Who is Canada's self-styled 'Prince of Pot' — and what does he want?

A look at Marc Emery's background and what he might hope to accomplish as Canada moves closer to tabling legislation legalizing cannabis this spring.

Years before U.S. arrest, cannabis stores, Marc Emery was a bookshop owner on a mission

Cannabis crusader Marc Emery smokes marijuana as he holds a plant at a gathering of pro-marijuana legalization supporters outside police headquarters in Toronto in 2003. (Kevin Frayer/The Canadian Press)

Canada's pre-eminent pot advocate, Marc Emery, was arrested Wednesday in Toronto along with his wife Jodie, en route to Spannabis, a marijuana festival in Spain.

The duo were each charged with drug trafficking, conspiracy and possession.

The couple made waves in Montreal last December with the opening of six secret Cannabis Culture marijuana stores — which were promptly raided by police.

Marc Emery was arrested at one of those stores the day after it opened. 

Here's a look at Emery's background and what he might hope to accomplish as Canada moves closer to tabling legislation legalizing cannabis this spring.

30 years of advocacy

Emery, the self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot," may be a hero to some marijuana advocates, but his crusading against perceived injustices suffered by citizens has taken many forms — from breaking Sunday shopping laws by overstaffing his bookstore, to rallying merchants to protect their right to sell pornography.

Before the bud, he was known to officials and policymakers in London, Ont., as the owner of a bookshop who regularly stood up against anything he disagreed with personally or professionally, regardless of the effort and personal risk involved.

His work in Canada goes back more than 30 years.

The play Citizen Marc ran in early 2006 and was produced by Chris Doty. (

Some of his exploits include the creation of Cannabis Culture Magazine and the channel PotTV. He's also been the focus of documentaries and his arrests have inspired supporters to hold vigils for him.

Possibly the best example of what the outspoken, multi-cause advocate stands for is seen in the 2006 play inspired by his life called Citizen Marc: The Adventures of Marc Emery which featured the tagline: Love Him. Hate Him. Just Don't Ignore Him.

Born in London, Ont., in 1958, he lived there until his mid-30s before moving to B.C. as an established pot advocate.

In those early days he owned the independent bookstore City Lights Bookshop.

Despite the significantly less contentious act of selling books and magazines than his Cannabis Culture merchandise, Emery still managed to defy law enforcement and become known for it.

Bookshop activism

Christopher Doty, the producer of Citizen Marc, compiled a list of milestones in Emery's life.

On it, he notes Emery's advocacy around the sale of pornography, as well as eliminating a downtown business tax and rallying people against the 1991 Pan Am games.

He spearheaded an emergency, volunteer garbage pickup during a London, Ont. city workers strike.

Taking on provincial legislation, though, started in the mid-80s with Emery setting his sights on Sunday shopping laws. 

Emery encouraged store owners to resist bylaw restricting sale of pornography. (YouTube/Marc Emery: Messing up the System)

In 1986, he was charged with keeping his bookshop open on Sundays, which was against the law at the time.

When provincial law changed to allow stores to stay open on Sundays, but with no more than three employees, Emery didn't accept the restriction and staffed his store with more.

He preferred to go to jail than pay any fine for it, according to Doty's account of Emery's life.

Marijuana crusading

By the mid-1990s Emery was living in B.C. and taking on provincial, federal, and later, international marijuana laws.

For years, his store Hemp BC was raided by police and he was given fines of a few thousand dollars each time.

In 1998 the business licence for Hemp BC was revoked by the city of Vancouver.

Emery's media influence was also growing with the launch of the marijuana-related channel Pot-TV — which had guests as high profile as then-leader of the NDP, the late Jack Layton.

U.S. jail time

What pushed Emery over the edge from pot advocate to "Prince of Pot" came in 2005 when American authorities worked with Canadian law enforcement to arrest him

He was charged in the U.S. with drug and money laundering offences. He was sentenced to five years in prison minus time served.

Marc Emery christens his marriage by smoking a marijuana joint with his wife Jodie in 2006. (Richard Lam/The Canadian Press)

In 2016, he brought his advocacy to Montreal where six Cannabis Culture locations opened despite laws against the sale of recreational marijuana.

He was then arrested by Montreal police and later released after posting a $5,000 bond.

He is now prohibited from consuming cannabis, entering places that produce or sell cannabis, or communicating with anyone linked to Cannabis Culture operations in Montreal.

Failed Montreal store openings

Local, long-time advocates of legalization have criticized Emery's approach.

Marc-Boris St-Maurice has helped Montrealers get access to medical marijuana for more than 20 years.

He said Cannabis Culture's strategy shows a "cavalier attitude and cowboy-style approach of marching into town."

Emery's wife, Jodie Emery, made the case that opening the illegal Cannabis Culture locations was high-minded and necessary, as Canada comes closer than ever to legalizing marijuana.

Jodie Emery, who owns the Cannabis Culture brand with her activist husband Marc Emery, left, talks to reporters at the opening of one of their stores Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

With the federal government looking to legalize recreational marijuana in the spring, there are already signs that big business will get the rights to selling it.

According to Jodie Emery, that means people like her husband, who've been jailed for their pot advocacy will be locked out of the industry they helped build.

Trafficking charges 

In March, both Marc and Jodie Emery were arrested in Toronto while they were en route to a European marijuana festival.

They were each charged with drug trafficking, conspiracy and possession after being taken into custody at Pearson International Airport.

Several of Marc's Cannabis Culture pot shops in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal were also raided.

Kirk Tousaw, a former lawyer for Marc, said the pair was "disappointed" to be in custody over marijuana-related accusations.

During their first court appearance, Jodie mouthed an "I love you" to her husband while he was in the prisoner's box. She also held up a peace sign to her supporters.