For Canada’s first couple of pot, Jodie and Marc Emery, it hasn’t been happy trails of late.
Their future in the marijuana legalization movement would seem hazier now after pleading guilty last month to trafficking and possession of the proceeds of crime that came with $195,000 in fines for each of them. The charges stem from high-profile raids led by Toronto police last March at a number of Cannabis Culture dispensaries in Ontario and Vancouver, under the code name Project Gator. Three other business associates charged in the raids were fined between $3,000 and $10,000 each. Charges against 17 employees were dropped.
The cannabis community’s reaction to the plea deal has been mixed.
Some have donated to a GoFundMe campaign to help with the couple’s fines. (The Emerys must pay at least $45,000 of the fine within two years or face jail time.) As of this week, some $8,450 has been raised from 119 contributors, although the needle on that amount hasn’t budged much since late December.
Others say the Emerys should have fought the charges given the federal government’s plans to legalize recreational marijuana next summer. To be sure, at the time of the Project Gator raids, lawyers representing the Emerys considered the likelihood of the charges sticking remote.
On that question, Jodie Emery offers two responses – the couple didn’t want to tie up the system fighting a long court case that would cause delays in other cases “with real victims;” and fighting the case “would have been an enormous cost and hardship I can’t afford.”
There was also much talk about the Emerys doing jail time, although evidence suggests the Crown didn’t want to turn them into martyrs. The goal was to put the Emerys out of business – according to Marc Emery, authorities rejected an offer from him to serve a year in jail on the charges.
Where the Emerys are concerned, its been their open and vocal flouting of the law that has made them the target of authorities. To cops and prosecutors they’re more Bonnie and Clyde than the so-called Prince and Princess of Pot.
To wit, the statement of facts read in court prior to last month’s plea deal. It states that Cannabis Culture’s flagship store on Church was bringing in an estimated $333,000 a week – and that the couple was earning an additional $20,000 to $45,000 in royalties from other franchises across the country. With those kind of numbers it’s easy to see why licensed producers viewed the Emerys push for storefront dispensaries as a huge threat to their own bottom line.
Jodie Emery disputes those figures as “totally exaggerated and overblown.” But it’s also true that her husband has “given away” piles of money to the cause of legalization, an estimated $2 million – that’s according to FBI documents filed back in 2005 when the U.S. was trying to secure Emery’s extradition on conspiracy charges for selling marijuana seeds. The documents also claim the mail-order marijuana seed business Emery had been running for a decade out of Vancouver was generating an estimated $5 million in profits a year.
No doubt, the business of weed has been very good to the Emerys. The Crown in their most recent case laid out the couple’s plans to take the Cannabis Culture brand cross-country post-legalization, selling dispensaries the use of the Cannabis Culture name, which the Emerys have built into a national brand, in exchange for monthly fees and royalties.
That idea has gone up in smoke now that both Emerys have been saddled with a criminal record, which would preclude them from taking part in the legal trade.
That has led to speculation that the couple may hook up with one of the larger licensed marijuana producers. But that scenario seems unlikely.
While their criminal records may restrict their involvement in the legal trade in Ontario, where weed will be regulated by a government-run monopoly, it’s unclear to what extent those restrictions will apply in other provinces that have opted for a mix of privately owned and government-run weed stores.
The Emerys still occupy a huge space in the cannabis industry through a base of operations in Vancouver, where half a dozen stores carry the Cannabis Culture name, and offices that serve as headquarters for Pot TV and Cannabis Culture magazine.
Jodie Emery hasn’t let go of the dream of finding a place in the legal industry. “That has always been the goal,” she says.
Marc Emery, meanwhile, has embarked on a three-month tour of Latin America, which in recent weeks has taken him to the mountains of former rebel-held territory in Colombia, where new cannabis plantations run by collectives are poised to enter the extracts and oil market in a big way. In Facebook posts of his journey, Emery says he’s not chasing the next big thing, just offering his advice to entrepreneurs looking to get in on the market.
While they enjoy a cult-like status among devoted followers, it’s no secret that others in the business of cannabis view the couple’s publicity-seeking brand of activism as a heat score.
They point to the fight Jodie Emery picked with the chief by crashing his press conference after Project Claudia, the first dispensary raids in the city, as the impetus for more raids that followed. And then there’s Marc Emery’s history of off-colour pronouncements on social media on everything from trans rights to sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. To be sure, Marc Emery’s politics have not been in tune with the new breed of activism in a movement more keen on diversity than the personal freedom brand of libertarianism he espouses as a philosophy.
In some ways he’s been an unlikely face of the movement – a businessman whose status as such offered a measure of protection from authorities that might not otherwise be granted to, say, a person of colour in his position.
There have been questionable political forays. More recently, he has been singing the praises of Jack MacLaren, the former PC backbencher who defected to the Trillium Party, for his support for privately owned dispensaries. MacLaren got tossed from the PC caucus for cracks about French language rights and sexual violence against women.
But if former high-profile cops who spent their careers arresting people for pot can now have their piece of the pie, then why not the Emerys?
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