By Dan Skye
On the day of Marc Emery’s arrest, DEA chief Karen Tandy stated in a press release: “Today’s DEA arrest of Marc Scott Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine and the founder of a marijuana legalization group, is a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the US and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement. His marijuana trade and propagandist marijuana magazine have generated nearly $5 million a year in profits that bolstered his trafficking efforts, but those have gone up in smoke today. Emery and his organization had been designated as one of the Attorney General’s most wanted international drug trafficking organizational targets—one of only 46 in the world and the only one from Canada. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery’s illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on.”
As usual, the drug warriors thought they’d scored a huge victory.
Marc Emery, the powerful cannabis activist and celebrity seed merchant, may be behind bars, but his legacy continues to inspire new activists and his influence remains strong. In this exclusive interview, Emery makes it clear he’s lost none of his energy and refuses to knuckle under.
Editor’s Note: At the time of this interview, Marc was a prisoner at D. Ray James Correctional Facility in Georgia. He has since been transferred to FCI Correctional Institution in Yazoo City, MS. His contact info is at the end of this interview.
Do you consider yourself a political prisoner?
Obviously, the DEA and the Canadian government, which collaborated with the DEA, are both involved in jailing me. All of my activity was directed toward raising money to fund and support a massive network of political activity aimed at thwarting the activities of the DEA and to advance the legalization agenda. All of the money I received, after paying employees, seed producers, advertising and other business costs, was dedicated to the movement cause.
Are you angry or do you fall into dark moods considering what has befallen you?
I do get miserable and frustrated with my predicament. I do become forlorn at the prospect of spending years in this cruelly run concentration camp for foreigners. I try to keep my feelings about my incarceration in perspective – you don’t become a legend in your own time without sacrifice, risk, hardship and struggle.
What sustains you behind bars?
The letters people send to me in prison remind me of my catalog of achievements for the movement. Many people write to say I’ve saved their life by something I did for them personally. Four women have named children after me and send me regular updates and photos of my namesakes.
How is your relationship with your wife holding up?
Her absence is very painful. Americans who are sentenced in federal court get sent to the federal prison nearest their spouse or family, usually within 500 miles from their home. I am 4,000 miles away from my home in Vancouver, Canada. I could have been put in Sheridan, OR (700 miles away), or Lompoc FCI in California (1,100 miles away), which is what my sentencing judge recommended. But I was put in the US prison for foreigners farthest away as could be, in the southeast corner of Georgia.
I miss Jodie unrelentingly. I have no qualms in saying I never get used to being away from her. But I want her to do a huge amount on my behalf. She has to look after the store and the websites; she has to sustain me, prop up my morale, and find money to come see me every second weekend at considerable expense and exhaustion-inducing travel. She misses me, but she has to stay strong and deal with the depression that comes over me every six weeks or so in jail.
As for our relationship, she will be Mrs. Emery until the day I die. She is completely, utterly 100 percent my wife, partner and best friend. Our intense romantic love for each other is never in doubt. Her visits to me every two weeks are heaven-sent. We are forever.
Describe prison life.
When I was at the Seattle/Tacoma Federal Detention Center in Washington, I had email with Jodie and 29 other correspondents. I had a two-man cell and got along with my cellmate. My newspapers arrived the day of issue, and Jodie got to visit every weekend at much less inconvenience.
But I never got outside and eventually, at Sea-Tac, they covered up all the windows so you couldn’t even see the outside. I thought it was difficult there. Fellow inmates would tell me: “Wait until you get to a low-security prison – it gets way better.” I was looking forward to an improvement when I finally got to my designated facility. Then I ended up here at D. Ray James Correctional Facility, and I have been profoundly disappointed.
Canadians get sent to vastly inferior, privately owned, for-profit federal prisons with shockingly lower standards than prisons for US citizens run by the Bureau of Prisons. All Canadians, once sentenced, are housed in for-profit prisons run by GEO Group or Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which don’t have to adhere to Bureau of Prison policy or procedure. These for-profit prisons have very little oversight by the BOP. The singular imperative for these private prisons is warehousing inmates at the lowest possible cost. These private prisons handle foreign nationals exclusively in about 20 facilities across the US.
At D.Ray James, a prison in the Okefenokee swampland region of southeast Georgia that is exclusively for non-American citizens, I live in a 64-man dormitory with absolutely no privacy.
How are foreigners treated as opposed to Americans?
One of the most glaring inequities for the 12 Canadians in the inmate population of 1,600 – scheduled to rise to 2,500 by summer 2011 – is that all US inmates in federal prisons, of all security levels, have access to hours a day of email through the CorrLinks system. But non-American inmates don’t. This is an extraordinary deprivation for the Canadians and other nationalities here.
