Radical Rant: Is It Still Civil Disobedience if It Makes a Profit?

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This weekend, Canada’s best-known marijuana activists Marc and Jodie Emery were arrested by police in Montreal for their role in opening six new outlets for their Cannabis Culture marijuana dispensary franchise.

Recently, a federal task force in Canada recommended that sales of marijuana be made legal to all adults 18 and older. They noted that while health officials cite 25 as the age at which brain development is complete, and therefore the marijuana minimum age should be older, keeping the age too high would maintain underground market sales and hamper the success of legalization.

Yet, Montreal’s Mayor Denis Coderre, in reaction to protests over the arrest of the Emerys, maintained his stance that “the law is the law,” and it has not been changed yet. He expressed “zero tolerance” for their actions, characterizing them as a threat to order and their actions a self-serving “public relations stunt.”

Canada’s Liberal government came to power in the most recent federal election partially because of the party’s open support for legalization of cannabis.

Yet, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who repeatedly campaigned on the legalization issue, has joined the Montreal mayor’s condemnation of the Emerys, saying “until we’ve changed the law, the current laws exist and apply.”

These reactions from the elected officials are to be expected. What I didn’t expect was some of the reaction from the cannabis community.

“Most Canadians are sick and tired of them,” claimed one of the messages in my inbox, “and their predatory approach to celebrity activism.” I received other comments in that vein, accusing the Emerys of merely seeking attention to build their business brand and make money. “Stop blindly defending the Emeries [sic],” they said, “they are the enemy of legalization.”

Everybody’s got their haters (trust me, I know this), but what amused me most about the comments was in comparing how other activists who’ve done similar acts of civil disobedience in the medical marijuana world were characterized at the time.

Back in 2013, my home state of Oregon was passing a law to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. The legislature was spurred into action by activists who, like Marc and Jodie Emery, saw a need for legal cannabis access that was going unfilled and created a business to fill that need.

Of course, back before that bill passed, “the law [was] the law” and “the current laws exist[ed] and appl[ied].” Oregon’s drug warriors mounted one last offensive, just a week before the law was to pass, called “Operation Storefront.” They raided three dispensary locations in the north, south and east of the state.

But when my friends Sarah Bennett and Don Morse, Lee and Lori Duckworth and Bill Esbensen were arrested and jailed by authorities, you didn’t find marijuana activists in Oregon demeaning their busts as a result of self-aggrandizement or self-enrichment.

No, these were freedom fighters, was the general consensus. They were bold, daring activists putting their freedom on the line to bring safe access to life-saving medicine to poor, needy patients! And the police and prosecutors were the enemies of legalization, not the people flouting the law against marijuana sales.

The dispensaries that were busted in Oregon served as the models that led to the 2013 law being passed in the first place. Oregon’s legislature was in no hurry to legalize dispensaries until the activists and, yes, entrepreneurs, began civilly disobeying the law by opening storefronts.

Similarly, Marc and Jodie Emery are opening Cannabis Culture locations in an act of civil disobedience to push the Trudeau government to live up to its promise to legalize cannabis sooner rather than later. Just because the customers standing in line for legal access to cannabis in -30°C temperatures aren’t necessarily sick doesn’t demean the patriotism of the civil disobedience.

Montreal is choosing to bust the Emerys; it’s not as if Montrealers are flooding Mayor Coderre’s office with demands to shut down Cannabis Culture. Compare that, again, with my home state of Oregon. We passed our legalization measure in November of 2014, but our right to possess marijuana and cultivate cannabis didn’t officially go into effect until July of 2015.

So, for seven months, “the law [was] the law” and “the current laws exist[ed] and appl[ied].” But most of our counties’ prosecuting attorneys deferred to the will of the voters and didn’t pursue charges against people who were caught with amounts that would be made legal under the new law come summertime. They even dropped similar charges against people who had already been busted before the election.

Make no mistake, these are prosecutions of choice by the Montreal government. They are emboldened by a prime minister who endorses mindlessly following a law he himself promised to overturn.

The Emerys should be lauded for their civil disobedience, whether it makes them a loonie in profit or not.

Previously in Radical Rant: Kevin Sabet’s 6 Failed Legalization Predictions

Click here for all of Russ Belville’s columns.

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