In September 2011, Conservative MP and former OPP commissioner Julian Fantino stood in the House of Commons to urge MPs to vote for the Conservatives’ Safe Streets and Communities Act, which, among other things, increased mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offences, including six months for possessing six plants.
“It is critically important to law enforcement officers if we want them to do the job that they are mandated to do,” he said. “It is critical to the courts and it is critical to society, especially to vulnerable people.”
At the time Fantino spoke those words, Marc Emery was living in the Medium Federal Correctional Institution in Yazoo County, Louisiana, doing five years for selling marijuana seeds through the mail, part of a decades-long crusade against the laws that made it illegal to grow and smoke marijuana.
I believe Emery was right about marijuana and Fantino was wrong, and it seems that Fantino now has had a change of heart, because last month he announced that he plans to sell medical marijuana in a business he founded with former RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar.
Emery, who finished his sentence in 2014 and returned to Canada, is not able to enter the legal marijuana business because of his criminal convictions. On Monday, he and his wife, Jodie Emery, will appear in a Toronto courtroom where they will plead guilty to marijuana charges laid after the police busted marijuana stores they were running in Ontario and British Columbia. They will have to pay large fines.
How large? “You’re not allowed to tell the amount, but you can say an enormous, unprecedentedly large amount,” Marc said in an interview last week.
It seems absurd that the Emerys, who have spent years fighting the unjust laws against marijuana, in and out of prison, can’t now sell the product, while Fantino, who once compared marijuana to murder, is going to cash in.
But Marc is philosophical about it all. He says he actually enjoyed much of his time in prison, where he read hundreds of books, improved his musical skills and got along easily with the other inmates, often helping them as a “jailhouse lawyer.”
“I have almost no negative memories of my five years in prison,” he says. “My biggest regret is all the money and energy I expended for Jodie to visit me.”
Jodie flew down to see him 81 times. She found the experience difficult, largely because of what she saw families of other prisoners go through. She hated the emotional scene at the end of visiting time at Yazoo, when the wives and children of prisoners would line up and wait to be let out.
“You’re standing there looking at your loved one, all the way across this concrete room and the men are all acting brave and you can’t really talk because you’re across the room. And little kids will run across the room, and go, ‘Daddy Daddy’ and jump in his arms and come running back. And you see these moms, the wives and the mothers of the inmates, and they have their backs turned to the inmates and they’re crying and they don’t want to stand there and have their loved one watch them cry, so they turn their back to their loved one while they wait to get out. And the little kids are like, ‘Mommy don’t cry. Mommy don’t cry.’”
Jodie Emery is a tender-hearted, idealistic person. She wants to change the laws that keep fathers away from their children because of drug laws that are unjust, particularly to non-white people, who are much more likely to be incarcerated.
“If the government told me that I could, like, never smoke pot again, and never be in the pot business, but they would never arrest anyone else again, and nobody would lose their kids, and nobody would lose their job for failing a drug test, and nobody would be demonized or persecuted for pot, I would take that in a second,” she says. “Because it’s not about me, it’s not about Marc. I want to help all these people who don’t have a face and a name. They need help.”
The Emerys will likely eventually find a way to participate in the legal marijuana business—using their high profile to boost the business prospects of a licensed producer after pot is legalized next summer—but the immediate future is uncertain.
Their fines will put them deep in debt. Marc made a lot of money on the mail-order seed business until the Americans locked him up, but the Emerys say he gave it all away to activists.
The DEA backs his story. When they announced his arrest, they noted that he had “channelled” hundreds of thousands of dollars to “marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada.”
It’s not clear what kind of role either of them will be able to play in running their business—Cannabis Culture—after they plead guilty.
Meanwhile, Fantino and a lot of other people who busted marijuana users could soon be profiting from legalization.
Jodie has been making a list of former senior police who are taking part in marijuana businesses. There are 17 names on that list.
“I get feelings of outrage and disgust because of the unfairness of it,” she says.
The worst in her mind is Fantino. “It’s somebody who literally voted against, campaigned against, fought against any sort of law reform, and only when, through government coercion, people would be forced to buy from only a few people, he was willing to be one of those people to cash in.”
(Fantino, by the way, says that he hasn’t changed his mind about recreational marijuana, merely medical marijuana.)
People in the legal business—people who can get security clearances that the Liberals’ legislation demands—say the Emerys present a challenge to licensed producers, because of their strident activism.
In this period—what Marc calls the “purgatory between prohibition and legalization”—the well-connected corporate entrepreneurs in the new weed businesses can’t afford to be associated with the wild-eyed activists who were willing to go to prison for what they thought was right.
But they were right all along, and Fantino was wrong, and that will only ever get clearer as time goes by.
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