We chat with some of the most prominent figures in Canadian cannabis about the highlights and lowlights of the first year of legalization. In the third installment of this series, we chat with Jodie Emery.
See more in this series:
- Part 1:Robin Ellins, Friendly Stranger
- Part 2:Bruce Linton, formerly Canopy Growth
- Part 3:Jodie Emery, Princess of Pot
- Part 4:Abi Roach, Hotbox Café
Activist Jodie Emery has been making headlines for years. The Kamloops, BC native is the co-owner of Cannabis Culture, a business that used to franchise cannabis dispensaries, and still produces a magazine, along with a web-based video channel called POT TV.
She rose to prominence as an advocate for legalization during the four years (2010 to 2014) that her husband, Marc Emery, was imprisoned on drug charges in the US. She has spoken at rallies and testified before government hearings. She also ran for public office in BC.
Jodie and Marc, the self-proclaimed ‘Prince of Pot,’ were convicted on drug-related charges in December 2017 after police raided some of their pot dispensaries. They were fined and placed on two years’ probation with conditions that include not participating in any illegal cannabis dispensary.
The couple split in 2018.
Jodie has kept a low profile in the past 12 months. She has made news in just a few instances—when Marc was publicly accused of sexual misconduct with young women, when she closed a hemp-themed cafe in Toronto, and when she was called out for smoking pot on a BC ferry.
She recently spoke to Leafly about her year. Here is a condensed version of the interview:
What have you been up to this past year?
For the past 15 years I’ve known nothing except for extradition, court, prison, etc. This past year has been especially rough.
A lot of people I considered friends, former employees, and some cannabis community members have hurt me very badly and I can’t figure out why. It has been a real existential crisis for me. I’m trying to determine what and who I have been fighting for all these years. I’m on the West Coast full-time and focusing on self-care. I’m taking care of my mental health.
Have you been involved with any business ventures or other projects?
I’m focusing on opening Jodie’s Joints coffee shops, Cannabis Culture lounges, and some other ventures. We have our business models but we don’t have [the] money we need to move forward.
I’m on probation and I have been robbed of so much. I have been ostracized and shut out. Government officials refuse to grant us licenses to operate. They have redrawn maps [to] keep us out … then turned around and [gave] licenses to Tokyo Smoke and Canopy Growth half a block from our building.
We have our business models but we don't have the money we need to move forward.
It has been endless unfairness. It has been a struggle. I’m just trying to survive and move forward.
How do you feel about the cannabis landscape one year in?
Legalization has been a massive failure in terms of human rights, civil liberties, and freedom. Nothing that was supposed to be legalized has been legalized. We didn’t spend decades pushing for legalization just to see governments and corporations monopolize the market and make harsher laws.
Legalization was supposed to mean peaceful people involved with cannabis were no longer deemed criminals. It was supposed to mean that the government would stop using law enforcement to go after people for cannabis. We needed to really legalize rather than invite a lot of former cops and politicians to start up cannabis companies and list them on the stock market. It is terrible.
We didn't spend decades pushing for legalization just to see governments and corporations monopolize the market and make harsher laws.
That is why I call this ‘fake legalization’ and the ‘new prohibition.’ The government is forcing so many people in the cannabis community to be considered criminals. It is a gross injustice.
I am pretty upset about it.
Many people in Canada and other parts of the world love what we are doing. I get stopped everywhere I go, every day, and thanked for my work as a cannabis activist. I talk to people who are devastated because they no longer have access to the medical cannabis they have relied on.
I see people suffering so badly, it’s hard for me to watch all the business people celebrating legalization. The point of legalization was to stop the harm of criminalizing cannabis.
Who do you blame?
The government. It is much too involved in the process.
Producers and retailers aren’t allowed to represent themselves to consumers because of all the marketing regulations. You can’t say, ‘Come to the concert and smoke weed!’ There are serious restrictions on free speech. These restrictions heighten the stigma around cannabis.
The government forces retailers to buy cannabis at a certain price and to pay a certain tax. Meanwhile, the big cannabis corporations are getting government handouts. This is being financed by our tax dollars. We also subsidize the government bureaucracy that functions as a middleman between producers and retailers. Taxpayers are getting royally screwed.
Think about it: The people in charge of issuing licenses are also able to open their own retail stores.
The BC government [whose retail framework is split between private and public] denies or delays granting retail licenses to qualified applicants just so they can open up their own retail outlets in the same places. Think about it: The people in charge of issuing licenses are also able to open their own retail stores. Why would they grant licenses to their competition? It’s really insidious. To make matters worse, those government-owned stores are funded by taxpayers.
I warned everyone for two years that this was going to happen, and everyone told me to stop complaining and whining. Now everybody is saying, ‘Okay, Jodie was right—even though we’re not going to admit it.’
What are your plans for the future?
The whole system is unfair to everybody. It needs to change. I’m working with all sorts of people, taxpayer federations, and other groups to turn fake legalization into real legalization.
I plan to launch an organization called Fair Cannabis to campaign for change, to establish fairness in cannabis laws and regulations. It will be an umbrella organization.
But you have been quite critical of the big producers…
You know that expression: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. As much as I’m upset with the licensed producers, I can see they are being unfairly restrained by government restrictions on advertising, promotion, and packaging, so I’m trying to connect with them and make amends.
The government is screwing everybody over. We all need to come together to get government out of the way.
“he government won’t listen to me so I have to work with people the government does listen to, and that is executives at the big corporations. I’m meeting with many of them to talk about how to challenge the laws. This is what I’m going to focus on, not marching in the streets.
My probation will be over soon so I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things in 2020. We’ll see how it goes. I have a lot of supporters but there are also a lot of people who want to see me fail and are dedicated to causing me grief so it is going to be interesting.
If you were to write a news brief about Jodie Emery’s life in the first year of legalization, what would it say?
Jodie Emery has been dealing with a lot of change in her life. Since she and Marc have separated, she has taken some time to figure out who she is beyond Jodie Emery, the activist.
When I started getting sick of seeing cannabis in the news, when I started hating what I had always loved and lived for, I knew it was time to take a step back. After 15 years of duress, I am finally taking some time for myself. I’m spending more time with my family and I’m discovering other passions, like art, poetry, and writing. This is all part of my self-care.