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Prince of pot or dope of Vansterdam? Add to ...

'It's not love of the spotlight," snaps Marc Emery. "It's because I'm competent in the spotlight."

The Prince of Pot is dressed in an Armani suit. He figures it will help his cause. "If you're not well-groomed and -dressed, people see you as a pothead," he points out, fingering his green, swirl-print tie.

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"I am best for the spotlight," he carries on, crouched forward, ready to provoke. "When you look at who should be representing our culture, I just can't see anybody who's been better at it than I have been."

But listen to him for an hour and you begin to wonder if Mr. Emery, who is a hero in Vancouver - or rather, Vansterdam, the centre of Canada's tolerated cannabis culture - is, indeed, the best representative.

He has been enormously successful at drawing attention to the issue of marijuana decriminalization, but the Prince of Pot treads perilously close to being the Dope of Vansterdam. The crown this Prince wears is one of blinding (and goofy) self-importance.

He is not high, he insists. He smokes weed every day, but usually in the afternoon. It is only 10 in the morning. Still, with little prompting, he goes off on strange, long-winded detours. He informs me about his vasectomy at age 19: "I was cauterized. And I was the youngest person in Canada to get one."

He describes his first time smoking weed at 22: "It was December 21, 1980, at about 10 to midnight."

"I had just fallen in love, and I was about to go down on my girlfriend. And I looked up, and she had this joint in her mouth, and she said, 'Before you do what you're doing down there, smoke this.' I did, and it was fantastic," he says, before delivering a spaced-out description of her genitalia.

With complete seriousness he outlines some stranger's prophesy 30 years ago, well before he became a renowned pot activist, that he would make millions (he has, he claims), that he should preserve his "steel-trap mind" and that he would be involved in a big fight over "some kind of leaf."

Wow, you think, this dude is on a serious head trip.

He wants people to take his cause seriously - and it has its merits - but it is hard to do the same with him.

Mr. Emery, who is 50, is currently in the highest-stake fight of his activist life. In 2005, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration asked the Canadian government to extradite him and two of his Vancouver employees on charges of drug-trafficking because he exported marijuana seeds to American buyers. The police swept in and closed down his Vancouver-based Internet catalogue business, which he says pulled in annual revenues of $3-million.

It is this Canadian police co-operation with American anti-drug squads that irks his legion of supporters. They view it as an unquestioned knee-jerk reaction, and feel the action is disproportionate to the crime. A guy who grows marijuana seeds (and pays taxes on his business like everyone else) may have to spend the rest of his life in some Draconian American prison?

Tomorrow night, the CBC will air The Prince of Pot: The U.S. vs. Marc Emery, a documentary that heightens the rhetoric of the debate to a matter of Canadian sovereignty.

"This is asymmetrical warfare," Mr. Emery explains in his rapid-fire delivery. "Like al-Qaeda. Little people attacking a big organization."

The extradition hearing is set for late January. His lawyer doesn't hold much hope that the Canadian government, especially a Conservative one, will stand up to the U.S. demand.

Mr. Emery relishes the fight.

"I am counting on the Canadian and U.S. governments to do the wrong thing. That would play right into my hands," he says. "I hope they agree to extradite me, because there would be a generation of young people who would be furious at the government."

It is his destiny to be a martyr, a latter-day Martin Luther King, he says. "I feel very specially appointed to do this job. My whole life is about this. I'm meant to do this. I believe I was put here for this very purpose."

It has something to do with his identification with Spider-Man. "The meaning of life is to do good," he says, adding that this was a revelation he had while high. "I was a big fan of comic books when I was young. Spider-Man wanted to do good. But he was misunderstood. Nobody appreciated him. And it was a lot harder than he thought. He never got any gratitude. People resented him. I learned from that."

Mr. Emery, who is the second-eldest of four children born into a blue-collar family in London, Ont., is a zealous salesman of the High Life. He started the B.C. Marijuana Party and ran several times unsuccessfully for local and federal office. He has a website called Pot-tv.net.

At the start of the interview, he strides into the room in downtown Toronto, brandishing his product: copies of his glossy magazine, Cannabis Culture; a parody of the Harry Potter story called Hairy Pothead and the Marijuana Stone; a few T-shirts that protest his extradition; his favourite bong; and a little packet of top-quality weed.

He has been arrested 22 times on marijuana-related charges and jailed 17 times, but Canadian officials have always viewed Mr. Emery as little more than a nuisance, like an annoying friend who has to be put in his place every once in a while but who is still invited to all the parties.

His problem, though, is that his love of provocation, and his inability to reign himself in, may serve to diminish whatever authority he possesses.

It is not just marijuana that should be legalized, he posits.

"People have a right to cocaine ... Same with heroin and crystal meth. Look, we have legal amphetamines. We give our kids Ritalin. That's similar to crystal meth."

But what about addiction?

"Yeah, but that's not your problem or my problem. See, I've treated addicts. I spent $250,000 between 2002 and 2004 on drug-addiction clinics. Drug addicts have to go to rehab 10 times to even have a chance to get out. It's expensive ... We shouldn't even let them bottom out. Just let them have the drugs," he says.

Mr. Emery has never had a problem with addiction, he says. Pot has enhanced his life in many ways. "Everywhere I go, people stop me. Everybody smokes pot, and they see me as their leader. It has made me a better business person, because it makes you more open. You're not judgmental."

But Mr. Emery can't stop there. Soon, he is discussing the merits of pot as a remedy for erectile dysfunction. Last year, he married his assistant, Jodie, who is 22.

"Cannabis acts like Viagra for five or 10 minutes. It increases your heart rate. You get stronger erections," he burbles on.

"But I do take Cialis," he adds, raising one forefinger in the air like a child in the classroom who has one more important point to make. "Two or three times a week," he says, grinning widely.

Mr. Emery is an adolescent masquerading as an adult. He has no sense of boundaries, and is prone to self-sabotage. He believes his outspokenness mocks the grown-up world of polite opinion. But he doesn't see that he is also making a mockery of himself.

"Come," he beckons to the Globe photographer as I close the interview. He wants to take her outside so he can be photographed in his best suit, smoking from his big, fancy bong. He figures it will be a cool shot.

Marc Emery takes questions today. Click here to ask yours.

shampson@globeandmail.com

 

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