12/18/16 Dana Larsen

On Friday, December 16, police in Montreal, Canada raided two Cannabis Culture shops, which had recently opened as marijuana dispensaries, and arrested several staffers along with Marc and Jodie Emery, the self-styled Prince and Princess of Pot. To learn more about this story and about marijuana legalization in Canada, we speak with Kirk Tousaw, a barrister who's involved in the case, and with Dana Larsen, a Canadian political activist and marijuana law reformer.

Century of Lies
Sunday, December 18, 2016
Dana Larsen
Download: Audio icon col121816.mp3



DECEMBER 18, 2016


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

DANA LARSEN: Hello, I'm Dana Larsen, and I'm a long-time Vancouver cannabis activist. I worked closely with Marc Emery and Cannabis Culture over the years. These days, I'm the director of Sensible BC, which is a marijuana reform group in British Columbia, and I'm also the director of the Vancouver Dispensary Society, and we run a couple of dispensaries here in Vancouver.

DOUG MCVAY: We're recording this on Friday, December 16th, and there have been a couple of raids. Dana, what's going on up there, brother?

DANA LARSEN: Well, it's a confusing time in Canada. Our prime minister's promised to legalize marijuana, but it's still going to be a couple of years before they get their rules in place, but meantime, cannabis outlets, medical marijuana dispensaries, have been opening across Canada. Some have been open for almost 20 years now, others have been open for over a decade, and there are still new ones opening across the country, and this trend kind of really started as strictly cannabis outlets, but now they're evolving into adults-only personal use outlets.

And Marc Emery and Jodie Emery, who do Cannabis Culture together, they've been franchising the Cannabis Culture name. They've opened several dispensaries in Toronto, where there's now over 100 dispensaries. Police launched raids against many of those dispensaries a few months ago. Some of the raided ones closed down, a lot of them just reopened, and there's a lot of dispensaries in Toronto, and the vast majority now aren't having any legal problems and the police are starting to back down.

And so, they've expanded that campaign into Montreal. There is a person there who is very excited and wants to work with them, and they franchised Cannabis Culture to these people to open eight locations at the same time in Montreal. And those all opened yesterday, so 8 new marijuana shops opened in Montreal in one day, under the Cannabis Culture flag. There was already a couple of dispensaries in Montreal, that had been open quite a while, but they were mostly underground and very strictly medical only. So, what the Cannabis Culture ones were doing was much broader, you know, recreational, personal use cannabis for all adults.

The day they opened, there was huge line-ups down the street, and a lot of media attention, and the mayor and the Prime Minister were harrumphing and saying this was not appropriate, and now, twenty four hours later, the police have come in to, I'm not sure if they raided all of them, but they raided several of the outlets. Marc Emery has been arrested, and sent to jail, as well as many of their staff. And the last I just heard was that Jodie Emery has also been arrested, along with one of her employees, Jeremiah, at their hotel room. Not sure exactly what they were arrested for, it sounds like -- that happened literally just a few minutes ago. And this doesn't necessarily mean these dispensaries are not going to be open again, it doesn't mean they're not going to continue, in fact, my understanding is they're going to make every effort to reopen tomorrow.

And, although these raids are expensive, and challenging, and frightening, it's often the case also that charges are dropped. Many of the charges against the dispensary employees and operators in Toronto from the raids a few months ago, most of those charges have been dropped. And that's because in Canada, although the police are happy to make raids, our courts and our court system, happily, recognizes the value of medical cannabis. The courts recognize the failure of our system, and the courts are very reluctant to put anybody in jail for something that's supposed to be legal a year or two from now. So it's an interesting situation, and we'll see how it all plays out, but for the most part, in Canada, when dispensaries get raided, they reopen, and the police don't come back. So, we'll see what happens in Montreal.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, I just, for the benefit of listeners, you've had dispensaries as you said for about 20 years now, as long as there have been dispensaries down here in the United States. In California, while there were a number of -- you know, people tried really hard to make it seem as if they were staying inside of the law, but really, for many years in California, dispensaries were operating in what could be best described as a gray area. I mean, really, there was nothing saying they could do it legally, so they were kind of pushing the envelope, and people got raided. People got arrested. In Canada, how long have you had the sort of regulated system?

