Jodie Emery photo by Lindsay Dianne (RunningScared.ca).
For years Jodie Emery was a constant at the side of her husband Marc Emery at Vancouver press conferences and marijuana rallies as he fought his extradition to the United States for selling cannabis seeds across the border. While Marc worked to inform Canadians that their government had arrested him in 2005 on behalf of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as part of its controversial ‘War on Drugs’, Jodie’s presence seemed to remind people what his loss of freedom would mean on a personal level.
However, since Marc started serving his five-year sentence in the U.S. last year, Jodie has become the face and voice of the marijuana legalization movement in Canada. While taking over the mantle from Vancouver’s ‘Prince of Pot’ may have seemed daunting, Jodie has quickly proven to be a natural leader and has picked up where her husband left off. Along with being the editor of Cannabis Culture magazine, Jodie ran for the BC Green Party in the 2009 provincial election and continues to fight for marijuana legalization and to bring Marc back across the border to serve out his sentence.
A few days before the federal election, Megaphone sat down with Jodie at the Cannabis Culture head office and talked about Marc’s case, what a Conservative majority will mean for marijuana users and about how she feels about becoming Canada’s ‘Princess of Pot’. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Megaphone: Marc was recently denied transfer to Canada and was moved from a minimum to medium security prison. How do you feel he’s being treated by the U.S. justice system?
Jodie Emery: It’s really unfortunate that they refused his transfer application because he did qualify under all the criteria for transfer, and we had the support of 23 previously and currently elected representatives from all levels of government in Canada. We also had support from U.S. politicians and thousands of letters from supporters across North America. The sentencing judge also recommended that he be transferred, so the only objection would be from the DEA, who considered Marc a major threat for his political activism.
I think the DEA wants Marc to serve the five-year sentence because he was facing 30-years-to-life and his plea deal was for five years. We had hoped that most of it would be served in Canada, but it will be served in the U.S. He’ll apply for transfer again in two years, but it takes about a year for that to be processed and I’m not sure if they would approve it or not then. But in three years he’ll be able to get out on early release if he’s had good behaviour the whole time. If not, he’ll be out after the five-year sentence in early 2015.
MP: Do you think he was denied transfer because he has been so outspoken on his blog about the conditions inside U.S. prisons?
JE: I think that did have something to do with it because the rejection letter said he was refused [transfer] for serious law enforcement concerns. But, of course, he’s not a threat to anybody and he’s not likely to reoffend; but they just want him to be sent away. They do see him as a [political] symbol. The other part in the rejection letter said Marc could reapply in two years when he’s had time to consider changing his behaviour that led to the rejection, so, that’s kind of saying, ‘be quiet, stop complaining’.
MP: Marc had been so defiant about his actions, but when he was sentenced he expressed regret for selling seeds and that the methods were “ill conceived and ultimately destructive”. What exactly did he mean by that?
JE: Well, he has to express remorse for his activities, that’s required when you agree to plead guilty; you have to admit that you’re doing wrong. He knew that he was breaking the law, so that’s accurate.
He’s defied a lot of laws that are unjust and that punish non-violent people his entire life. So when he sold seeds, he thought he could always face punishment. But if he was going to be charged, it would have been in Canada. Nobody expected the U.S. would be able to take him away when he never left Canada. And that’s what made it such a big deal when it happened in 2005. Canadians were offended—our sovereignty had been breached.
So it’s clear the reason why Marc was targeted—it’s not because of the danger of the seeds, [but because of his activism].
MP: Where do you guys see the next step? How will you approach your activism now?
JE: I think we need to continue stressing the importance of our sovereignty as a country. Marc and I have been heavily involved in elections and in political campaigns because [Conservative Prime Minister] Stephen Harper is really doing a lot of bad things to Canada, and that impacts everybody.
Marc and I, in our activism, help people who are being hurt by the government, that’s what our brand of activism is about. It’s to protect people from the oppressive government force that’s being used against peaceful, non-violent people. And so that extends to a lot of other things. This government is really adopting a lot of U.S. policies, especially with a lot of Christian, right-wing influences. So that’s reflected in a lot of the policies that Harper has introduced.
I think when Marc was arrested that was the first time it was really obvious that our governments were working together in really sinister ways to sell out a citizen. So Marc and I have been really pushing for a change in our government and to get people involved in more than just supporting him, but to support our country and our democracy before it’s too late. MP: Vancouver’s 4/20 [marijuana] rally last month was the biggest it’s ever been. And yet marijuana laws were never mentioned in the federal election.
