- The Media Team of Dinafem Seeds has had the chance to chat with Jodie Emery, a popular Canadian cannabis activist known as the Princess of Pot.
- We talked to her in Toronto, where she’s under house detention after being arrested for “drug trafficking and possession” last March when she was to flight to Spannabis with her husband.
- The activity of the Cannabis Culture dispensaries, a franchise network run by the couple, was consequently held back by the Canadian government. Her statement when leaving prison was clear: the abuse she had to deal with during those three days in jail was not going to stop her fight for the legalization of cannabis.
- Here are the words of a Jodie Emery who has decided to make the most of this standstill to relax and empower her speech against prohibitionist regulations and in favor of people's freedom.
When and why did everything start?
When I was in high school, as a teenager, I was against marijuana and all drugs. But then my best friends started using marijuana, reading Cannabis Culture magazine and watching Pot TV videos. So I began to question what I knew about cannabis, because these people were not stupid; in fact, they were very smart.
And I got involved in my first rally at the age of 16, during the British Colombia election. I went to a BC Marijuana party campaign rallying in my hometown, Kamloops, BC. Then I moved to Vancouver in 2004, and I started volunteering and spending time at Cannabis Culture Magazine and at the BC Marijuana Party Bookstore (these are all Marc Emery´s businesses and organizations). And, in February 2005, I was hired as the magazine Assistant Editor of Cannabis Culture.
Soon after that, Marc and I got arrested by the DEA in Canada, the US government in Canada, and he was facing the 30 years to life in prison. So I just got very much more involved at that time, of course, and I´ve been fully immersed in it ever since.
How are you feeling after the last episodes of Toronto at 461 Church Street, when your husband and yourself got arrested in March about the Cannabis Culture stores?
I´ve realized that, over my 13 years of being in this activism movement, we have been fighting a good fight. We were trying to help free people who were unfairly oppressed. So no matter what the struggle is, I just keep going.
In March they closed the Cannabis Culture retail stores that had been open for less than year. Now they´re gone and we´re facing a life in prison. So there´s a lot to be concerned about. However, since I´ve always only really ever known the stress and pressure of the government coming after us, it´s not that much different. Except now I can´t work.
We had a lot going on and now I'm not allowed to run it. So I´m feeling a bit bored and also helpless, because I wish I could help my family, friends and business. But, at the same time, I´m recovering and resting. So I´m going to use this to get more powerful, and I´m still doing activism too. The day before yesterday, I went to the City Hall in Toronto and had a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the big raids where they raided hundreds of dispensaries and arrested hundreds of people. It was a very bad time one year ago, so I´m still protesting now, I gave a letter to the mayor, I'm still being active… So that´s my main priority, to try and keep busy with activism. It might sound a bit upbeat but it's still sad sometimes because we're living in a difficult situation.
Which was the system of the Cannabis Culture stores?
Cannabis Culture, the name, has always been associated with activism. So I thought: if our name is trusted, let´s get some people who have money to open stores and we´ll do a franchise deal where they own the store, they operate it, but we're the name, we're the franchisor and they're the franchisee who will sell cannabis, some of which we could help provide through some trusted growers or they could get it from local growers. I thought: a franchise model is perfect! Activists can open a store and the existing cannabis that the country is already growing can be sold in the stores, instead of wherever the people get it.
The idea was to allow many people to get jobs and to contribute to a brand, to an identity and to a movement to give back to the cause, because it's great when there's excitement like in this expo about the business side. However, there's a lot people still being arrested for trying to be in the cannabis business. So there's unfairness and a strange discrepancy there.
What do you think about the Canadian scene?
I remember when the original expo, at this location, the Treating Yourself Expo was celebrated in 2011, 2012, 2013, and even then people said: "Oh, this is so sophisticated and professional". So it´s been away for a while, but what happened was the civil disobedience of activists by breaking the law, the patients and dispensaries went to Court and the Courts agreed that the patients need marijuana, so the government has to provide access to protect their charge of rights.
So that begun this legal medical marijuana-growing companies that could grow marijuana to supply patients because the Courts told Health Canada "you must provide access". But these companies, originally, under the former Harper government, had a very restrictive model. The government has never wanted to provide access and has always been looking to restrict the access. So the Harper government designed the licensed producer model to be very restrictive and limited.
But then when Trudeau was running and they all agreed legalization should happen, it was happening in the USA and the public opinion had changed all around the world, the liberals decided to embrace legalization on their platform. And that´s why I joined their party and I ran to be a candidate for them and why we endorsed them and supported them and help them to win.
