for marijuana civil disobedience, I have been jailed 23 times – the most recent five-year sentence is just the latest and it may not even be the last, if I have to continue to prove my point.”
As the clock struck 4:20 pm, a crowd of cheers overpowered Emery.
“Don’t let me interrupt your celebration,” Emery said laughing. “I’ll tell you, it does smell like a party.”
“It smells like Canada!” someone in the crowd yelled.
“Well, I will tell you I fought long and hard for that,” Emery replied. “It is and always has been my destiny to overgrow this Canadian government, worldwide governments, to get rid of this pernicious prohibition we have had all these 45 years in Canada.”
Between 1995 and 2005, Emery was the owner and founder of Marc Emery Direct Marijuana Seeds, which he promoted through Cannabis Culture Magazine. Emery owned the magazine headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Emery largely used the profits from his seed sales to funnel cash to support pro-marijuana initiatives in both Canada and the United States; putting him at the top of the list of the U.S. DEA’s international most wanted. In July 2005 the DEA, in collaboration with local police, arrested Emery in Vancouver and issued a statement to boast about the arrest.
“Today’s DEA arrest of Marc Scott Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine, and the founder of a marijuana legalization group, is a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the U.S. and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement,” said then DEA Administrator Karen Tandy, in the official statement released in July 2005.
His marijuana trade and propagandist marijuana magazine have generated $5 million a year in profits that bolstered his trafficking efforts, but those have gone up in smoke today.
Emery and his organization had been designated as one of the Attorney General’s most wanted international drug trafficking organizational targets — one of only 46 in the world and the only one from Canada.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery’s illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug Legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on,” Tandy said.
Although Emery broke no Canadian laws, he surrendered himself to authorities to be extradited to the United States in May 2010 to serve the 5-year sentence. He spent most of his time incarcerated at Yazoo Federal Prison in Mississippi where he learned to play bass guitar and updated his prison blog on the Cannabis Culture Website via communications with Jodie.
Emery was transferred into solitary confinement twice during his sentence, despite not having broken any official prison rules. With time off for good behavior, Emery’s sentence officially ended July 9, but he was interned for an additional month at a deportation holding facility in Louisiana. Emery was transferred from the holding facility to the border today and became a free man the moment he passed through Canadian customs.
“Marijuana prohibition is coming to an end and there are many people going to prison, even today. Even today there are more wives saying goodbye to their husbands,” Jodie said at a press conference shortly before her husband’s release. “I have been lucky to be supported; I have been lucky to have the strength given to me every day by people all over the world. Marc and I are very lucky that he only got five years and isn’t dying in a U.S. prison. Marc and I are very lucky that he is able to come home to Canada a completely free man, to get right back into politics to help save other people from the same injustice that we suffered.”
Jodie, who managed her husband’s businesses and rose to prominence as a marijuana activist and local political figure during Marc’s sentence, was candid as she addressed the crowd in Windsor. She said her husband’s arrest and incarceration was political and that the arrest and incarceration of anyone for marijuana is unjust. She says over the years and over 160 visits to the United States to see Marc, she has connected with the families of marijuana prisoners in both countries, and seen firsthand the devastation caused to families by both countries’ criminal justice systems. She added that they both plan to continue to work towards an end towards incarcerations for marijuana.
“He is coming home a hero,” she said.
Both the Emerys had harsh words for the conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and have vowed “political revenge” upon Marc’s return.
“There are only two ways to get rid of a bad unjust government — through violent revolution, which I will not take part in because I am a peaceful activist as is Marc, but the only other way for citizens of a free country to get rid of an unjust government is on election day, through voting,” said Jodie. “The Harper Government has not only ruined my life and my husband’s life in so many ways but many others across this country. Canada suffers under the Harper Conservative government. When I say I want political revenge it is not personal. I can’t get personal revenge against Harper, I want revenge on behalf of this country, on behalf of the families and the wives and children who don’t have a name and don’t have a face and don’t have the cameras asking them how they feel. Millions of people suffer because of marijuana prohibition every day, Marc sacrificed his life and his freedom to make sure this doesn’t happen anymore and I am proud.”
Marc says one of the real tragedies of his American incarceration was having to stop publishing Cannabis Culture and no longer having the ability to visit the United States. He said he received an outpouring of support, primarily from small town America in places where cannabis is no way legal — with a notable absence of communication from mostly-legal cities such as Denver and San Francisco.
Although Emery said the last time he smoked marijuana was May 9, 2010, he declined offers from the crowd to take a 4/20 puff.
Emery says he plans to tour 30 Canadian cities ahead of next year’s federal elections and a Canadian University tour earlier in the year. He and Jodie also plan to visit Spain, Portugal, Ireland and other European destinations to speak with local officials about cannabis policy.
“I am happy to be home,” Emery said.
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