DANA LARSEN: Well, let's be clear, dispensaries are not legal in Canada, medical or otherwise, to the law, it's trafficking and everything. But at the same time, the courts, you know, have recognized the value of these things, and then some of them, when they have been raided, it's -- the penalties involved are usually quite minimal and they often reopen. But Canada's oldest dispensary is in Vancouver. It's never been raided or had any legal problems, and in fact, many cities like Vancouver and other cities, especially in British Columbia, have begun offering really simple business licenses to dispensaries.

Now, they're still illegal under federal law, but municipalities are recognizing the reality that these places are coming, and they say, you know, it costs our police $30,000 to raid a dispensary and forward charges, and then even in the courts, it costs a lot more money, and at the end of it, they get a thousand dollar fine and community service, so that's why a lot of cities just don't want to bother raiding these places, because although it's still against the law, it's just worth it in the courts.

And you know, we've been doing this movement for over 20 years in Canada, and this really reminds me of the 1990s, when we saw this happening across the country, not with medical marijuana dispensaries, but with head shops. Bong shops that sold High Times magazines and bongs and pipes and things, because those are illegal in Canada, too. And now those laws are pretty much ignored these days, but in the -- when they were passed in the '80s, hundreds of shops were shut down, and there was a big revolution in the '90s in Canada, largely led by Marc Emery, who's now in jail for his dispensary there, but in the '90s, Canadians were getting busted from coast to coast for opening head shops.

And just like now, the police would come in and take all their bongs and pipes, and raid them. Those laws have never changed. But because so many Canadians stood up, fought against those laws, opened the bong shops, and went to court, and because like with medical marijuana dispensaries now, the courts were like, you're selling bongs? Okeh, a thousand dollar fine, forty hours community service, get out of here. And so the stores proliferated, cities gave up and started giving them licenses. And now, most Canadians aren't even aware that bongs are still illegal.

And so to me, this kind of, sort of capitalist activist campaign of opening stores and businesses that violate the law, but that give Canadians their freedom, it really started in Canada with bongs and pipes, and then it evolved to cannabis seeds, marijuana seeds, and now it's evolved to medical marijuana dispensaries, and now just recreational or personal use sales. So this is really a culmination of this two decades civil disobedience campaign we've led to get these laws changed.

And I really think that it's all because of that campaign, and because of the civil disobedience, and because our federal government has really lost control of cannabis reform and of cannabis movement that they're moving to legalization, because it's not an attempt to liberate the cannabis culture. It's an attempt retain some control over the marijuana movement and to limit our campaign, which we've called Overgrow The Government, and I think has been very successful in overgrowing the government in Canada over the last two decades.

DOUG MCVAY: There are some folks down here, and up there, who would say that, you know, pushing too hard will lead to pushback, and that civil disobedience just leads to more issues with government. There are critics, there are critics all over. What words would you have for people like that?

DANA LARSEN: Well, I would just want to know what changes have been made in civil liberties that haven't involved civil disobedience. I think every movement for civil liberties across the country, whether it's racial equality or gender equality or equality of sexual preference or anything else like that, it's always involved civil disobedience and peacefully, openly breaking the law in a way that shows what you're doing is harmless, and that the real harm comes when police move in and attack you and arrest you.

And so, you know, there's certainly other avenues. Civil disobedience isn't the only technique, but when it comes to really getting things changed and to riling things up, that's exactly what it takes.

You know, in Canada, the reason that we don't have strict abortion laws here is because a doctor named Doctor Henry Morgentaler went to jail over and over again in Canada for giving women abortions who -- you know, women who had no other option, it was against the law and he did it. He went to court over and over again, and juries refused to convict him over and over again, and as a result of his civil disobedience, we changed the law on that issue. And I think that that's an example that we see over and over again with these kind of issues.

The only way to really change bad laws is to break bad laws. And that's something that Martin Luther King talked about, and that Gandhi talked about, and that many other people that are inspirations to me, and I think that are inspirations to Marc Emery and Jodie Emery and others who fight to end the war on cannabis. That's what works. You've got to break unjust laws to change unjust laws.

