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Cannabis Culture -
Still Smoking

The Prince of Pot's magazine will keep on rolling

To listen to a wraparound report by Nicole Lane click here

Story and Photos By Nicole Lane

Marc Emery takes a hit from his bong
Emery has been running the magazine for 13 years

As he walked into the room carrying fresh buns, deli meat, a tomato and sliced vegetables, he said it would be okay to ask him questions. He was extremely busy as he had just hired a new accountant that day and was in the process of training him. But it was important his staff was well fed. He got to work on making each of them a sandwich with a side of vegetables and dip.

Marc Emery, otherwise known as the Prince of Pot, has been an outspoken activist for years now, battling not only for the legalization of marijuana, but also choosing to fight the ban on Sunday shopping, the ban on High Times magazine – along with other banned marijuana and pornographic books – and even protesting a municipal garbage strike by collecting bags of garbage himself.

He has run for mayor of Vancouver twice, placing fifth out of 16 candidates in the 2002 election. He founded the British Columbia Marijuana Party which in the 2000 provincial election had candidates in each of the 79 ridings and claimed 3.5 per cent of the total vote, all while running his multi-million dollar business, Marc Emery Direct Marijuana Seeds, which distributed marijuana seeds through sales over the Internet. He also founded the newsletter Marijuana and Hemp in the summer of 1994.

In July 2005, however, he was arrested on charges of conspiracy to cultivate marijuana, conspiracy to launder money, and conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds. He is currently facing extradition to the United States – but in the meantime, he has a magazine to run.

Cannabis Culture is published every two months and has a circulation of about 70,000 copies. According to the history page on its website, the magazine is “dedicated to liberating marijuana, freeing pot prisoners around the globe, and bringing an end to the vicious worldwide war on drugs.”

It’s in his tiny basement office on West Hastings Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, that Emery works toward this goal. The office is home to Emery, editor-in-chief and publisher of the magazine; the other editor, Jodie, who happens to be his wife; the art director, Gale Leitch; the shipper and distributor, Nicole Seguin; the activist, Jacob Hunter; and a few days a week, to the magazine’s two copy editors.

The office is decorated with every cover of Cannabis Culture to date.  A Canadian flag with a marijuana leaf at the centre and Emery’s cards and letters supporting his fight against extradition hang on the walls. There are also buds of marijuana, rolling papers, and bongs set out all over the office for the staff to smoke at their leisure.

After Emery has made sandwiches, the slightly nerdy-looking 50-year-old, dressed in jeans and a brown sweater over a collared shirt, takes a break to sit on the couch and discuss the heart of Cannabis Culture.

“We cover all aspects of cannabis – the smoking part, the fun part, the political part, the business part, the fashion part – with always an emphasis on the visual,” explains Emery. “We’re basically a generalist’s perspective within a specific culture. We try to present a little bit of everything, but it’s important that it be very visual. We tend to like to make our magazine colourful – not gaudy or tacky, I like to think. Gale has very good taste, so if it ever gets that way, it’s probably under my direction.”

Emery looking over contact sheets while grinding marijuana
Marc Emery manages to combine business with pleasure

He pulls out the pagination for the current issue and begins pointing out articles on different colours of cannabis, a how-to on the seed-selling industry, and a summer hemp fashion shoot. There is also a section devoted to readers who sent in pictures of their pot tattoos (those who had tattooed the Cannabis Culture or Pot-TV logos on themselves got a lifetime subscription), and a crossword and word search on everything to do with weed.

The magazine was initially started as a newsletter called Marijuana and Hemp and was printed on hemp paper. In January 1995, the first and only issue of Marijuana and Hemp Magazine came out. The title was changed to Cannabis Canada in the next issue. It wasn’t until the 13th issue that Cannabis Culture became the magazine it is today, its title reflecting the widespread international impact of cannabis.

As successful as Cannabis Culture has become, not everyone agrees with its tactics. Marco Renda, editor-in-chief and publisher of Treating Yourself, a magazine about medical marijuana, doesn’t believe Emery is going about promoting the legalization of marijuana in the right way.

Cannabis Culture has been around, it has good information, but it doesn’t touch our magazine,” says Renda. “Treating Yourself is about medical marijuana and is put together by its users. We use our magazine as an educational tool.”

Renda wants to see Emery move away from promoting cannabis use to “youngsters” and deal exclusively with adults and with the facts.

However, Emery says people under 30 don’t buy Renda’s magazine and Emery maintains he is simply targeting his audience.

“There aren’t many 60-year-olds out there going to jail – there are some, but not many,” says Emery. “The younger people are the ones going to jail. I’m more of an on the street activist, going out there and getting arrested, experiencing what they’re going through.”

When Emery became editor-in-chief on Valentine’s Day of 2005, he had to slow down. Before then, he had been arrested 22 times for promoting legislation, and had toured Canada publicly smoking marijuana.

Serge LeClerc, a member of the legislative assembly in Saskatchewan, was a major drug dealer and addict himself but overcame his addiction after being arrested in a $40 million drug bust. LeClerc, who authored Untwisted: An Extraordinary Journey of Overcoming and Redemption believes any argument Emery makes for the legalization of marijuana loses its integrity because he has a vested interest in legislation.

Emery doesn’t agree.

