Famed cannabis activist and two others arrested
By Jennifer Garner
Canadian police acting under orders from US officials raided the headquarters of the British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP) in Vancouver on the morning of Friday, July 29.
The search warrants were authorized at the highest levels of the provincial government in concert with a cross-border US-Canada law enforcement pact created by a US-authored Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters treaty (MLAT) between the US and Canada.
The US has issued extradition orders for Marc Emery, who was arrested while traveling in Halifax to a hemp festival; two other Emery associates, including the media icon known as “Marijuana Man,” were arrested in Vancouver.
Emery’s arrest was coordinated by Vancouver and Halifax drug agents working together with RCMP (Mounties) and DEA to surveil Emery’s cross-country movements minute by minute, according to statements made by Halifax police officials.
US officials claim that the investigation that led to the raid and arrests involved 50 DEA offices in many US states, as well as local and federal Canadian police forces.
In a major press conference held in Seattle, American officials accused Emery of “conspiracy to produce marijuana and distribute marijuana seeds, and money laundering."
The DEA and other agencies are claiming that by selling seeds to pot-growing Americans, Emery engaged in a criminal enterprise with the growers. In the eyes of his accusers, providing marijuana seeds is the same as selling marijuana produced from those seeds.
"Their activities resulted in the growing of tens of thousands of marijuana plants in America," claimed US federal attorney Jeff Sullivan. "[Emery] was involved, allegedly, in an illegal distribution of marijuana in [the United States.] He is a drug dealer."
Sullivan and DEA official Rod Benson, whose Seattle, Washington DEA office headed a nearly two-year investigation of Emery, claim that Emery’s seeds produced tens of thousands of marijuana plants grown by personal use growers and commercial growers.
Benson referred to the joining of Canadian and US police in the MLAT attack as an “aggressive partnership of law enforcement and intelligence gathering.”
The use of MLAT to take down Emery implies that Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, who has been harshly criticized by Emery and his employees due to Cotler’s refusal to back American-born marijuana refugee Renee Boje in her bid to avoid extradition from Canada to the US to face cultivation charges, signed off on the MLAT operation.
It is likely that the highest levels of the Canadian provincial and federal governments were involved in setting up the MLAT investigation and raid, which raises obvious issues of Canadian sovereignty and reveals to Canadians in a very stark way that Canadian law enforcement can sometimes be a tool of US drug agents.
Emery was secretly indicted by a US federal grand jury in May, 2005, officials said, after an investigation that began in early 2004.
The raids were apparently timed to coincide with Emery’s visit to a Nova Scotia hemp festival; during the visit, he was arrested by Mounties and local police acting under orders from the DEA and Vancouver Police.
The DEA and US federal prosecutors hope to bring Emery and his two co-defendants to Seattle for trial in the US. If they are convicted there, they could be sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison, but maximum penalties include life in prison for the 47-year-old activist sometimes known (and described in official DEA records), as the “Prince of Pot.”
Of particular interest for customers of Emery’s seed site is the DEA claim that they have traced Emery’s seeds to illegal grows in Indiana, Florida, California, Tennessee, Montana, Virginia, Michigan, New Jersey and North Dakota.
While it is not known if these claims are accurate, or what action if any the DEA intends to take against people who have grown marijuana using Emery seeds, prudence would dictate that people who have ordered from Emery during the past two years should consider whether they might be a target of investigations, especially if they are involved in large-scale commercial cultivation.
People who have ordered from other internet seed sellers should also be concerned, said a cannabis grower in the US, noting that although viable marijuana seeds are legal in some countries, sending seeds to North America is not.
“I’d guess that anybody who advertises cannabis seeds on the Internet or in a magazine, and their customers, could be a DEA target, whether they are located in Canada, England, Holland, wherever,” he said. “If you buy pot seeds from anybody who has a pot seed internet site, you take a risk. It isn’t just people who bought from Emery.”
Vancouver Police spokesperson Howard Chow admitted that Emery’s selling of marijuana seeds “is not enough” for him to have been arrested by Canadian authorities acting on their own, and confirmed that the arrests came solely because the DEA had provided motivation and information that led to the raids.
US officials indicated they had been studying Emery’s website and political statements, which contain candid and forthright information provided by Emery about what he sees as a way to use seed sales to fund a political movement.
US Federal Attorney Sullivan, seeking to counter the assertion that Emery is a political activist being prosecuted only because he valiantly fights against marijuana laws, mentioned Emery’s magazine (Cannabis Culture) and his political party, and then specifically asserted that the raids had nothing to do with those media-political activities.
