This story originally aired on March 5, 2006.
His name is Marc Emery and he is called the "Prince of Pot." He claims to have sold more marijuana seeds than anyone in the world and, to date, no one has disputed that claim. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the culture is rather permissive concerning marijuana. The Canadian government, for the most part, has left Emery and his business alone.
But to the U.S., he is one of the most wanted men in the drug world. As 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon reported earlier this year, officials in the Drug Enforcement Administration want him extradited to the United States. They want him in an American prison and they want him badly.
Emery believes that marijuana is a wonderful, healing drug and that to criminalize it is just plain silly. To his supporters, he's a hero, the leader of the marijuana legalization movement. He has even run for mayor of Vancouver, twice.
But to the U.S. government, Marc Emery is a drug kingpin who should be prosecuted in the United States for selling drugs to Americans.
Asked if he has any idea how many of his customers were Americans, Emery says, "Yes, I would think that of the say, 120,000 people I dealt with, I'd say certainly 70,000 would have been Americans."
That's why John McKay, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, wants to bring Emery south, across the border.
Why are the Americans going after Emery, who is a Canadian citizen, and not the Canadian government?
"Well, very simply, he's a drug dealer," says McKay. "He's dealing drugs into the United States and violating laws of the United States and we expect to extradite him and try him in the United States."
"Are there other Canadians who sort of are competitive with him in terms of volume?" Simon asked.
"Today, to our knowledge, Marc Emery is the biggest purveyor of marijuana from Canada into the United States," McKay replied.
Well, it's not exactly marijuana. For over a decade, Marc Emery sold marijuana seeds. Technically, that's illegal in British Columbia, but no one has ever gotten more than a slap on the wrist for doing it.
Emery's headquarters since 2002, is a store in Vancouver, which also sells marijuana paraphernalia and the magazine Emery publishes, "Cannabis Culture." Inside the magazine is a mail order seed catalogue, but not for gardeners.
The catalogue, Emery explains, lists 550 different varieties of marijuana seeds.
"For height, you can get a short plant, a tall plant, a purple plant, a red plant, one that goes indoor, outdoor. One that's good for almost anything that ails you," he explains. "That I could have sold to you and it would address your medical needs or whatever your needs are in regards to cannabis."
"Somebody could order any one of these strains and you'd just put it in an envelope?" Simon asked.
"Yes, very simple because you just need a number 10 business size envelope and away it went in the mail for just 85 cents," Emery replied.
Emery claims to be the first marijuana seed vendor to sell seeds directly over the Internet. His Web site, Marc Emery Direct, sold seeds with names like "Chocolate Chunk" and "The Hog," which sold at $275 Canadian (ca. $240 U.S.) for just 10 seeds, available to anyone in the world with access to a computer.
Asked how much money he has made in this business over the years, Emery says, "I would say that our sales of seeds over 10 years probably were around $15 million."
The seeds he sold were used to grow a highly prized type of marijuana called British Columbia bud, or "BC Bud." Only the bud of the plant is sold for smoking, making it much more potent — and expensive — than it was back in the days when people smoked crushed marijuana leaves and went to Woodstock.
"It is very powerful. It has a reputation — it's almost been marketed, this, marijuana from British Columbia is great pot," McKay said.
Asked if there is something special about "BC Bud" or whether it is a marketing ploy, Emery said, "They've had a wonderful marketing man in charge of that campaign, yours truly."
He marketed the grass. He marketed the movement. He used the money he made selling seeds literally as seed money to finance the campaign to legalize marijuana in Canada and the United States.
His goal is to make marijuana a controlled substance like alcohol. Emery only smokes in moderation, he says, but he enjoys blowing it in the face of cops, as a provocation.
One such smoke-blowing incident got him arrested, but in tolerant Canada, he was only held for 24 hours.
He also produces and often stars in an online video show, Pot TV. His strategy, he says, is not to overthrow the government but to overgrow the government, spreading marijuana seeds throughout the world and winning the drug war against the United States.
"The whole idea was that I would help facilitate the growth of so much marijuana that the DEA and all the agencies of the United States would ever be able to destroy it at the rate I would help create it and that, ultimately, I, one man, would neutralize the work of the entire DEA with their multi-billion dollar budget," Emery said.
While Emery was busy being the self-proclaimed "Johnny Appleseed of Marijuana," the DEA was busy investigating him.
Last summer, the Canadian police — at the request of the U.S. government — shut down his seed business and arrested Emery, who is now out on bail.
Was he surprised that the DEA spent 18 months and a lot of money to get him charged?
"I'm flattered," said Emery.
Why spend so much time and money investigating a seed seller? Because under U.S. law, selling seeds is the same as selling marijuana itself. And selling "BC Bud" makes Emery part of a multi-billion dollar business the United States wants to crush.