“Having a vested interest doesn’t necessarily mean having a conflict of interest,” says Emery. “Besides, if marijuana was legal, there wouldn’t be any lucrative opportunities available for me because anybody could do it. I would probably naturally put myself out of the seed business if it was legal.”

LeClerc says Emery is simply trying to make money and there is no need to actually smoke marijuana to see the medicinal benefits of THC.

“In his rush to claim that marijuana is medicinal and can be used for medicinal purposes, he doesn’t say THC can be reproduced in a pharmaceutical environment,” says LeClerc. “It doesn’t need to be smoked, it can be done in pill form.”

Emery admits these days he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend in protest; much of his time is spent on the magazine now.

“I’ve pretty well been anchored here for the past three years, more or less,” he says. “There hasn’t been a lot of time to get out and do speeches or travel across Canada to talk to people and supporters.”

Not only do Emery and his small staff of five produce a 120-page magazine every two months, he also constantly battles his extradition case, continues the fight to legalize marijuana, and tries to help other people who’ve been busted. Emery advises people to enjoy the struggle, because struggle is all they have.

“Every generation has to fight, kick, scream and claw for whatever liberty they can wrestle from the oppressors who are always trying to control our choices and dominate our lives from their high perches of government,” he professes. “Expect it, enjoy it and welcome the struggle because it’s always going to be there. That’s something young people ought to know.”

Shipper and distributor Nicole Seguin has much respect for Emery, both as a boss and a person. As she sat with her boyfriend Jacob Hunter, who is the British Columbia Marijuana Party’s coordinator and a Cannabis Culture activist, the two shared a joint.

“I’m astounded at how much personal contact [Marc and Jodie] have with every person that talks to them and donates,” raves Seguin, passing the joint back to Hunter. “Marc talks about how he doesn’t have any time to do stuff for the magazine because there’s always so much to respond to.”

Emery doesn’t seem to mind. He personally responds to all the e-mails he receives, sometimes as many as hundreds per day. Given his hunt-and-peck-style of typing, it’s hard to imagine he has time for much else.

“Sometimes you can get seduced into a poor discipline, but there are just a lot of aspects to the job,” he explains. “Hopefully you can get it all done – talk to everybody, motivate everybody, keep everybody who works for me doing their job and hope I can meet and see everybody else.”

According to his wife, Emery is great at staying calm through hectic times.

“It’s kind of hard sometimes because he’s superhuman,” she says, laughing at the idea. “He can’t understand why nobody else can accomplish as much as he does in one sitting.”

Art director Gale Leitch is a quiet woman. She doesn’t smoke marijuana and has asthma. She doesn’t mind when other staff members take a few hits though, because they  cut down when she started working at the magazine.

“He kept me alive during my last sickness with fresh fruit and vegetables. He fed me and made sure I was healthy,” says Leitch gratefully. “I’ve had some pretty great employers, but who else makes you sandwiches? He goes out for pizza, coffee – I thought it was supposed to be the other way around!”

Although the hours are long – Leitch says she worked 96 hours in one week for the last issue – she loves her job.

“It’s kind of hard sometimes because he’s superhuman. He can’t understand why nobody else can accomplish as much as he does in one sitting.”

“Marc is a unique individual and a wonderful boss,” she says. “Nobody’s perfect, but I don’t want to see him go to jail.”

Meanwhile, while her husband is hard at work fixing the plumbing in the washroom, Jodie Emery talks about her role in the magazine.

Before they met, she used to look through the pages of Cannabis Culture with her friends, amazed that there could be a whole magazine about pot. That was back when she didn’t smoke. However, as she lights up a hit in a blue three-foot bong, it becomes obvious that a lot has changed since then. She came to Vancouver, fell in love with Emery, married the Prince of Pot, and was named Cannabis Culture's other editor.

Emery sitting next to pipes at his store
Marc Emery poses at the B.C. Marijuana Party headquarters

"You really get a feel of Marc and I being involved in the magazine, in every page. In other magazines, it just feels like someone is in charge of filling the pages with pictures and there’s not a whole lot of passion.”

She believes Cannabis Culture has more integrity than other cannabis magazines. The Emerys refuse to take any ads shot using fake marijuana buds, while most other cannabis magazines advertise only legal, herbal buds. They only promote products they claim are safe and effective to use, says Jodie.

Jodie is being prepped to take over as editor-in-chief should Marc end up in jail.

“It’ll be weird if he leaves because he’s very good with working with people and their emotions,” she explains. “He’s a very calming influence that way, even though he’s also a bit of a chaotic influence. I describe him as the eye of the storm. He’s never worried, he’s always calm, nothing ever rattles him, but everything he does and everywhere he goes, he swirls drama and wildness.”

The Emerys haven’t done much planning, and the staff doesn’t seem worried about the fate of the magazine should Marc be extradited for conspiracy to launder money and cultivate and distribute marijuana seeds.  The extradition hearing is set to begin in December, with later dates scheduled for February 2009. But his staff is slowly being readied to continue without him leading the way.

Meanwhile, Emery plans to embark on a farewell tour, travelling to 16 cities across Canada. He hopes to tell people what’s going on, “give them their marching orders”, and get them motivated. He hopes the tour will not be his last.

“Hopefully it’s like Cher’s farewell tour,” says Emery.  “It keeps happening every decade.”