DOUG MCVAY: I could not have said it better myself. And well, and that's why I'm glad I know I you, because you are one of the most articulate people we have in this movement. Thank heaven you are out there.

Obviously, CannabisCulture.com will at some point have an update about all this. But where should people go to find out what's going on, to keep up with what's happening up there in Canada?

DANA LARSEN: Well, hopefully CannabisCulture.com can get an update, but I think that there site editor and manager, Jeremiah Vandermeer, was one of those who was arrested tonight, so he'll have to get out of jail before he can put an update. I've been following on Twitter, and on Facebook. There's, you know, good information if you follow Jodie Emery's feeds on Twitter, or me on Twitter, @DanaLarsen. Or probably the Cannabis Culture site. But I expect even just, you know, Montreal news will have some good stories tomorrow. This is going to be playing out over the next few days.

The police do like to make raids on Friday afternoons and Friday evenings, so that they can keep you in jail for the weekend before you get a chance to have bail. We've seen that over and over again, it's just their way of getting you a little extra punishment, a little extra bureaucratic punishment. So hopefully they'll be out of jail this weekend, but if not, they'll definitely be out on Monday, and I expect you'll be hearing a lot more news. But the one good thing is that the person who runs these franchises says he wants to reopen again. He's not going to let them shut them down, and as long as they've got some employees, or some believers, who are willing to man the tills and run the operation, they plan on reopening again and again, and we'll see if they can outlast the police's resources on this one.

DOUG MCVAY: That's terrific. And again -- your twitter is @DanaLarsen, right?

DANA LARSEN: That's right, yes, Larsen is my last name. And, yeah, I'm tweeting a lot, so, that's a way to keep up with what's going on in Canada.

DOUG MCVAY: Any closing thoughts for the listeners, and Dana, once again, thank you for your time and this update. This is such an important thing.

DANA LARSEN: Well, I guess that my closing thought is that, you know, if you believe in this cause, don't be afraid of being arrested or of taking a risk to make change. This is one of the great civil rights injustices of our time, and it's important that everybody get involved. And it really just shows how a few people can make a big difference. So, be inspired by the actions and sacrifices of others to make a difference in your own community and help end this war on cannabis and the war on drugs, which is all around the world and which just causes so much harm and so much misery.

DOUG MCVAY: Dana Larsen, thank you so very much.

DANA LARSEN: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

DOUG MCVAY: Cheers. That again was Dana Larsen, he's a political activist, drug policy reformer, and businessperson in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

DOUG MCVAY: You are listening to Century Of Lies, we're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

KIRK TOUSAW: My name's Kirk Tousaw, and I'm the principal of the Tousaw Law Corporation, based in British Columbia, Canada.

DOUG MCVAY: Kirk, among your clients, Jodie and Marc Emery, and -- the news reports are going to be all over the place, what people will probably know is that some Cannabis Culture locations were raided on Friday the 16th, over the weekend. What's going on up there?

KIRK TOUSAW: Well, that's exactly right. Cannabis Culture has opened a string of marijuana dispensaries for adult social use across Canada over the last six months or so. Couple of days ago, they opened eight storefront locations in the city of Montreal in the province of Quebec. And, just yesterday, two of those locations were raided by the Montreal police, and Mister Emery and a number of employees were taken into custody at the locations. Most of the employees have been released on promises to appear in court, and that occurred sometime in the early morning hours today.

And then, police executed search warrants at the hotel where Jodie Emery and others were staying, took Jodie and other people into custody, searched the hotel rooms. As I understand it, didn't find any contraband in the hotel rooms and therefore some time very early in the morning Montreal time, today I guess, Jodie and the others that were arrested at the hotel were released from custody. Mister Emery, as far as I know, remains in custody. I've got a local counsel in Montreal retained, and she's working very, very hard to have Mister Emery released as quickly as possible.

DOUG MCVAY: Do they have any charges that they've filed, or are they simply holding -- what --

KIRK TOUSAW: My understanding is they were arrested on charges for possession for the purpose of trafficking, trafficking, and possibly laundering the proceeds of crime.

DOUG MCVAY: Which would basically mean doing anything with the money that was earned through sale at the dispensaries, of course.

