TORONTO — Prominent marijuana activists Marc and Jodie Emery were charged with multiple drug-related offences in Toronto on Thursday after police in several cities raided pot dispensaries associated with the couple.
The self-styled "Prince" and "Princess of Pot" were arrested at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Wednesday evening. They appeared briefly in a courtroom on Thursday afternoon before police announced the full list of charges they faced.
Marc Emery faces 15 counts, including conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, and possession of proceeds of crime, while Jodie Emery is charged with five similar counts.
The couple's Toronto lawyer said his clients were expected to appear in court again on Friday.
"My clients were uncertain of what they'd been arrested for," Jack Lloyd said outside court on Thursday. "They're in good spirits ... but they're in custody, hopeful that we can have a productive bail hearing tomorrow."
In Vancouver, another lawyer for the couple said they plan to fight the charges.
"We've been fighting this battle an awfully long time. And we're going to fight it right to the end. And I expect we're going to be victorious," said Kirk Tousaw.
Jodie Emery mouthed the words "I love you" to her husband during the couple's brief court appearance and flashed a peace sign to supporters in the room before being admonished by the justice of the peace.
The Emerys own the Cannabis Culture brand, which is used by a chain of 19 marijuana dispensaries in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said seven Cannabis Culture locations — five in Toronto, one in Hamilton and another in Vancouver — were searched on Thursday along with two homes in Toronto, one in Stoney Creek, Ont., and one in Vancouver.
"Our history of enforcing the law against illegal cannabis dispensaries is well established," Pugash said. "This is the latest effort in our law enforcement, and I'm certain there will be further action."
In addition to the Emerys, police charged three other people on Thursday. Thirty-seven-year-old Chris Goodwin and 31-year-old Erin Goodwin, both of Toronto, and 29-year-old Britney Guerra of Stoney Creek face charges that include conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
The federal government is moving to legalize marijuana, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emphasized late last year that the current laws exist.
The fact that the law still exists doesn't mean police and Crown prosecutors must enforce it, said Tousaw.
"A lot of horrific things used to be legal. It's not a good excuse to deprive people of liberty that the law is the law. That simply does not work in a society that values justice over authoritarianism," he said.
The federal justice minister could "declare a ceasefire in the war on drugs" while legalization is brought in, he added.
Police forces across the country have been raiding pot shops in recent months and charging owners with trafficking-related offences.
A group of protesters gathered outside Cannabis Culture headquarters in Vancouver on Thursday afternoon, decrying the latest raids and the Emerys' arrest. Some smoked marijuana as they sat on the sidewalk in front of police officers who blocked the shop's entrance.
"This is a move to attack Jodie and Marc Emery," said Danny Kresnyak, editor of Cannabis Culture magazine. "It has nothing to do with protecting the children or keeping it out the hands of organized crime or anything else that they're saying in their statements."
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott said Thursday that the federal government remains committed to introducing legislation on the matter in the spring but noted that it would have to go through a rigorous parliamentary and regulatory process.
"It's a firm commitment of our government to legalize access to cannabis, to regulate that access and to restrict it appropriately," she said. "We want to make sure this is done properly and people need to recognize it will take some time but it will be done."
But British Columbia's public safety minister, Mike Morris, said he is concerned about public confusion surrounding marijuana.
"The sooner the feds come out with the legislation, the sooner we can get on with determining what direction we need to go," he said.
Marc Emery was previously arrested at one of his new Montreal dispensaries in December and charged with drug trafficking.
— With files from Liam Casey in Toronto, Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver and Dirk Meissner in Victoria.
Peter Cameron, The Canadian Press