From West Coast Cannabis
Canadian activist, writer and publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine, Marc Emery, made his way onto the DEA’s most wanted list through cannabis seed sales over the United States border. His business was fully legal in Canada.
In an act of subservience to the United States, the Canadian government granted extradition to the U.S., where he is currently serving a five-year sentence in federal prison.
Since his incarceration, Marc’s wife, Jodie, has become a vocal opponent to the American War on Drugs and a symbol of the movement in Canada.
Angela Bacca: How did you meet Marc?
Jodie Emery: Ooh my goodness, that’s a long one! When I was in grade 10 [that’s sophomore year for those of us who don’t speak Canadian] my friends started smoking pot and introduced me to Pot TV and Cannabis Culture, which is how I learned of Marc. I became active on the Cannabis Culture forums and got to know him through the forum like a lot of people did. We would talk through there and he was always supportive, he gave me a lot of advice.
In grade 12, I went away to boarding school in Victoria, after I graduated I returned to my hometown, Kamloops, B.C. I met Marc for the first time in the Spring of 2004 when I decided to leave Kamloops and move to Vancouver. I started hanging out at the store [Cannabis Culture Headquarters/Smoke Shop], which is how we got to know each other.
AB: At the time did you know he was fighting a battle with the U.S.?
JE: No, it hadn’t happened yet, they arrested Marc July 29, 2005. I had already known him for a year or so at that point.
AB: How did you prepare yourself for his being incarcerated for five years?
JE: I never really thought about it that much because it was a distressing idea to think about. It was our philosophy to just enjoy every day we had together. We didn’t know what was going to come while he was in a Canadian jail for 3 months in 2009 awaiting extradition to the United States. Eventually he was bailed out because it was clear the process would take much longer.
While he was in jail that time I had already started running the store and had taken over all his responsibilities—it was a test run for his imprisonment.
AB: How long has Marc been incarcerated in the United States and when is the estimated release date?
JE: He was taken across the border on May 20, 2010. With good behavior he will only serve 85% of his sentence, so he will be free again July 9, 2014. If he has to serve the whole thing, March 2015.
AB: Since Marc has been incarcerated he has been in multiple locations throughout the United States, where has he been, where is he now, and where does he think he will end up?
JE: He was first taken to Seattle, WA. Once he made his guilty plea and was sentenced, he was moved to Nevada and held there briefly before being transferred again to Oklahoma City, which is a Federal Bureau of Prisons transfer facility. He was supposed to go to Taft [near Bakersfield, CA] but instead he was moved to Folkston, GA and put in a Geo Group private prison for non-American citizens.
He blogged there a lot [via Corrlinks Federal Inmate emails to Jodie] and it is my belief that because of the blogging he was shipped out of that prison and flown to Oklahoma City again. There he learned he was designated to a medium security prison in Mississippi, where we believe he will stay.
AB: Do you know why they keep moving him?
JE: Federal prisoners are often shifted from state to state. They also always have so many coming in and going out that they have to shuffle everyone around.
AB: Marc’s blogs commented heavily on the conditions and injustices in private prisons, do you think that has anything to do with him being moved around so much?
JE: Marc did expose a lot of problems, which all eventually were addressed, but it cost Geo Group a lot of money to handle all of these problems that were being made public. [The prison in Mississippi] is at least a better facility, so I guess the logic there is that he won’t be so noisy.
His transfer application [to finish his sentence in a Canadian prison] was rejected by the United States Government, the reason they noted was that somehow Marc had done something within his own control that was reason for his denial. He never broke any rules… the only thing I can glean from that is they didn’t want him to keep blogging, complaining and drawing attention to them.
AB: Has your perspective on America and Americans changed at all since making these trips to visit Marc?
JE: It has certainly introduced me to places I have never seen before and it is a bit of a culture shock because liquor stores seem to appear everywhere, alcohol is available everywhere. It is a different type of setting than what I am used to and a lot of religions and different type things. What is most upsetting to me is the poverty down there, especially compared to Vancouver, which has become quite affluent. It is shocking to see how much Americans are really struggling. Seeing it is different than hearing about it on the news. But, one thing that stands out is people down there are very kind. I have never had a problem with the American people… just the American government and their laws.
AB: Marc has still been incredibly forefront in both countries as a voice of opposition to the American War on Drugs, even while behind bars. How has that helped or hurt him while serving his sentence?
JE: It has definitely helped Marc to be vocal; he has received a lot of help from people who look up to him. It is good he said what he said [about the conditions in the private prisons], he was able to help a lot of people, a lot of inmates were suffering and he helped improve their quality of life.
It didn’t help his notoriety though; being vocal can result in retribution. Marc has certainly been reprimanded for his vocal nature before. [Last year he spent almost a month in solitary confinement after Jodie recorded a phone call and uploaded it as a blog, which was not against the rules].
It is all part of the game; he is always willing to suffer the consequences of his disobedience for speaking the truth. He is always polite, never has been a problem, and has always gotten along with all the staff and other inmates. His safety has never been at risk. He is using the time to better himself in other ways, he is learning how to play guitar, speak Spanish and taking small business courses. He is not going to let this stop him, he will always work to improve himself and others and has always done that. He encourages a lot of people behind bars and on the outside.
