R. Jeanette Martin
It didn't take long for the Prince of Pot Marc Emery to return to his old ways of delivering fire-and-brimstone speeches. He didn't even bother to change out of his drab grey prison sweats into his professional pothead attire of suit and tie before launching into a legalization spiel for the TV cameras.
Emery walked across the Detroit-Windsor border and back into Canada a free man Tuesday, August 12, after almost five years in a Mississippi prison for selling pot seeds. It was 4:20 pm, the time of day that every stoner in the world knows is time to celebrate.
Humping their deadlines, the assembled reporters didn't let him get to his prepared notes and began shouting questions. Emery waited until most of them had packed up and left to take his first post-prison puff of Rockstar offered by a local Windsor supporter.
He fired it up on the spot, toasted freedom and friends, took a couple of tokes and passed the spliff on.
"I've got to titrate my dosage," he said. He didn't smoke while he was away, because "a lot of bad things happen when you fail a urine test in prison." He didn't elaborate. Inmate prison violence was fairly minimal in the medium-security facility in Yazoo City, where he learned to play bass guitar, although he did contract the potentially deadly MRSA infection.
The Prince is back, but how relevant is he still to the cause of marijuana legalization? Five years is a long time. But Emery has almost instantly gone back to being Marc Emery. Before his incarceration, advocates would gather on his Cannabis Culture magazine forums, but now it's Faceook groups, a fief outside his control. He's never owned a smartphone.
About half the room at Toronto's Vapor Central for his sold-out talk the next night, which is more Jello Biafra spoken word than speech, haven't seen Emery in action before he went to jail.
Oddly enough, more has happened to end prohibition since he was extradited in 2009 to face charges in the U.S. than when he was out fighting the good fight.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) thought it was decapitating the marijuana movement when it jailed Emery. The DEA heralded his arrest as "a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the U.S. and Canada, but also to the marijuana legalization movement." But cannabis culture has thrived, growing like a healthy plant.
We have vapour lounges across Canada and more 420 smoke-out protests and pot dispensaries than ever before. On the other hand, the growing of medical marijuana has been privatized under the HarperCons, and penalties for growing it have become much harsher.
For Emery, it must feel like the Twilight Zone.
And now he plans to use the Liberals' legalization stand to mount his comeback tour, although the Grits want nothing to do with him.
In media reports before his release, Emery pledged to crisscross the country campaigning for the Libs and against the HarperCons who sent him to jail. His wife, Jodie, has registered to run for the party in BC. But the Liberals don't need Marc Emery as much as he may need them.
Liberal organizers have taken note of the growing support for legalization stateside, where political strategists suggest there's a 5 per cent voting bloc who will come out and mark an X just for legalization. In the past, it might have been challenging to get Canadian smokers to the polls sans Emery, but social media have changed all that.
Yet the Prince isn't fazed in the least that the Liberals are running away from his advances; his show must go on. It's part of his quest to be a libertarian Randian hero and stage performer.
The former marijuana seed seller has never been a savvy politico, but he is a rock star, and his amazeballs act is cannabis legalization. Emery's new act is an odd one: mustering the vote for a party that doesn't want him in the hope that they won't renege on their pot promise if elected.
"Why should we trust Justin Trudeau?" comes the impromptu question from the floor during his Vapor performance.
"We don't [need to] trust Trudeau," Emery replies. "If 3 million people show up [and vote], it doesn't matter what Justin Trudeau's intentions are. We don't need to believe Justin Trudeau, we just need to support him because he has made the daring, bold move to say legalization is right and proper.
"No citizen of any country I am aware of has been offered one election where if you show up we legalize marijuana the next day. It's all over: prohibition ends, the war is over, and 45 years of people going to jail, cops busting houses or even killing people, gangs - all that ends if you just show up that one day. The next day we party forever and ever and ever and never look back." Whoops and hollers go up as he exits the stage.
"It's like he was never gone," says Vapor Central employee Dave Unrau.
Matt Mernagh is a long-time medical marijuana advocate and author of Marijuana Smoker's Guidebook.