Cover

High crimes and very high profits

Marijuana cultivation—and prohibition—has made a lot of Canadians rich

November 7 2005
Cover

High crimes and very high profits

Marijuana cultivation—and prohibition—has made a lot of Canadians rich

November 7 2005

High crimes and very high profits

Cover

Marijuana cultivation—and prohibition—has made a lot of Canadians rich

AT 38, CHARLES Scott was a guru among cannabis lovers and he represented the first level of the business—the producer, the

manufacturer, the grower. Without people such as Scott, there is no domestic marijuana business. Almost anyone can grow marijuana, but to produce it on a commercial scale takes a modicum of talent, meticulous technique, the best genetic stock and (in an illegal environment) a great deal of luck. Scott was an up-and-comer. He had spent nearly 17 years in the business, had amassed a broad selection of original strains and had garnered as much experience as anyone, especially

Ian Mulgrew is legal affairs columnist for the Vancouver Sun and the author of Bud Inc.: Inside Canada’s Marijuana Industry. His book is an eye-opening account of the nations most valuable agricultural product—worth at least $6 billion a year at wholesale prices— and a convincing argument for its legalization. Mulgrew visited key players in the marijuana trade, including grower Charles Scott and seed merchant Marc Emery. Canada’s best-known pot crusader, Emery is currently fighting extradition to the U.S. after his July arrest in Nova Scotia on American charges of

trafficking and money-laundering. With the proceeds of his retail empire, which Mulgrew calculates brings in between $1 and $3 million annually, Emery supports legalization efforts around the world. Scott, despite his ambitious plans for expansion when the Brave New World of legal pot arrives, keeps a much lower profile. Excerpts:

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on a commercial scale. Now he produced primarily breeding stock and plants for medical patients.

“Every second neighbour around here grows dope,” he said. “I ran the local hydroponics store, so Em not exaggerating. Every second property is growing.” He threw himself into a leather recliner in front of a computer. The household was in tumult because his father-in-law was dying and his wife of 13 years, Leanne, and their son were by his side. Leanne was a hard-core pot activist who smoked every day to control the pain and symptoms of spinal disease.

Scott’s dark hair was flecked with grey and his blue eyes were bleary-looking from pot. He is big—six foot two, pushing 300 lb.—and has savage-looking scars on his leg from operations on a knee damaged in professional martial arts combat. He boasts a fifth-degree black belt in jujitsu. His dog, Tacky, is never far from his side, padding away only to patrol the property. Sensors are planted in the surrounding land, especially near the greenhouse.

“They trigger an alarm. Ell show you.”

He touched the computer keyboard. The machine screamed. Beep... beep... beep... beep... bee-ee-ee-ee-eep. The dog sprang out the back door emitting terrifying howls, barks and growls.

“The paranoia is electric at night when something sets them off,” Scott chuckled. “September is manic because of thieves and the seismic sensor going off really gets your heart pumping. You’re up and racing through the bush in the middle of the night with a mean dog. It’s crazy around here. I sit on edge when the crop’s ready. Sometimes it’s rabbits and stuff that’s just stupid. But you never know—people can be violent.”

He bent to pet the hulking beast that trotted back into the room. “Em buying another,” Scott said. “A really exceptional dog from California, a purebred German shepherd, trained in crowd control, building entry, disarming. He’s a psycho dog: $8,000 U.S. But he’s worth the investment. When Em out of town, my wife wants it.”

“Now it’s a seedy business,” Scott intoned. “There are a lot of shysters in this whole thing. It’s sad. You name it, it has happened to me. Eve been ripped, robbed at gunpoint, had some of my people kidnapped

and held for ransom. Eve been imprisoned, Eve been beaten, you name it.” In his mind, he is a persecuted farmer who would like to be left alone to rear his family. “Who am I to say that Em guilty of being who I am—a reclusive pot grower? Our kids, man, are our main focus outside of my work. And my work is in the garden. I just don’t quite understand it, so I really feel quite angry and

bitter that I was thrown in a cage with other people and deprived of my civil liberties for growing a plant. I don’t do anything else that is illegal—well, maybe I do since I trip out on some other shit, but I don’t steal. I pay my taxes, I even pay taxes on seed sales. I mean, you know, I give Caesar what Caesar is due.”

And the money is huge.

“We keep people off welfare,” he said. “I put $100,000 into this community just in clipping and labour wages. At least. That’s conservative. When you factor the seed value, what it costs me to grow it, the whole thing, there’s at least that.” If pot were legal or if he could get a government licence to grow a commercial crop, Scott would immediately need 40 full-time employees. “That’s unskilled,” he emphasized. “Em able to employ a sector of the community that otherwise is unemployable. The economics just make total sense.”