But, unfortunately, some of those licensed producers, who had a very limited oligopoly of few big people, decided that they didn´t want to lose the value in the market that they had. A lot of the speculation about legal marijuana was saying "there is a billion-dollar industry coming", but for many of us already in the industry we were like "Hello, it´s already here. You cannot invent marijuana: it´s already here. So you can add to it, but you cannot take it away from us." But unfortunately many of these licensed producers lobbied the Government to shut down dispensaries.
I think that there is a strange discrepancy here and I believe that we should allow licensed producers to exist and to be able to operate under less restrictive regulations, but I don´t agree with the licensed producers who are trying to criminalize the competition and what we're seeing with the legislation is that all the marijuana today that is currently illegal now will still be illegal when the legislation passes. Only the government-approved marijuana and seeds will be the legal cannabis in this country. Anything else remains criminal. That' why I'm not that hopeful, but we've always fought against governments who do not want this plant available. So I feel like this is the same old game.
You've inspired many people. Who has inspired you?
Definitely Marc. He´s such a brave person. Unlike many other people whose speech is ambiguous or not solid, when he speaks it´s just outright true, always going to the point with no fear. So for me inspiration came through Marc Emery but also, from Dana Larsen, who was the editor of Cannabis Culture. Also from people like David Malmo-Levine, another big activist in Vancouver studying the history of drug war, Chris Bennett, also part of Cannabis Culture and Pot TV, or Michelle Rainey. All these people inspired me, so the idea of being eventually working with them and then owning and running the company they work for is just amazing, a real honor. They must indeed have done a good job inspiring me.
Which kind of system would you build around cannabis?
For me the perfect vision is: cannabis is everywhere, just like coffee or alcohol. Maybe not smoking in people´s faces, but consumption is available in so many forms. So, if you want to grow it at home, you can grow it. If you want to grow at home and sell it, you can go to a farmer´s market, and you can do it. If you want to start a small personal business selling cannabis, you could do that too. Or if the government wants to shop or they sell it and try to get tax money out of it, they should have an option too.
About Medical marijuana: we need big hemp cannabis fields been grown to produce CBD and THC-based medicine. And we also need the pharmaceutical industry to take advantage of the benefits of marijuana to help people. Even the pharmaceutical companies know that medical marijuana is not going away, and they can see that the use of opioids and painkillers is going down and they can´t stop it. So instead of trying to fight us, they´re trying to join us, but then they´ll try to take over us.
I think that an ideal model is a free market where everybody can participate and the best growers and the best service providers win. Just like in a restaurant: if you make good food, people will come to you.
Which are your favorite strains?
I have to say that to get marijuana two years ago I´d go to my regular person, give him 50 dollars and tell him "I want some flowers" and I would get whatever it was and I´d smoke it. But then, when we got into the dispensary business I discovered that there was indeed a lot of variety.
I don't really know if a have any specific favorites… Over the years, I've had memorable buds. But I´ve always loved the taste of Blueberry and Marc has always enjoyed White Widow. I'm enjoying more Sativa these days, but whenever I want to feel really relaxed I enjoy a CBD strain. I kind of wish I could get into more consumption of oils, for example, because I like the idea of consuming regular cannabis just for the health benefits without needing to smoke it all the time. So I'm still a newbie in some parts of the cannabis scene as well.
These are good times with plenty of strains and knowledge, aren't they?
Yes, it´s an exciting time, as long as they stop arresting people and demonizing us. That's all I want. Even if it's legal to buy and sell, my work as an activist is not over until nobody gets arrested anymore. My activism through my magazine has always been about the fight for freeing people who are unjustly demonized. And to know that not only is this just a flower or a plant, it´s even better than the other plants because it saves lives. That's why, I can't stop 'till everyone who needs it for medical use, has it.
I want that revolution where everyone is using cannabis, I want them to have a revolution of their minds, as I did. When people are healing their bodies with cannabis, its side effect would be that it'll open their minds and give them some inner peace, and they´ll get some spiritual benefit. So this will be an intendent wonderful consequence of consuming cannabis, I hope.
Anything you'd like to add?
I think that it´s very important that seed businesses continue to grow and protect the cannabis seeds out there because the genetics are so valuable. When these big companies get into any sort of field, like the one of alcohol or pharmaceuticals or even food production, there is always a risk that the most powerful industrial companies will try to take over and control this and manipulate it. So it's good to have variety available, to have feminized seeds, original strains, clones… but we have to make sure that we protect the heritage of the seeds because that is our culture and our connection to the past. It's very important. Protect the seeds even in a seed vault!
Like Marc Emery always said: "Plant the seeds of freedom to overgrow the government". So instead of a violent overthrow of the government, we will grow so much cannabis they can't stop it. We'll peacefully win this war just by growing so many cannabis plants, it all becomes unstoppable. To all the seed companies: keep it up, because that is where all begins. Without seeds, there is no weed and there is no culture.