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Marc Emery, the self-described "Prince of Pot" speaks to reporters outside the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, Monday, May 10, 2010 prior to turning himself in to be extradited to the United States as his wife Jodie, right, looks on.

Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press

U.S. prison authorities have denied jailed Canadian pot activist Marc Emery a chance to serve the bulk of his five-year term in Canada.

Mr. Emery is also being transferred from a minimum- to a medium-security prison in Mississippi, leading his lawyer to express concerns for his safety and question whether he is being singled out for extra punishment because of his outspoken opposition to marijuana laws.

"There is no doubt that the prison population in a U.S. medium-security prison will increase the level of risk to him as an individual," Kirk Tousaw said Friday, after learning of the switch and rejection of Mr. Emery's request for a transfer to Canada.

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Although the judge who sentenced Mr. Emery recommended the transfer and he meets requirements, American officials cited the seriousness of his offence and unspecified "serious law enforcement concerns" for their decision to keep him incarcerated in the United States.

Mr. Emery, 52, was sent to jail last September, after being convicted of selling mail-order marijuana seeds to U.S. customers from his cannabis headquarters in Vancouver.

"He meets all of the factors for a transfer. This is deeply disappointing," said Mr. Tousaw, who pledged to exhaust all possible legal avenues to have his client's removal to Canada approved.

"It is disturbing to me that the United States continues to punish Mr. Emery for his political activity by denying this transfer. This is a terrible tragedy."

He questioned how serious Mr. Emery's offence could be, given that he was never charged in Canada and openly carried on his marijuana seed business for years, before U.S. drug enforcement officers sought his arrest.

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said the department does not comment on specific cases. Last year, 44 prisoners were transferred to Canada under the two countries' prisoner-exchange program.

Mr. Emery's wife, Jodie, said she was heartbroken by the decision and her husband devastated.

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"He's already having a rough time in the transfer centre he's in. He's feeling pretty lonely. This is quite a shock. It seems to be a personal thing they have against Marc."

In addition to recommending that Mr. Emery be returned to Canada to serve out his sentence, U.S. judge Ricardo Martinez suggested that minimum security was appropriate for his prison time in the United States.

Earlier this year, a number of Canadian politicians, including former Vancouver mayors Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan, former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh and a dozen Liberal and NDP MPs sent a letter to Paula Wolff, chief of the U.S. prisoner transfer program, urging approval of Mr. Emery's application.

"While we do not sanction the actions that resulted in his conviction, we find enough about Mr. Emery's character to commend him for repatriation and transfer into the Canadian correctional system as soon as possible," their petition said.

The politicians pointed out that Mr. Emery was a first-time, non-violent offender, who accepted responsibility for his actions.

A letter from Ms. Wolff to the Canadian Correctional Service said Mr. Emery may re-apply for a transfer in two years.

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She said his application would more likely be accepted "if he has attempted to address those reasons for denial over which the prisoner has some control."

Mr. Tousaw speculated that U.S. authorities were not happy over a regular blog maintained by Mr. Emery, which criticized conditions where he was being held.

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