Marc Emery agrees his campaign-organizing effort for some 2008 U.S. presidential candidates is a bit unorthodox. He's Canadian, his political base of operations is the B.C. Marijuana Party in Vancouver, and he can be arrested if he sets foot into America.
Still, "We have a saying up here: 'American politics is far too important to leave to the Americans,'" says Emery, 49, who is trying to raise cross-border support for dark-horse White House candidates. He likes liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich well enough, but prefers Republican Ron Paul, a longtime libertarian who, like Emery, opposes the U.S. war on drugs.
Most important, "If Ron Paul were to win," says a hopeful Emery, "he'd pardon all the pot people." That just might include Emery, whose campaign motives aren't purely political: Putting the right person in the White House, he says, might help him avoid spending life in prison.
Known by a legion of dope growers and law-enforcement officials as the Prince of Pot, Emery has launched a truly grassroots campaign in Canada while under indictment in Seattle.
The Drug Enforcement Agency labels Emery a "major marijuana dealer," although he never grew or possessed any of the illegal plants he is, by implication, accused of distributing. However, says the DEA, he sold marijuana plant seeds over the Internet, through the mail, and in person to individuals in the United States and around the globe for 11 years, leading to the eventual sprouting of millions of pounds of prized and potent B.C. bud in basements and greenhouses far away from beatific British Columbia. He was indicted in 2005 by then–U.S. Attorney John McKay on charges of conspiring to manufacture the drug.
During a 60 Minutes profile of the Prince last year, McKay called Emery "the biggest purveyor of marijuana from Canada into the United States." The DEA claimed his dope seeding resulted in 100,000 pounds of marijuana grown annually in the U.S. Over 11 years, that comes to 1.1 million pounds of dope, resulting in perhaps $2.5 billion worth of plants. "If it's true," says Emery, "I'm proud to have brought such wealth to our [drug] community." (That's the kind of smart remark, the defiant seedman adds, that "will guarantee that I get the highest sentence possible in a U.S. federal court.")
The indictment appears to be politically correct to the Bush administration, which is rumored to sometimes enforce the law ideologically. Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last December fired McKay, along with eight other U.S. attorneys, for apparently failing to follow in neocon lockstep on some issues. But the indictment of the lefty seed grower seems to have gotten the Bush seal of approval, even if, as some argue, selling dope seeds isn't much different from selling guns—the merchandise can be used criminally but also legally (guns for protection, seeds to grow medical marijuana).
Emery allows that he may have invited U.S. scrutiny in 2002 when he and other Marijuana Party members heckled White House drug czar John Walters during a Vancouver speech. He's cheering the new effort to remove Gonzales (an impeachment resolution was filed in the House last week by Rep. Jay Inslee and others). But the election of a Democrat or, especially, a libertarian to the White House in '08 fits both Emery's political agenda and his legal strategy.
"It's my belief," says Emery, who has been a follower of Paul, a 10-term Texas congressman, for decades, "that if Ron were elected, he'd rescind the indictment against me immediately. Or at least he'd appoint an attorney general who would pardon any nonviolent drug offender, clear out the jails, and end the drug war."
Paul's communications director, Jesse Benton, says the fledgling campaign welcomes all support. But Emery shouldn't necessarily expect amnesty from a Paul administration. "You would see a cooling of the federal war on drugs [under Paul]," Benton says. "But Ron believes in the rule of law, and I don't think this guy should look to Ron for him getting off scot-free."
Yet, if George Bush can commute the sentence of a perjurer like Scooter Libby, certainly Ron Paul could pardon a prince like Marc Emery, the seedman thinks. Facing an extradition hearing in November along with two others accused of the seed conspiracy, Emery is already planning appeals and other maneuvers to delay his likely Seattle trial until 2009, when a more friendly administration might take office.
Just eight Canadian enthusiasts dropped by Emery's initial Ron Paul Meet-Up last month at the Bump & Grind coffee shop in Vancouver. But Emery thinks he can garner more Paul support from U.S. students and other Americans living in Canada who are eligible to vote in the States. "We're trying to browbeat any American who comes into our store," says Emery, referring to the onetime Vancouver marketplace of his seed-mailing operation, which still peddles bongs and other "narcotics paraphernalia," as the cops call it. (As part of his bail agreement on the U.S. charges, a Canadian court has forbidden him from distributing dope seeds since 2005.)
He's trolling for supporters on his Web sites as well—Pot.tv and CannabisCulture.com, along with a popular MySpace page (myspace.com/prince_of_pot_marc_emery)—although the sites were recently disabled by a Chicago hacker. "We have his name and address," says Emery, but for some reason, he can't get U.S. authorities interested in helping him.
When Emery was arrested by the Mounties two years ago, Seattle DEA Special Agent in Charge Rod Benson said Emery needed to be locked up because he "was motivated by greed." Emery admits to getting rich quick after opening his mail-order biz, Marc Emery Direct, in 1994. "I sold millions of seeds," he said last week, "and sometimes made $2 million a year." But he blew much of it helping friends and causes, and is comparably broke today, he says.
Still, he's not in prison—yet. "You've got to listen to the Ron Paul song," Emery says, referring to the Three Shoes Posse single called "Ron Paul Is Here," in which Paul himself talks up his campaign to a reggae beat.
There's one line Emery particularly likes. "I would guarantee," says Paul, "that I would never abuse habeas corpus!" That's the process that allows prisoners to petition for their release. "If a Texan can advocate those freedoms, there's still hope," Emery says.