Emery claims to make $3 million a year from selling marijuana seeds online and by mail, along with selling equipment for grow operations, such as fertilizer, lighting, and other products that help people grow plants, according to US officials.
“The fact is, marijuana is a very dangerous drug,” Sullivan said. “People don't say that, but right now in America, there are more kids in treatment for addiction to marijuana than every other illegal drug combined."
Sullivan said Emery is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, explaining that his government has requested that Emery not be granted bail and remain in custody for the “six months to two years” before Emery would actually be sent to the US to face charges, if the extradition request is successful.
The DEA said it mounted an 18-month undercover investigation during which Emery sold seeds to undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agents, by mail and in person. DEA spokespersons noted that Emery was the world’s largest and most professional marijuana seed retailer, offering 600 strains from dozens of suppliers.
Rod Benson, the DEA's Seattle special agent in charge, told a news conference here that Emery showed "overwhelming arrogance and abuse of the rule of law,” and added that many marijuana growers would be negatively affected if they are unable to buy seeds from Emery, who is generally acknowledged to have pioneered the worldwide cannabis seed market.
Emery's websites at www.cannabisculture.com and www.emeryseeds.com were temporarily disabled during the raids, but were functioning again soon thereafter.
Search warrants were executed on Emery's home, his office and other businesses, Sullivan said. Court documents listed "Prince of Pot" as an alias for the activist.
In 1994, Emery opened a Vancouver-based store called Hemp BC selling marijuana paraphernalia and seeds. Police raided the store in 1996 and again in 1998, confiscating his entire stock. Undaunted, Emery founded the BCMP and expanded his seed empire across the world.
The raid took place at 11 am. According to witnesses, police chained the BCMP doors, put barriers on the windows, and are dismantling the store to seize business records, seeds, computers, and other materials. Police seized cash, employee records and computer records. Vancouver police (VPD) were in charge of the morning raid on the legendary BCMP store in the heart of Vancouver's "Vansterdam" district.
VPD spokespersons attempting to justify the raids in light of the fact that they’ve known about Emery’s seed sales for many years, admitted that complaints from American officials prompted the raids.
“The DEA came to us about a year ago surrounding Marc Emery and asked for our assistance in the criminal investigation that had to do with trafficking a controlled substance,” said a VPD spokesperson. “It just comes in terms of resources and priority. We get information and we act on it and we deal with it at that time. You can expect that anybody who engages in criminal activity on a high profile, such as Marc Emery does, is not going to expect to do it forever before you have to account for your actions. It's an ongoing investigation. There may be further charges that come out of this.”
Chris Bennett, manager of Pot-TV who was onsite when the BCMP center was raided, said he is particularly angry that Vancouver police and other Canadians were acting as enforcers of American drug laws against Canadian citizens.
"They're taking him down to face charges in the United States of America, where sentences are much harsher that one would face in Canada," said Bennett.
Emery has been arrested for marijuana-related "crimes" many times before, but those other arrests involved local Canadian charges and jurisdictions. Today's charges are far more serious because they involve US federal laws that stipulate mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years, with life imprisonment a possibility.
Last year, Emery served 91 days in a Saskatoon, Canada jail for passing a joint.
American officials are seeking Emery's extradition, but extradition battles can take many years in the courts. Emery now becomes yet another high-profile cannabis activist seeking to fight off American attempts to prosecute him in the US.
Renee Boje, whose husband Chris Bennett works for Emery at BCMP as manager of Pot-TV, has been fighting for years to quash a US extradition order. Her legal costs have been funded by Emery.
The bi-lateral law enforcement treaty (MLAT) that snared Emery and his compatriots is part of a controversial global American network of treaties allowing the US to use foreign police agents to investigate and arrest foreign citizens on behalf of the United States.
MLAT's help the US violate civil rights protections and other constitutional protections that would normally be afforded to citizens by their own countries.
The first US bilateral MLAT, between America and Switzerland, was entered into in 1977. The treaties are seen as a powerful tool of US foreign policy and hegemony, but have rarely been used against marijuana defendants. Dozens of countries have entered into MLAT's with the US since 1977; the treaties are seen as a way for US police and prosecutors to arrest people no matter where they live, even if they are not guilty of a serious or arrestable crime in their home country.
The MLAT treaties favor prosecutors and police, and make it virtually impossible for defense attorneys to advocate for clients snared by MLAT operations.
MLAT's have been criticized in other countries. Critics say US MLAT actions against foreigners violate international law, compromise human rights, and violate national sovereignty.
