VANCOUVER, British Columbia
FRESHLY released on bail, Marc Emery faced the camera of his Pot-TV.net Web site the other day to make an urgent appeal for money to finance his legal struggle to avert extradition to the United States for trafficking marijuana seeds south of the border.
"Let me be the light that shines on the American gulag," he said, stern-eyed, pointing into the camera. Without notes, Mr. Emery sermonized for a half-hour about everything from the marvelous medicinal and spiritual qualities of pot to the greatness of Thomas Jefferson, "who gave America on hemp paper the Declaration of Independence."
"Marijuana made me a better parent, a better lover, a better businessman," he solemnly told his supporters. Immediately after the broadcast, he was quick to add, "a better driver, too."
At 47, Mr. Emery is known as the Prince of Pot, even in his recent federal indictment in Seattle for charges of conspiring to manufacture marijuana, launder money and traffic millions of marijuana seeds into the United States. At the time of his arrest, on July 29, he and his business were on a United States attorney general list of the 46 most wanted international drug traffickers, and the only one in Canada. But his clownish nickname provides a clue that Mr. Emery is not your typical drug kingpin from the movies who deals in the shadows.
A lanky Canadian with a taste for bland T-shirts and chinos, he proudly promotes himself as the leader of the sizable Vancouver marijuana counterculture that is condoned by the municipal government and much of the city's population. He postures as just a regular guy who loves the Vancouver Canucks, and rarely smokes more than a joint or two a day.
But he also freely says that, outside the Netherlands, he has sold more marijuana seeds and offered the largest selection of any seed bank in the world. He adds that the amount of seeds he has sold south of the border "qualifies me for the death penalty in the United States." (The first claim, of ubiquity, is accepted by American prosecutors, while the second, of a looming death sentence, is met with guffaws.)
"I have a master plan," Mr. Emery said in an interview in the offices of his magazine, Cannabis Culture. "I've wanted to be the Johnny Appleseed of marijuana, so if we produced millions and millions of marijuana plants all over the world, it would be impossible for governments to eradicate or control all of it."
In other words, he added, he wants "to overgrow the governments" that punish marijuana users.
In his crusade to make marijuana completely legal everywhere, not just in Canada, where anti-pot laws are already more lenient than in the United States, Mr. Emery has marketed his seeds and anti-prohibition message on his Web site and magazine and traveled around the country smoking marijuana in front of police stations.
As leader of the British Columbia Marijuana Party, he has run candidates across the province and has himself run for mayor twice in Vancouver on the platform of disbanding the police force and remaking it from scratch. Armed with a speaking style that resembles a tommy gun firing off sound bites, he came in a respectable fifth out of 16 candidates in the last mayoral election, in 2002.
To the growing annoyance of American law enforcement, he has been openly selling seeds to American growers and counseling them how best to cultivate his product and avoid the attention of the police - all with only minor harassment, until now, from Canadian law enforcement.
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Mr. Emery has sold millions of dollars worth of seeds to growers in California, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.
"He operated his business very efficiently, making a lot of money at the expense of our kids and the American public," Rodney Benson, special agent in charge of the D.E.A. field division in Seattle, said in an interview.
Now, his master plan is in serious jeopardy. In July, the Canadian police, working with D.E.A. agents, arrested Mr. Emery and raided his headquarters at the request of the American government, so that he might be extradited for trial in Seattle. Last week, he was freed on bail; the extradition process could take years. It is bound to stir a debate in Canada about whether it should permit a Canadian to stand trial in the United States for an offense that is essentially tolerated here.
But for the time being, Mr. Emery's empire is in tatters. He has been forced to lay off workers at his magazine and Web site, and because he can no longer sell seeds, his ability to finance marijuana-legalization causes has dried up. He says he must move to a smaller apartment, give up his car lease and live on the equivalent of $32 a day from donations.
"Lets face it," Mr. Emery said in an interview. "I've sold millions of seeds and I've been doing it every day of my life the last 11 years. I'm so transparent that everyone from the prime minister to the guy on the street knows it."
He says he has made $4 million in profit since 1996 selling seeds in his Vancouver store, by mail and on the Internet. But he says he has not saved a dime, does not own a share of stock or bonds, does not even own a piece of property.
ALL the money he has made, he says, has gone into his magazine, his Internet Pot-TV news channel, his British Columbia Marijuana Party, various referendum initiatives for marijuana legalization in the United States, legal fees for marijuana growers in several countries and support for his wife, various ex-lovers and four adopted children.
He also claims to have paid nearly $600,000 in taxes from the proceeds of his seeds, noting openly on his tax returns that he worked as a vendor of marijuana seeds.
Mr. Emery describes himself as "a responsible libertarian, not a hedonist," who extols the virtues of capitalism, low taxes, small government and the right of citizens to bear arms.
He said he grew up a social democrat, influenced by his father, who was active in trade union work. But he said his life changed in 1979 when he began reading the works of Ayn Rand, who championed individual freedom and capitalism.
"The right to be free, the right to own the fruits of your mind and effort now all made sense," he recalled. Only a few months after discovering Rand, his girlfriend at the time offered him a joint and he smoked marijuana for the first time.
IT was an epiphany," he said. "I had a sixth sense added to my five senses. The silence sounded different, smells were more nuanced and the brightness of the moon made it look bigger and more substantial in the sky."
The combination of Rand's philosophy and the marijuana set him on a course of advocacy in which, he said, "I decided to dedicate my whole life to repudiate the state."
Then living in London, Ontario, he sold banned marijuana and pornography books and magazines, contested laws limiting the right of stores to open on Sundays and led a municipal tax revolt. He even resisted a municipal garbage strike, by renting a truck and picking up the garbage himself.
After traveling for a while in Asia, however, he has dedicated his efforts to promoting marijuana and its culture.
"Now the Goliath, now the evil empire has made its move on me," Mr. Emery told his Web site audience. But he promised that his crusade would continue "till liberty or till death."