The reason for this deprivation is obvious: Most of our litigation and legal action would be directed at GEO Group, D. Ray Jamesand the Bureau of Prisons for the willful indifference, negligence and cruelties that go on here unchecked.
No email makes contact with our family, lawyers and friends so much more challenging, since all inmates only get 300 minutes monthly for all phone calls. That’s less than 10 minutes a day.
The prison is ineptly run day in and day out. I have concluded it is by design so GEO can extort more money out of the US federal government by saying it can’t be run on the $1,008,000 GEO receives weekly to run this penny-pinching concentration camp for foreigners.
There are no relevant educational courses or skill trades offered here. There is razor wire on every interior fence and structure, even though everyone here is here for illegal entry, drug dealing/transport or white-collar crime. Our movement within the prison is very tightly controlled, and we are frisked frequently.
What’s your relationship with other inmates?
I have not had conflicts with inmates or staff. Problems all stem from the management and corporate dictates of GEO Group. What I cannot understand is how a private corporation like GEO can legally hire all of these “deportable aliens,” most of whom do not have green cards to work legally in the United States. All physical maintenance, food services and the like are done by inmates at 12 cents an hour. Has GEO received a special exemption from the federal government that allows a for-profit US corporation to do what no other US business entity is allowed to do: hire illegal aliens to work in their businesses? By what political or legal alchemy can these same illegal workers be hired by GEO to essentially to maintain this “industry” here at D. Ray James Correctional Facility?
All inmates get assigned a job. If you don’t work on whatever job you’re assigned, GEO/DJRC can put you in solitary confinement until you change your mind. So a US corporation, answerable only to shareholders, can put any inmate here in a lonely dungeon if they refuse to be a slave at 12 cents an hour. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery “within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” As far as I know, D. Ray James prison is a “place subject to their jurisdiction.” Either GEO is illegally hiring “illegal aliens” or employing slave labor – or both.
What are your goals in prison?
Keeping busy. I keep busy with all manner of secretarial and legal correspondence for the 1,500-plus Hispanic men in the prison. I satisfy myself by being a jailhouse lawyer for the men, as all formal legal or intra-prison requests and grievances must be composed in persuasive English. I am one of the three or four people in the entire prison with an educated, formal comprehension of English, in that I can write, edit, compose and type formal English letters. So far, I have done work for over 250 inmates including talking to lawyers about appeals, writing motions, reviewing appeals, writing Immigration about their citizenship papers, doing treaty-transfer applications for Spanish, Canadian, Peruvian and Colombian nationals, writing grievances, writing property-location requests, contacting their lawyers and getting updates on their cases. I’ve assisted with divorce papers, in prison marriage requests, dental requests, medical requests, child-custody arrangements, bankruptcy papers and numerous grievances with GEO Group.
I write five to seven letters daily to correspondents who write me. I typically respond to every serious letter sent to me. I do a weekly newsletter of six to 18 typed pages weekly [available at cannabisculture.com and freemark.ca] and enclose a printed copy of that week’s newsletter to all correspondents who wrote me that week.
What have you achieved so far in prison?
At Sea-Tac, I started my autobiography – 17 chapters of a projected 100. I hope to have some completed stories online at cannabisculture.com by summer 2011. I am content that, even in this concentration camp for foreigners, I am able to help others. I try to achieve justice, which was my job on the outside. I am more restrained in my approach, but I have not shied away from telling the truth.
As an activist, you must have realized that you were rattling cages with your bold actions.
Whenever I did anything really bold, I knew there would be blowback. When we heckled the Drug Czar, it made TV news. I said, “I’ll pay for that one, no doubt.” In 1997, CNN aired on its Impact program “A Visit with Canada’s Prince of Pot.” I knew there would be blowback there. When I was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in 1995, the writer, Quentin Hardy, assured me that the White House would orchestrate a retaliation. I bought a full-page advertisement in Vancouver while Canada was hosting the APEC conference involving 25 heads of state. The ad condemned these nations for their punitive marijuana policies. Again, I knew there would be blowback.
After each of these bold actions, my stores, my wholesale divisions, Cannabis Culture magazine and my seed stores experienced huge raids by police within weeks.
Are there things you would have done differently?
I would have given far less money to my ex-girlfriends and my first wife. When I split up with my first wife or girlfriends, I felt sorry for them and made ridiculously generous payouts to them. I didn’t want them to suffer. But overly generous cash amounts retarded their progress, because they became completely dependent on my payments.
The worse expenditure ever occurred when the Friendly Stranger, a retail store in Toronto, tried to trademark the name “Cannabis Culture,” the name of my magazine. Over an eight-year period, what should have been easily resolved cost me $160,000 in outrageous, exorbitant legal fees. I should never have contested it – I could have just called it Marc Emery’s Cannabis Magazine or Marc Emery’s Cannabis Culture Magazine and bypassed the whole dispute. But our identity as Cannabis Culture is something I’m very proud of. Yet it cost way too much.