KIRK TOUSAW: Earned from allegedly criminal activity, and even put it in a cash register and you have technically in all likelihood breached the Proceeds of Crime provisions of the criminal code.

DOUG MCVAY: Madness. But now, Jodie and most of the rest of the employees have gotten out, before the -- so they're not going to be spending the weekend in jail, did I hear you right?

KIRK TOUSAW: That's correct. Everyone but Marc Emery has been released at this point on promises to appear in court, as I understand it that's likely to be in February of 2017. Mister Emery, to my knowledge, remains in custody, in cells in Montreal, though there is a chance that there will be a bail hearing today.

DOUG MCVAY: If not today, will it be likely on Monday, or -- I mean, they can't just hold him indefinitely. Can they?

KIRK TOUSAW: No, you're entitled to a bail hearing. It's quite likely -- well, if it's not today, it will be Monday.

DOUG MCVAY: Okeh. And, now my -- I understand that the shops, that basically people are planning, if they can get the staff and the inventory, that they were planning to reopen again. Have any of the shops reopened, are there actually plans to do so?

KIRK TOUSAW: I am currently unaware of the status of any of the stores. It is the case that in other jurisdictions in Canada where these raids have occurred, many people have chosen to reopen. Some of those have been raided again. Some have not. For example, in Toronto, which raided about 50 dispensaries in summer of this year, in an operation called Project Claudia, that must have cost the city of Toronto millions of dollars, and resulted in the arrest of a couple hundred people, many of those businesses reopened. Some have been rearrested, many have not. And it appears that in many instances, charges are being actually withdrawn against the employees of those dispensaries by the Federal Crown in Toronto.

DOUG MCVAY: So, I mean, what is -- what is their point? I mean, was it just to say, hey, it really is still illegal, I mean, what on earth was the point?

KIRK TOUSAW: Well, Doug, as you know, and as your listeners know, what's the point of prohibition generally? I mean, it's the use of power to control peaceful people who simply want to have the freedom to engage as adults in non-harmful behavior. You know, Montreal is, you know, it's got a long history in its police force and territorially of, you know, having a certain attitude, and it really -- it's a bit of a dichotomy, because there's sort of the traditional French laissez-faire, you know, let the people do what the people want to do attitude, but there's also a very deep streak of authoritarianism that emerges often in social issues.

And so, I can only speculate as to the motivation of the police. Perhaps they wanted to be perceived as cracking down, as not standing for what they would call law breaking, and what others would call peaceful civil disobedience and living the change you want to see in the world. But nevertheless, we're faced with a situation where, once again, people are being locked in cages for cannabis related activity, as part of one of the greatest travesties of justice that's gone on in our lifetimes. You know, marijuana prohibition has, as you and your listeners know, has impacted millions of lives in a negative way, and done incredible amounts of social and human devastation, whereas the use of cannabis by adults is relatively harmless behavior that should have been legalized long ago.

The real irony here is that just days before these raids, our federal government's task force on legalization, which was commissioned to study and recommend the best way to move towards country-wide legalization of cannabis for adult use, recommended that storefront marijuana-only stores be adopted into the legal system. And so, exactly the type of businesses that Cannabis Culture and so many other dispensary operators across this country are busily opening and running, and serving the public with, and helping many people have dignified access to cannabis with, was recommended by the task force set up by the federal government.

And two days later, the city of Montreal and Montreal Police Department decide it's a good idea to lock human beings in cages for doing precisely that. I think it's reprehensible. I think it's a travesty of justice. And, you know, we're going to have to see how it plays out in the court system over the next weeks and months, and possibly years.

DOUG MCVAY: You've been doing this for a little while, and this -- but, California, back in the, say about 10, fifteen years ago, when dispensaries were starting to boom, but of course, really, they were all, you know, pretty much illegal. But, people did it, and ran the risks, and now we have this massive industry in California that's about to turn to adult use. I mean, are there any parallels with Canada that you can see? As I understand, there are no legal dispensaries, I mean, period. Right?

KIRK TOUSAW: Well, that's exactly right. There's no legal access to cannabis in the storefront retail model anywhere in Canada, and there never has been. I think there are parallels. You know, I think every place where progress on this movement towards freedom, towards justice, towards moving out of the shadows and into the light, has occurred, you've had pioneers that are willing to put their own liberty at risk in order to benefit all of us.