He pointed to the surrounding bush. Every three to five metres, the scrub was infiltrated by a marijuana plant, invisible to the untrained eye against the camouflage screen of alder, poplar, spruce, pine, roses and blackberry hedges. Some were 4 to 5 metres tall with colas as thick as a forearm. “You have to hide it and conceal it from everyone— from your neighbours to the police who are

flying over your house in helicopters.” Although Scott was pretty brazen. His place looked like a pot farm. A cement mixer stood in the yard for combining the chemicals and manure. “Em so happy with my compost this year,” Scott bragged. “I went back to the old Kootenay recipe—nothing but horseshit. Em using horseshit, peat, a gelling agent and a little bit of perlite, some dolomite lime to adjust the pH and it’s just awesome.” Inside a large white greenhouse were dozens of verdant plants in various stages of growth. “This is sort of Research and Development,” Scott said. “Full, there will be 60 plants in here. You’re never going to get me for too much. My other grows are licensed by Health Canada. Right now it’s not that profitable to grow indoors—why bother, my overhead is killing me.”

His main market these days was selling to those who want a globally recognized, brandname product prized by hipsters everywhere. “Last year a certain celebrity buyer bought all our organic greenhouse pot at $500 a pound over market. Our whole outdoor crop last year went to Laredo, Texas. To Willie Nelson. That’s the one variety I have here with his name and it was done

ON THE WEB Discuss Canada’s pot predicament with author Ian Mulgrew in our special guest forum, www.macleans.ca/budinc

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shoes, hats, papers, pipes, magazines, grow chemicals, pot posters, wild psychedelics, grinders, hemp food. At the back of the store, along with a display of museumquality opium pipes and drug culture artifacts, the Urban Shaman dispensed a cornucopia of magical, mystical and sacred plants guaranteed to give you a glimpse of psychedelic godhead: ayahuasca, Iboga root bark, peyote, Salvia divinorum, yerba mate and exotic sage, along with other dreaming herbs and fungi.

Emblematic of the largest seed vendors, Emery’s firm offered 500-plus varieties from growers and wholesale seed sellers around the globe, such as Solar Warrior, Soma Seeds, Easter Island Seeds, Cash Crop Ken, DJ Short Seeds, Australian Outback Seeds ... the list goes on. Prices range from $40 a 10-seed packet for some Jamaican swag to $345 per pack for something tastier, like Marley’s Collie. Each plant, properly nurtured, will yield at least a pound of smokable dope, worth up to $2,500, give or take a few hundred bucks, depending on the market.

No one was a more eloquent, enthusiastic or loquacious salesman for marijuana than Emery, one of the original financiers of Canada’s Libertarian Party. The self-proclaimed “Prince of Pot” was a darling of the media. He had graced the National Enquirer, 60 Minutes, CNN, the Times of London and the Wall Street Journal. He contested nine local elections, his most recent a futile challenge to become mayor in November 2002.

From his headquarters in the Rogers Building, Emery controlled the B.C. Marijuana

‘We keep people off welfare. I put $100,000 into this community just in clipping and labour wages.’

THE VANCOUVER neighbourhood that’s home to Marc Emery’s shop is known as the Pot Block for good reason. You can find cannabis-laced cookies, kif, domestic hashish that I think trumps the imported Lebanese or Nepalese that is also available, bubble hash and a spectrum of luscious, crystalencrusted pot in colours from Day-Glo emerald green to deep purple, not to mention brownie-like K-Nanaimo squares that will fly you to the moon and spacey granola bars that make eating roughage an entirely uplifting experience. All the accessories, ancillary

can ease those anxieties: catheters, synthetic urine to substitute for your own (guaranteed from babies) and contraptions like the Whizzinator, which—well, it’s better not to ask unless you need to know.

The Vancouver Yellow Pages features three pages of listings for hydroponic equipment companies—dozens, and a tenfold increase in a decade. More outlets than Burger King in the metropolitan area.

Emery’s operation stocked just about everything the U.S. government deigns evil: subversive books, hemp clothes, bags,

with his blessing, as it says in our seed catalogue. He told me that himself over the telephone. Then there’s Dennis Rodman and a whole group of elite potheads.”

Scott figured any legal and regulatory regime would be good for him. “I’ll make more money,” he said. “Bottom line. I know how to farm anything and it frustrates me and somewhat depresses me that I can’t operate at the level I need to be profitable. Which is being able to do things on a mass scale without the prohibition bastards looking over my shoulder. I just want to go where I can work.” Scott said he could produce nearly two tons of smokable bud a month, almost immediately, if it were legal.