"We have a huge regional, national and international issue here in the growing of marijuana in lower British Columbia," McKay said. "That's a major problem for us. His activities are kind of at the leading edge of that marijuana problem. That's the thing that really concerns us."
Asked if the problem is growing, McKay said: "Absolutely. And literally."
And it's growing in some of the nicest neighborhoods in Vancouver. So much marijuana is grown inside homes in Vancouver that there's a special unit in the local police force called "Grow Busters."
They raid homes — often expensive ones — that have been turned into indoor marijuana farms, called grow-ops. The police estimate there could be as many as 20,000 houses like this in British Columbia.
Each room has plants at different stages of growth. The Grow Busters cut down the plants and put the grow-ops out of business. But they grow back as quickly as they're shut down and, since Canadian courts have been soft on marijuana offenses, growers rarely get much jail time, making this a high profit, low risk business.
DEA special agent Rodney Benson took 60 Minutes up in a helicopter to see some of the ways "BC Bud" is smuggled into the United States.
Benson pointed out the border, which in this case turned out to be a road. This road divides the two countries, half of it is in Canada, half in the United States.
The border stretches 4,000 miles, often through rural areas that are hard to police. Some drug traffickers just run across the border with hockey bags full of "BC Bud," others have more sophisticated means.
Marijuana smugglers dug a tunnel that started in a Quonset hut on the Canadian side, went under the road, and ended up in the living room of a house on the other side.
"Their plan was to have that tunnel turn into a gold mine and push in thousands of pounds of marijuana (up) into the country," Benson explained.
"Well, guess they put a lot of hard work into it," Simon remarked.
"Yeah, but it didn't pay off at the end of the day. We were there waiting for them," Benson replied.
Much of the marijuana crossing the border is smuggled by Asian and motorcycle gangs but the U.S. government says Marc Emery is responsible for more marijuana in the United States than any known gang.
Larry Campbell, a Canadian senator who formerly served on the drug squad of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is well aware of Marc Emery.
Asked what he thinks of U.S. officials' stance that Emery is a major drug trafficker, Campbell says laughing, "Well, if he, if they consider that, then they have bigger problems than I can even imagine. There's simply no way he's a major anything."
"What would the public reaction be here if Marc Emery is extradited to the United States?" Simon asked.
"I think there'd be outrage," Campbell replied.
They might be outraged that the long arm of the U.S. law reached up into Canada to press charges against someone many Canadians consider harmless.
John McKay says he thinks Emery will be extradited.
"Do you realize what a political issue it's gonna be in Canada?" Simon asked.
"We have full respect for the laws of Canada, for the sovereignty of Canada. We respect their laws and they respect our laws and he's violated our laws," said McKay.
Actually, the laws aren't all that different, it's the punishment that is. For Emery, it's the difference between a modest fine or hard time. He awaits his fate in a simple apartment — he's never lived the lavish life of a drug dealer, since he claims to have given most of his money to the cause.
He doesn't face any charges in Canada but, if he's extradited to the United States, he'll face all the charges in his indictment, which include selling and distributing marijuana.
Is everything in the indictment against him true?
"Everything that I could possibly verify is true," said Emery. "They have our customers, they have my methods and they have copies of my Web site even in there. And those are all quite correct."
"He said to us that nothing in the indictment is false. Everything is true. He admits that on camera," Simon told McKay.
"Right, well we expect to prove that with his help to a jury in the United States. And we expect to send him to prison for it," McKay replied.
McKay says, if convicted, Emery could face up to life in prison: "He has moved huge amounts of marijuana; the seeds are considered under U.S. law to be the same as marijuana plants and marijuana itself."
McKay says he doesn't know how much of a punishment Emery would get if convicted for the same crime in Canada, but acknowledges he'd probably get a lot less.
"Well, no one has ever gone to jail for selling seeds in Canada and only two people in 35 years have even been charged," said Emery. "The most recent person fined for selling seeds in the year 2000 received a $200 fine."
While Emery, with the help of his supporters, is fighting his extradition to the United States, he says he's resigned to the possibility of prison and even sees a potential benefit, if it brings more attention to the legalization struggle.
"I am blessed by what the DEA has done," Emery said. "I'd rather see marijuana legalized than me being saved from a U.S. jail."
"Your language is pretty much that of a martyr," Simon remarked.
"The language I like to use is one of a person, a leader who's confident and prepared to accept the punishment that noble purpose will bring about," Emery replied.
But McKay says he's not interested in Emery's cause.
"I'm not interested in his political beliefs, so-called political beliefs. What I'm interested in is the fact that he has distributed drugs in the United States, huge quantities of drugs," he said. "You know he calls himself the 'Prince of Pot' but he may become the prince of federal prison."
The Canadian courts will decide whether or not to hand Marc Emery over to the Americans. They've handed over drug dealers before and, with a newly elected conservative government in Canada, Emery fears that's likely to happen.
By Catherine Olian
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