And that's what's going on right now in Canada, and undoubtedly we'll have to continue to fight for our rights, and our freedom to engage in this non-harmful, peaceful behavior.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Well, I know you've got a lot of stuff to do, it's your Saturday for heaven's sake, you probably didn't expect to be spending the morning working at the courts. So --

KIRK TOUSAW: Well, that beeping you heard was Mister Emery's local counsel calling me, so I better call her back.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, in that case, real quick, where can people find more, and what's your twitter handle so people can keep up on the stuff that you're doing?

KIRK TOUSAW: Absolutely. Certainly CannabisCulture.com. My law firm website is TousawLaw.ca, TousawLaw.ca. And I'm on Twitter and Facebook, just under my name, @KirkTousaw.

DOUG MCVAY: Once again, Kirk Tousaw, a barrister up in British Columbia, and a great reformer, and a great friend. Kirk, god bless you and happy holidays, and thank you so much.

KIRK TOUSAW: And to you as well, Doug, thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was Kirk Tousaw, he's a barrister in British Columbia, Canada. You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network.

The White House was asked about the Philippines again on Thursday, December Fifteenth. Here's Josh Earnest, answering a question.

REPORTER: I’m wondering if you had any reaction to President Duterte saying that he used to personally prowl the streets on a motorcycle looking for a chance to kill criminals.

JOSH EARNEST: Those comments are deeply troubling and they certainly are at odds with the Philippine government’s stated commitment to due process and rule of law.

The United States continues to be concerned by the widespread reports of extrajudicial killings by or at the behest of government authorities in the Philippines. The United States strongly supports the idea of a thorough, credible and transparent investigation into these reports.

The United States stands with the people of the Philippines as they confront the drug problem that’s having a negative impact on the security situation in the country. And the United States has provided significant security assistance to assist in the investigation of those crimes, and to assist the Filipino government in handling this threat to their security.

But we continue to believe it’s critically important that the government in the Philippines observe and even protect the basic universal human rights that are central to that democracy and ours. And that’s an important principle and one that we believe is worth upholding.

REPORTER: We’ve had a lot of conversations in different contexts in the last couple days about whether the U.S. should have done more when they see signs of trouble. Your reaction so far to a range of comments from President Duterte has been sort of to condemn them or to express concern, but not to cut off US support or change our sort of relationship. What does he have to say or do to prompt some sort of official reaction from the US beyond just expression of concern?

JOSH EARNEST: Well, Justin, what we have -- what you've heard me say on a number of occasions now is that we often hear rhetoric from President Duterte or other senior officials in the government of the Philippines vowing to carry out radical changes in their policy of cooperating with or investing in the US-Philippines alliance. In almost every situation, that rhetoric has not been matched by action. And so you’ve also heard me say in a variety of settings that we certainly are paying attention to the words and comments that are being expressed, but we’re paying more careful attention to the actions.

And that is certainly true in this case with regard to our relationship with the Philippines. And that’s why the United States remains committed to working effectively with the government in the Philippines to advance our shared interests, and that’s everything from the domestic security situation in the Philippines, including the drug trade. It also relates to our support for their efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to some of the competing land claims in the South China Sea. It also relates to some of the economic and cultural ties between the United States and the Philippines that extends back for multiple generations.

So this is an important relationship, an important alliance, and one that we believe is worth investing in, because it benefits not just the American people it also benefits the people of the Philippines as well.

DOUG MCVAY: That was White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest at a news conference at the White House on December Fifteenth. Also that week, it was announced that a State Department project called the Millennium Challenge Corporation had deferred a decision on whether to allow the Philippine government to apply for up to four hundred million dollars in aid, over concerns regarding that government's human rights record and its campaign of extrajudicial murder. Reportedly, the MCC could revisit that decision as early as March of next year.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on summary executions, who works in the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has announced plans to visit the Philippines to investigate the alleged extrajudicial killings that have occurred since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30 of this year.

According to the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, close to 6,000 people have been killed in just these past few months. Of those, 2,086 were killed in actual police operations, while another 3,841 were killed in what was described as other circumstance, including vigilante style killings.

Well, that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.