AB: In all the photos and communication through CannabisCulture.com, which is one of the heaviest trafficked marijuana sites on the net, Marc seems incredibly optimistic, he is smiling in most photos, which is a major contrast to what I see with other marijuana POWs, like Eddy Lepp. How is he coping in prison so well?
JE: Marc has always been very positive despite the hardships he has been made to suffer, and there have been many. He realizes you control your outlook on life. Being positive makes positive things happen. He holds onto that. He still gets depressed, it’s challenging, but he knows out of misery comes more misery and out of positivity comes more positivity. He really tries his best to be optimistic and takes into consideration that others are going through much worse than he is.
He always appreciates the support he gets. He is always very grateful and never takes it for granted. That helps me get through it to. Marc has a lot of friends, a lot of strangers, a lot of supporters and me encouraging him to stay strong. He tells me all the time he couldn’t make it if it weren’t for me. We are 100% devoted to each other and I will do whatever it takes to get him through this.
He knows there are thousands [of drug war POWs] without all the media and support he has and he is always very thankful for what he has.
AB: Cannabis Culture was campaigning hard against the Conservative party in the recent Canadian Federal elections, which were not covered by the American media. What does the Conservative victory mean for Canadians?
JE: Canada is about to go through 4 years of what you went through in George W. Bush’s first term. We just elected a very evangelical, right wing, hypocritical, Conservative government. This is the biggest government with the biggest debt and the biggest mismanagement of economy that we have ever had. They continually infringe on our civil liberties. Under this Conservative government our prison and military systems will grow. Private prisons will likely be introduced soon and mandatory minimums are already coming into place. There is already an omnibus bill of dozens of pieces of U.S. style drug law and an emphasis on U.S “tough on crime,” legislation… those laws coming into place means we are going to go through very very very dark times, it is going to set back the marijuana activism movement here. In general, democracy and peace will suffer.
AB: Why should Americans care?
JE: Americans… wow, why should they care? Because Canada has hugely represented progress, it has always been the sort of place other countries want to become. We typically have always been a few steps behind the United States. A lot of the progress made there is positive for us to watch, we pay a lot of attention and there is so much happening there we can’t even keep track.
It is exciting for us to see what you are doing down there, but we have always understood that before we could make a great change here, the U.S. needs to do it first. They are in a position right now where the pendulum is swinging in the right direction. It is nice to have something better to look at down south to inspire us to keep fighting through the dark times ahead.
AB: How did you initially get involved with marijuana activism? Was it Marc or were you already active?
JE: Before I even met Marc, became familiar with Cannabis Culture, and before my friends started smoking pot I was very much against drugs. I was very anti-alcohol and anti-drugs… I didn’t like anyone having any fun at all. I was very much a teacher’s pet who loved authority, which is pretty much the opposite of what I am today.
My friends introduced me to marijuana and I was surprised because they were really intelligent. 911 had just happened and they were talking about international government politics and all these things that my straightedge fellow students weren’t up on, I was surprised my stoner friends knew more about this. So, I decided to try marijuana and it really opened my mind and made me change a lot, for the better.
That is how I got into activism, I saw I had been lied to, I felt betrayed. This made me upset and ever since then I have been keeping an eye out for more hypocrisies from people in power.
AB: Since Marc has been incarcerated; you have really come forward as the voice of Cannabis Culture and one of the biggest players in Canadian marijuana policy reform, which in Canada has made you a household name. You are also young, attractive, and well dressed. Do you feel at times you have to fight harder for respect than a man would in a similar position? Or, do you feel like you can use that to your advantage?
JE: I feel like I have used it to my advantage in that people treat me with respect and they don’t write me off as a bimbo in any way. I am trying to present myself as a professional and an adult, not a sexy young teenager. I think I present a different message than other attractive intelligent women do. Whatever you are good at you should use to your advantage. I have always been treated with respect, never heard anyone really criticize me. So yes, I think I win people over in ways men may not be able too.
AB: Why do you think there aren’t as many women in the movement?
JE: I think in all industries men are more predominant in roles of leadership. We are definitely seeing a lot more females come forward in all industries. Women and men both have something to offer, we are the perfect yin and yang together. Women have good ideas, which is why they are being put in positions of power. They have a special touch; we are good organizers and diplomats. Traditionally men are more recognized for what they do, but I don’t know many men I can list off that are equal to the women I know.
AB: You are, arguably, the face of the marijuana legalization movement in Canada today. How has this changed your everyday life?
JE: Wow! I don’t know if I see it that way. I don’t like to think too highly of myself— I am one of many people in this field. I am always grateful for interviews and I don’t proclaim myself to be an expert on anything. I appreciate it when people want my opinion. If my message can get out there clearly and represent a lot of people I am making the most of my talents.
AB: What is next for Cannabis Culture?
JE: We have a new website in the works, we are also reviving Pot TV to return to its position of influence. Pot TV was started as the first marijuana video website on the net. Many exist like that today but I want to introduce people to the history through archives and present-day shows. We want to be one of the best, most respected sources of cannabis news and culture. We have been around a long time and want to maintain our standing in the community.