“Somebody’s going to rise above the rest and there is going to be one brand that will rise above the rest,” he said. “I intend to be it. I’m not being cocky. I’m being practical. Just as a lot of Canadian-based alcohol companies rose to the top during Prohibition, I fully intend to do the same. I’m going to be in Art Knapp [Garden Centres]. I’m going to make more money because I’m not being middled and the consumer is going to see a more reasonable price. That’s how I plan to dominate—offering top-quality cannabis strains from around the world. Nobody else can do it.”

He bent to check the progress on a fourfoot Romulan.

“I want to be the Seagram’s of the pot business, that’s what I aspire to.”

equipment and accoutrements for enjoying, growing, processing or producing your own marijuana are available too.

For less than $20 you could even select from an unbelievable variety of Herby’s Twists, magnetic, plastic grinders painted to look like eight balls, eyeballs, rainbows, whatever. (The cute, useful novelty won first prize at the 2003 CannaBusiness Trade Show in Germany.) And if you’re worried about taking a urine test at work, a plethora of products

Party, subsidized most major marijuana events around the globe, financed the U.S. Marijuana Party, published Cannabis Culture magazine, underwrote the Pot TV network, ran the world’s largest marijuana-seed brokerage and kept his finger in a dozen other pot-related projects. He had not left the country in a decade for fear of ending up in a U.S. dungeon.

A recent fire added to Emery’s cash-flow worries and already high overhead. He provided $2,500 for the Rome rally, $2,500 for London, $1,000 for Toronto, $7,000 for Vancouver and $20,000 for the Fill the Hill bash in Ottawa. There was the $15,000 for a public policy conference, $5,000 to $6,000 for Cannabis Day festivities, and $120,000 a year for the Iboga Therapy House, a free facility Emery founded in 2002 that treats heroin addicts with Ibogaine, a psychoactive extract from the bark of an African tree. That’s not to mention what he provides in child support—and did he mention taxes?

“I just filed,” he said blithely, “and for the fifth year I will continue paying about $10,000 a month, alas, in personal income

The man released the rest of the toke and grinned. “Burmese Incredible,” he said.

“Yeah, those are Vancouver Island,” Emery replied. “Not Burmese F—ing Incredible?”

“Yeah. That’s it.”

“Yeah, Burmese F—ing Incredible,” Emery repeated. “That’ll be great.”

“Do you guys do Canadian or U.S. money?”

“Either,” Emery said. “How many?”

“I’ll take a hundred,” said the man, who owned a couple of duplexes and a pizzaand-pot delivery service in Chicago.

“We’ll put them in one of these,” Emery said, holding up a tiny, stiff mailing sleeve that looked like a thick credit card. “I always recommend mailing them to yourself. There’s no ability for them to detect seeds in it and the package contains small sticks to keep them from being squashed in the automatic rollers. You can carry them over the border, and I don’t know of any customers who have had trouble, but it’s always a possibility. You’re going into America. Crazy place, full of paranoia and whathave-you.”

“So okay, a hundred Burmese F—ing In-

The Vancouver Yellow Pages has three pages of hydroponic equipment firms-a tenfold increase in a decade

tax. I’m the only one who says he gets his money from marijuana. I asked them. They said, no one else. I claim $300,000 or thereabouts, which is pretty well what it takes to live in an apartment and support three of my four kids. Three exes now, and they take a lot of money.”

Emery brightened at the sight of the first customer of the day.

“Any idea what you’re looking for?” he asked.

The American, his cheeks puffy with pot, nodded.

“Remember the name?”

The head bobbed again. The man exhaled. “I’m going to go with the Vancouver...” He stopped, his head weaving slightly.

“Vancouver Island?” Emery offered. “Those are all strong indicas. Do you remember the name?”

credible, which are fabulous by the way, just wonderful. You want to mail this?”

“No, I think I’ll just hang on to it.”

“Just strip away all this paperwork before crossing the border. It’s incriminating. You don’t have to tell them what these seeds are; they could be any kind of seed. Don’t at any point admit they are marijuana seeds. Even if they find them, don’t say they are marijuana seeds.”

The American put the package in his pocket. “That’s $400 Canadian or about $320 American.”

The Hockey Night in Canada theme song pierced the air. Emery reached for his cellphone.

“Marc speaking ...”

Copyright© 2005 Ian Mulgrew. Reproduced by arrangement with publisher Random House Canada. All rights reserved.