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Toronto Globe & Mail, Aug. 3, 2005
by Jane Armstrong
Vancouver — U.S. drug-enforcement agents posed as marijuana enthusiasts for nearly 10 months, returning to Marc Emery's storefront headquarters in Vancouver again and again, where they say the Canadian marijuana activist sold them thousands of cannabis seeds.
At first, the purchases were small, just a few dozen seeds, priced at a couple of hundred U.S. dollars. But soon, the two undercover officers, a man and a woman, were spending thousands, placing orders in person and over the phone, according to U.S. prosecutors.
Federal Crown attorney Rosellina Dattilo described the elaborate undercover operation in a packed Vancouver courtroom yesterday at Mr. Emery's first court appearance since his dramatic arrest last Friday on a request by the United States.
Ms. Dattilo, who said she was acting on behalf of U.S. authorities, described Mr. Emery as "the directing mind" of a multimillion-dollar seed-distribution business, the bulk of whose customers reside in the United States.
She urged Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm of B.C. Supreme Court to reject Mr. Emery's bail application, arguing that he was a flight risk and would return to his illegal business if released.
However, Mr. Emery's lawyer, John Conroy, painted a sharply different picture of his client and chided Canadian authorities for participating in the U.S.-led probe.
Far from being a marijuana mogul, Mr. Conroy argued, his client is largely a political activist who lives hand to mouth.
Mr. Emery, who has become a cause célèbre in Vancouver since his arrest, sat in the prisoner's box dressed in a shabby beige sweater, occasionally turning to wave to the dozens of supporters who showed up and blow kisses to his wife.
Mr. Emery is accused of selling seeds out of his bookstore and over the Internet. He also runs a magazine and is president of the British Columbia Marijuana Party.
Mr. Conroy argued that his client has openly sold his seeds for years in Canada with no interference from authorities here.
"Here we have a situation where they turn a blind eye locally, and now they're in a position of assisting the U.S. to try to have him extradited to the U.S., where the penalties are substantially greater than here," Mr. Conroy said.
Mr. Emery faces charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. U.S. officials have said they will seek his extradition from Canada to stand trial in Seattle, where conviction on either of the marijuana charges carries a minimum prison term of 10 years.
He was granted bail provided he could raise a $50,000 (Canadian) surety.
Mr. Emery's co-accused, Gregory Williams and Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek also were granted bail.
The charges have caused a stir among marijuana activists in Vancouver. They staged noisy protests throughout the weekend.
Mr. Emery's supporters say the charges are politically motivated, aimed at silencing his outspoken criticism of marijuana prosecutions.
"This is a political persecution not a criminal prosecution," said B.C. Marijuana Party campaign manager Kirk Tousaw.
"They are not after Marc Emery because he sells marijuana seeds. There are dozens of those seed sellers throughout Canada and the United States. They are after Marc Emery because he is a political activist, and we need to make sure Canadians understand that because this issue goes far beyond marijuana policy."
In the courtroom, some supporters laughed aloud when Ms. Dattilo read out the U.S. allegations.
Ms. Dattilo said U.S. undercover agents made contact with Mr. Emery in September of 2004.
Not only did they show up at Mr. Emery's Vancouver bookstore, they bought seeds from his Internet-based business, she said.
In 2000, other U.S. undercover agents paid more than $7,000 (U.S.) for nearly 3,000 seeds after ordering them over the Internet, she told the court.
The seeds were sent to a U.S. mail-box address and later were grown into plants to be used as evidence at a future trial.
On one occasion, Mr. Emery lectured the female undercover officer in his store on how to avoid detection when she returned to the United States with her seeds. One tip was to fill her car with shopping bags, so she could tell the border guards she came to Canada to shop.
All told, U.S. prosecutors allege that Mr. Emery sold more than a million dollars (U.S.) worth of seeds over a 10-year period dating back to 1995. Vancouver Police assisted in the probe, seizing Mr. Emery's bank records. Ms. Dattilo said $1.7-million (U.S.) was deposited and withdrawn from one account during a five-year period ending in 2005.