The 2001 BC Marijuana Party campaign was perhaps the greatest achievement of mine and my late business partner, Michelle Rainey, who tragically died of cancer last October. But the net cost was $152,000 for the campaign and $100,000 in income tax to be able to donate the $152,000. There were many good results, but we netted only 4 percent of the vote and, in the long run, there was nothing physical to show for it. The $250,000 would have been better spent putting legalization initiatives on state ballots throughout the US.
POT-TV was too expensive a project. In 2001 and 2002, bandwidth costs for POT-TV were $10,000 to $13,000 a month. With the costs of production, POT-TV cost $200,000 to $225,000 respectively in those years. It had no revenue stream, but it was the only cannabis-video site in the world and was hugely influential. But was it worth spending nearly a million dollars over seven years? No, it was not. Now bandwidth is so cheap – YouTube pays for it all.
What are you proudest of?
There are physical achievements: 15 years and 74 issues of Cannabis Culture magazine, which I’m immensely proud of. We held four fabulous Tokers’ Bowls from 2002 to 2005. There was the legendary 2001 BC Marijuana Party election campaign with a full slate of 79 candidates. My money kick-started the Global Marijuana Marches with generous financial support in 1999 to 2005. My staff and I started the first large-scale public April 20th celebrations in 1995, now ubiquitous around the world.
Marc Emery Seeds gave money to ballot initiatives in Washington, DC, Arizona, Colorado and Alaska. In Canada, I pioneered the hemp retail movement – in fact, bongs and pipes were effectively banned in Canada when I started Hemp BC, our store, and we helped revive the cannabis movement in Canada. I’m always proud that I was pivotal in making it legal for HIGH TIMES magazine to be distributed in Canada after the Canadian government banned it from 1987 to 1994. I’ve been influential in the careers of so many other now-prominent activists.
What’s the most important thing you would like to say to people?
I’ve changed the political landscape in such a way that a young cannabis enthusiast today wouldn’t be able to recognize the “old days.” I helped create a cannabis-culture infrastructure that, now, every activist takes for granted. People like Jack Herer, Dennis Peron and I built it from scratch, and I certainly financed a great deal of the progress. That’s why I think my fate in this concentration camp for foreigners should matter. That’s why “Free Marc” is not just about me – it’s about the movement I helped, in huge part, to make what it is today.
What’s the most important thing for the cannabis community to concentrate on at this point?
Legalization initiatives in every state where it can be done for 2012. Eight or 10 or 12 states with legalization initiatives will create the political synergy we need to have federal politicians begin the work of repealing cannabis prohibition at the federal level.
Don’t wait for the big donors or the Marijuana Policy Project or NORML to organize these initiatives! Start a Facebook group and begin collecting names of signature-gathering volunteers. Contact me for advice: I have a huge influence on individuals in the movement, and I am available all day, every day – even behind bars – to help, guide, mentor, assist and advise an initiative campaign.
Never underestimate your power as an individual to change the world. I never did, and I changed the world in many ways that carry on today!
Are you a spiritual person?
I’m not; I’m a practical person who is an idealist who possesses a heroic self-image. I believe that only action gives one peace of mind – that is, effort toward achievement is what sustains me. It’s what I would recommend for any would-be activist.
I do not believe in God or religion or the supernatural. I believe we are here on earth and this is heaven – and hell – and we have to add our light to the sum of light.
How do you view your life now?
It’s been incredible. And it’s not over by a long shot.
Visit cannabisculture.com or freemarc.ca.
Write to Marc: MARC EMERY #40252-086, FCI YAZOO CITY - MEDIUM E-1, P.O. BOX 5888, YAZOO CITY, MS 39194
Being the wife of a political prisoner sent off to a foreign country has been challenging in many ways. Not only do I suffer heartbreak and loneliness without my partner and the love of my life, but I also must be unwaveringly strong for us both and work hard to take care of him as best as I can. Marc is incredibly brilliant, courageous, noble and unlike anyone I have ever known. When I look at his body of work and achievements, as documented thoroughly in The Principle of Pot by Paul McKeever (on DVD and YouTube), I know why he has so much love and support from around the world. I’ve met thousands of people who say he saved or changed their lives; I know he’s saved mine, and helped me achieve wonderful things under his guidance.
That’s why I miss him so much: He has been at my side since April 2004, teaching me everything he knows. His time in prison will be a learning experience for us both, a chance to develop in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Under great duress, incredible things can flourish.
Marc and I are madly in love and growing closer through this ordeal. He has suffered many injustices and so much hardship in the nightmarish US prison system, as have many others. When he finally comes back to me, we’ll help strike down cannabis prohibition across North America and around the world. —Jodie Emery