Will Ottawa welcome home Marc Emery, Canada’s ‘Prince of Pot’?

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Will Ottawa welcome home Marc Emery, Canada’s ‘Prince of Pot’?

Get set for a spike in public activism to legalize marijuana use once Marc Emery comes home. Just when that happens depends on the federal government.

The U.S. Justice Department has approved a request by Canada's so-called "Prince of Pot" to serve out the remainder of his American prison term back home, The Canadian Press reports.

Emery, a high-profile Vancouver-based advocate for decriminalizing marijuana, was charged in 2005 with selling cannabis seeds to U.S. customers via mail-order. Money from the business was used to fund efforts to legalize pot. The publicity-saavy Emery was arrested a number of times at smoke-ins to make his point.

After a lengthy extradition fight and plea-bargain negotiations, Emery agreed in 2010 to plead guilty to one count in exchange for a five-year sentence.

He spent time in several U.S. prisons, ending up in a medium-security lockup in Yazoo City, Miss., CP said.

It remains to be seen how quickly Ottawa will move to bring Emery back. The Conservative government has steadfastly opposed legalizing personal pot possession and use, in fact toughening criminal sanctions. It's also revamped the rules on medical marijuana to eliminate legal home grow-ops.

[ Related: B.C. group ramps-up petition drive to decriminalize marijuana ]

How happy would this government be to have Emery back on Canadian soil, once again making things difficult?

Prisoner transfers like this need the approval of the federal solicitor general. But the job is vacant after the recent resignation of Vic Toews, who anyway was not known for rubber-stamping these things. Whoever succeeds him in the upcoming cabinet shuffle can take time to get up to speed on current files.

Emery's wife and fellow activist, Jodie, is aware of the potential stumbling block.

"Now the Canadian government has to approve it but the public safety minister Vic Toews just resigned so I don't know who I am supposed to ask to bring him home but I will certainly be waging that campaign," she told Vancouver radio station CKNW.

"Vic Toews and the Canadian Conservative government have been rejecting Canadian requests to come home for many years. They have been taken to court over it."

The Conservative government has never been in a hurry to repatriate Canadians held abroad to serve the balance of their sentences here.

Toews stalled the transfer of Canadian-born Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay, where he was jailed for killing an American soldier in Afghanistan, for more than a year after the U.S. government approved the move.

Last year, the Federal Court of Appeal slammed Toews for his handling of a prisoner-transfer review. The Globe and Mail noted at the time that Toews and his predecessors, Peter Van Loan and Stockwell Day, had been rebuked 15 times by federal court judges on such transfers.

The government has up to 90 days to review Emery's request.

If Ottawa rejects the transfer bid, Emery would be eligible for release from U.S. custody next July after serving 85 per cent of his sentence, the Vancouver Sun reported.

If he's transferred to the Canadian prison system he could conceivably be released fairly quickly, having served two thirds of his sentence.

“It’s a little difficult counting down to a date that isn’t set, so I don’t know if it will be weeks, months, half a year," Jodie Emery told the Sun. "But either way he’s coming home.”

[ Related: Marc Emery’s prosecutor John McKay now calls for marijuana legalization ]

Whether Emery's release comes this year or next, his wife signalled they'll ramp up their advocacy.

"I think when he comes home we're going to be a very powerful team together politically and in trying to improve the world and speak on behalf of those who are suffering under the drug war imposed by the government," she said

Ironically, the kinds of changes the Emery's have fought for have taken place in some U.S. states since Marc Emery was imprisoned, including Washington, where he was prosecuted.