The long arm of American justice has reached out for Canada's so-called Prince of Pot and sent him to U.S. federal prison for five years.
A chastened Marc Emery, who was sentenced in U.S. District Court here Friday for selling millions of marijuana seeds to customers south of the border, admitted to arrogance in flouting American law and promised never to advocate civil disobedience again in the United States or Canada.
His statement represented a change of attitude for Mr. Emery, 52, who had openly pedalled his illegal products to the U.S. and smoked pot in public on a regular basis in Canada, daring authorities to charge him.
Yet, even as he was led away in dowdy prison fatigues, waving to his wife and supporters, winds of a changing, more tolerant attitude towards marijuana prosecutions are beginning to gust in the United States.
Some now wonder whether Mr. Emery's relatively harsh punishment for a business that was never closed by Canadian authorities could soon be a rare event in a country that has waged a relentless war against marijuana for decades.
"It won't be the last, and it's still an uphill battle, but more and more, people are saying that criminalizing marijuana does more harm than good," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the U.S.-based Drug Policy Alliance. "Things are definitely changing."
Most strikingly, the very person who indicted Mr. Emery in 2005, former U.S. Attorney John McKay, came out strongly last weekend in favour of legalizing, regulating and taxing the sale of cannabis, smoked by an estimated 15 million Americans.
Meanwhile, citizens of the country's largest state, California, will vote this November on whether to legalize the drug, other states are expected to have similar ballots next year, and increasing numbers of former and current law enforcement officials, including ex-Seattle police chief Norm Stumper, are speaking out for change.
Even Judge Ricardo Martinez, who handed down Mr. Emery's sentence as part of a plea-bargain, expressed sympathy for the Canadian pot crusader on his coming incarceration.
Noting that he had received many letters in support of Mr. Emery that were well-written and thoughtful "and made some very interesting points," Judge Martinez told him: "I know five years is a long time, but I wish you the best when you get out."
Judge Martinez recommended that Mr. Emery be returned to Canada to serve out his sentence. But both governments have to agree, and the federal Conservatives have shown little sympathy for drug offenders.
As for Mr. McKay, while labelling Mr. Emery "an idiot" for smoking marijuana, he said that "as [his]prosecutor, however, I'm not afraid to say out loud what most of my former colleagues know is true.
"Our policy of criminal prohibition of marijuana has utterly failed. It is dangerous, and wrong, and should be changed," declared Mr. McKay, currently a law professor at Seattle University. "Brave agents and cops continue to risk their lives in a futile attempt to enforce misguided laws that do not match the realities of our society."
Mr. McKay declined a request to elaborate on his views, contained in an opinion piece for the Seattle Times.
U.S. District Attorney Todd Greenberg told the crowded courtroom that Mr. Emery "openly flouted United States drug laws." He said five years was the longest term anyone in the district had received for being part of the "marijuana supply chain."
Before sentencing, Mr. Emery said he regretted his actions. "I admit that I was arrogant. … When I get out, I won't ever advocate criminal disobedience again. … I will pursue conventional methods to change the law."