Canada's 'Prince of Pot' Busted for Seed Sales

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Canadian police last month arrested Mark Emery, the leader of the nation's Marijuana Party, for selling marijuana seeds to American customers through his Vancouver-based mail order company. Some critics accuse Canadian police of doing the bidding of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Martin Kaste profiles Canada's "prince of pot."


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

In Vancouver, Canada, Mark Emery is known as the `Prince of Pot,' a seed distributor in a society that has not formally legalized marijuana but does pretty much ignore its use. OK for Canadians, but Mr. Emery has customers in this country, too. And now US authorities want him extradited and tried and put in jail for maybe the rest of his life. Many Canadians see it as a case of Washington trying to export the war on drugs. NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

Unidentified Woman: Here we go. A-two, a-one, two, three...

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

A jazz singer, young women dressed in fairy costumes, and about 50 people smoking giant marijuana joints. This laid-back scene on the front steps of a Vancouver art gallery is the British Columbia Marijuana Party's idea of a political protest.

Unidentified Man #1: Get your ...(Unintelligible) on. Pass that big fatty around.

(Soundbite of coughing)

KASTE: As the smoke gets thicker, a couple of Vancouver policemen ride by on their bikes and pretend not to notice. Pot is still illegal in Canada, but in liberal cities such as Vancouver, the ban is rarely enforced. The country as a whole is becoming more lenient toward marijuana. Parliament is seriously considering decriminalizing possession of small amounts. And the pot smokers at this protest give Mark Emery much of the credit.

Unidentified Man #2: ...Mark Emery for turning us all into princes and princesses of pot.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

KASTE: A party activist in a jester's hat ceremonially hands Emery a lit joint. Emery is a short man and kind of nerdy compared to his scruffy fans, a sort of Bill Gates for Vancouver's booming marijuana industry. A former bookseller, Emery started out in the 1990s by successfully challenging restrictions on the sale of marijuana-themed books and magazines. He then moved on to seeds. He readily admits he's sold millions. But he says he's not in it for the profit.

Mr. MARK EMERY (Seed Distributor): The idea was in 1994 we'd sell seeds and then we would use the proceeds of that to fund peaceful democratic revolution in a sense. `Overgrowing the government' was our slogan, that through peaceful botanical revolution we'd empower the marijuana people and then with the money we received from them, we would empower them on the political sphere and in the judicial sphere, in the ideological sphere.

KASTE: At first, the Canadian police raided his business on a regular basis, but the courts never did more than impose modest fines. And for the last few years, the Canadian authorities have left him alone--until this summer, when they suddenly raided his seed business at the behest of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Conservative Canadians such as Gary Abbott(ph) are glad to see the Americans getting involved.

Mr. GARY ABBOTT (Canadian): I'd just as soon see you people get him, and then we'd be rid of him for a while.

KASTE: Abbott and his wife are out strolling in downtown Vancouver, and they walk a wide circle to avoid Emery and the other marijuana partisans out in front of the art gallery.

Mr. ABBOTT: To the average citizen, he's a nuisance.

KASTE: Really?

Mr. ABBOTT: I mean, we spent more money on him from fighting in the courts than he's worth.

KASTE: Abbott says he approves of the more severe prison term that would await Emery if he's convicted in the US. In fact, both Emery's supporters and his opponents suspect that frustrated Canadian police are hoping that US courts will do what Canadian courts won't--lock Emery up. But Emery believes there's more going on. He thinks the American government is also trying to muzzle him.

Mr. EMERY: There's no doubt I'm the worldwide leader of this movement. I'm easily the most recognizable figure anywhere in the world in regards to the cannabis liberation movement. I certainly provided more money. So, you know, we paid $19,000 for the Arizona legalization initiative in 2002. We spent $27,000 on a class-action suit in 1999 in Philadelphia to make medical marijuana legal there.

Mr. TODD GREENBERG (Associate US Attorney): Well, I certainly expect that Mark Emery will attempt to politicize it.

KASTE: Todd Greenberg is the associate US attorney in charge of prosecuting Emery if the extradition is successful. He says Emery's political aspirations don't change the fact that he's a drug smuggler.

Mr. GREENBERG: Mark Emery is the--or was--the largest distributor of marijuana seeds into the United States. And the volume of marijuana seeds and marijuana growing equipment that he was selling rose to such a level that, you know, we just couldn't ignore it.

KASTE: But the US government has welcomed the fact that Emery will no longer be able to raise money for his pet political causes. In an official statement, DEA Administrator Karen Tandy said, in her words, "Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on." To many Canadians, that quote seems to confirm their suspicion that the DEA is out to silence those who campaign for the legalization of pot. Norman Spector, a political columnist for The Toronto Globe and Mail, says even Canadians who don't support full legalization have come to sympathize with Emery.

Mr. NORMAN SPECTOR (The Toronto Globe and Mail): The strongest argument he has that probably resonates with some people in the middle is the idea that we're extraditing someone for an offense that isn't enforced in Canada and the sense that, you know, you Americans are really dinosaurs on this whole thing and why are we doing this thing.

KASTE: Emery's extradition is not imminent. Similar requests have taken years to work their way through the Canadian courts. But eventually most extradition requests are successful, and Emery admits that there is a good chance he'll face trial in the US. If that happens, he says, he may well be killed inside a sordid American prison. Without a hint of irony, he says he expects to become a martyr to the cause, just like Mandela and Gandhi. Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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