MP: Vancouver’s 4/20 [marijuana] rally last month was the biggest it’s ever been. And yet marijuana laws were never mentioned in the federal election.
JE: I think that’s because Harper is so steadfast against it. He doesn’t ever get face-to-face with someone who doesn’t agree with everything he thinks, so he’s never going to get asked the marijuana question—it’s just a dead issue in the water to him.
When you go and ask the other leaders, they’re hesitant to say they want to make it legal because they know that will turn off a lot of people. What surprises me is that the other leaders often seem to be trying to get the Harper supporters instead of trying to appeal to the people who do want it legal. The majority of Canadians want it legal, but no leader is willing to say it because they feel Harper would use it against them.
So we’re trying to educate [marijuana supporters] and remind them all that every single one of them is a target of Harper. They and everybody else is at risk under this government so they’ve got to give a damn. This government is introducing laws to put [users and growers] in prison. That’s scary. We need to get our movement more focused on preserving ourselves and our safety instead of celebrating because it’s not time to celebrate yet. Things have gone backwards since Marc was extradited.
Photo by Ben and Liam Fudge.
MP: What changes has the Harper government made to marijuana laws?
JE: Harper changed the definition of a serious drug offense to include any marijuana offenses. So that means trafficking a joint. That means possessing personal weed. They changed it from being over three kilograms to include all of it. When they define something as a serious offense it gives police the ability to wire tap without needing the approval they normally have to go through. They are allowed to refuse you bail and they are allowed to seize your property.
What that means is that right now it’s possible that the police could go to every house of someone that’s growing pot and charge them under a serious offence, which is usually reserved for organized crime—these are people who just have a couple of plants in their closet. So that’s a lot of resources and money badly being misused and it’s based on the U.S.-style.
Harper also introduced mandatory minimums and that means that judges, even if they get a medical marijuana grower in front of them, have to sentence them to a certain amount of time. There are a lot of other laws that are being introduced that are targeted toward cannabis users.
Harper declared a culture war on marijuana use— one that he wants to get rid of it. That’s his plan: he’s dead set against the marijuana culture.
MP: On the one hand the government is creating more punitive laws, but on the other the Ontario Superior Court recently ruled that current marijuana cultivation and usage laws are unconstitutional.
JE: That’s where the courts are on our side. That’s one of the things we need to do before Harper stacks all the Supreme Court with much harsher and more conservative judges. This judge in Ontario found that Matthew Mernagh was being blocked by doctors to get marijuana. The government has to fix the program to make marijuana widely available. That means doctors can’t say no. That means naturopaths could do it, or that means compassion clubs could license. It means more access.
The other option is that it will just be taken out of the law and we won’t have any regulations or laws whatsoever. That’s the preferable option to many of us, we’d prefer no laws or regulations whatsoever, but if medical marijuana users need sure that they restrict medicinal marijuana access as much as possible. But as long as judges keep finding that they’re hurting people who don’t need to be hurt anymore, that’s a good thing.
Photo by Jeremiah Vandermeer.
MP: You didn’t run in this federal election for the Green Party for personal reasons and instead threw your support behind Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh. While Dosanjh has helped fight Marc’s extradition, the Liberal Party is against decriminalizing marijuana. How do you balance that contradiction?
JE: I kind of forgive the political parties for trying to dance around legalization and so for me I’d rather see the lesser evil in power rather than the more evil evil.
I know with Harper there’s not a chance that we’ll have any progress at all, not a chance. With the Liberals you know they could be persuaded with maybe arguments about money or arguments about what middle Canadians want. The NDP is certainly far more open and accessible into doing what the people want. So even though I personally consider myself a small c conservative libertarian and I like Jack Layton and the NDP the best, I certainly need the Conservatives to have fewer seats than last time around.
MP: You’ve been involved in the movement for quite some time with Marc. But now that he’s behind bars, how do you feel about becoming the face and voice of cannabis activism in Canada?
JE: Marc was really preparing me for this all along. I’ve taken a lot of lessons from him but I’ve also learned a lot myself, especially with him being gone. He spent a short term in 2009 in Coquitlam. When he was gone I had to run this place by myself and it was hard. I had to learn how to do that, but I’ve gotten much better at it.
My whole life, even in elementary school or high school, I’ve always been a spokesperson. It’s come pretty easily for me. I don’t think too highly of myself, I’m always honoured and humbled when somebody wants to talk to me. When somebody wants an interview I’m always grateful for that opportunity. I try to represent people well and I’m told that I do, so I keep trying to do whatever it is I’m doing right.