The Irish Human Rights Commission has complained about a US-Ireland MLAT that allows CIA agents to secretly question Irish citizens on Irish soil.
The MLAT signed by Irish Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and US Ambassador to Ireland James Kenny gives sweeping powers to US authorities operating in Ireland, including the right to seize documents, check bank accounts and carry out searches of property.
The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said it would be examining the agreement, which was pushed through with the promise that it would only be used to assist the US "war on terror."
Human rights activists in Ireland are particularly concerned that CIA interrogations of Irish citizens will be carried out in secret and that the costs of CIA operations in Ireland will be paid by Irish taxpayers.
The cross-border MLAT efforts sometimes involve enforcement of the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances that was finalized worldwide on November 11, 1990.
It is possible that Emery and his associates would be charged with violating this Convention. In past years, UN officials have condemned Emery by name.
The raids leave many questions unanswered.
Although Emery is the highest profile marijuana activist in the world, who publicly airs reality television shows portraying all aspects of marijuana culture and who hosts marijuana connoisseur events like the Toker's Bowl, he is by far not the only person selling marijuana seeds across international boundaries from downtown Vancouver.
Vansterdam insiders note that while police were raiding Emery's store on West Hastings Street in downtown Vancouver, other marijuana seed businesses in the BCMP building and across the street were still open for business, and people were smoking marijuana while watching the raid.
The issue of selective prosecution is also raised by insiders who note that US and Canadian officials are aware of massive cross-border organized crime operations that involve guns, hard drugs, and other illegality on a scale that dwarfs Emery's marijuana-only, politically-inspired seed business.
Few if any of the many hardcore cross-border violent criminals who are well-known to police on both sides of the border have been pursued with the ferocity evidenced by today’s raids on Emery and BCMP. The use of MLAT to attack a non-violent symbol of marijuana activism seems like unprecedented overkill to Vansterdam denizens, and is a sign that the drug war has created an unprecedented, troubling alliance between US and Canadian police, prosecutors and politicians.
Anti-marijuana Canadian politician Randy White applauded the raids, saying that Emery has been arrested many times and not sufficiently punished for his marijuana activities.
“Marijuana crimes are serious and that's why they [the U.S.] are doing something about it. Our government tends to sit back and wait for a catastrophe,” White said.
Libby Davies, a Vancouver-area Member of Parliament who represents the progressive NDP political party, countered that the arrests go against the views of most Canadians, who support decriminalization of marijuana and who had not demanded that Emery’s marijuana businesses be shut down. The head of the NDP, influential federal politician Jack Layton, has appeared on Emery’s television shows and publicly supported virtual legalization of cannabis.
"I think it's very disturbing that the Vancouver police department is raiding a local business and arresting people for the U.S. war on drugs," Libby Davies said. “It feels to me like the long arm of U.S. enforcement reaching into Canada.”
Protesters have been holding vigil and staging protests at Emery's store in Vancouver. Long-time Emery friend and cannabis activist Dana Larsen said a rally for Emery and BCMP was being planned.
“The real reason the US police want Marc Emery behind bars is because he is an outspoken and politically active advocate for marijuana legalization,” Larsen said. “Please help protest this attack on Canadian sovereignty and waste of police resources. It’s time to end the war on pot.”
Emery has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in bail money, attorneys, and other support for many marijuana arrestees. He now finds himself in need of support, caught in the talons of the US government agents and its Canadian law enforcement lackeys, which he, his magazine, and his website accurately describe as totalitarian, imperialist hit squads that exhibit no respect for borders, democracy, or human rights.
For the man who is often called "The Prince of Pot," today's arrest is the ultimate, if not unanticipated, showdown with forces of darkness.
Despite the always-imminent threat of arrest, Emery has since leaving prison last year created some of the best reality television in the world, but many of his shows could be viewed as self-incrimination that provides irrefutable evidence that Emery breaks marijuana laws.
He also recently hosted the Toker’s Bowl, an event that celebrates marijuana as if it were legal, bringing cannabis lovers to Vancouver from around the world.
Emery’s actions appear to arise from his conscious choice to defy the drug war, regardless of the consequences.
After leaving jail last year, Emery said, "Once you get over your fear of whatever they can do to you, you become empowered to just live as if marijuana is legal, without much concern for the consequences they threaten you with. Whatever they do to me- arrest, incarceration, even if they kill me- it's not going to make me live in fear. We're going to continue to show them that marijuana should be legal, that our culture is harmless and vibrant, and that it is the drug war, not the cannabis culture, which threatens public order and safety."