-->VANCOUVER -- Canada's most prominent marijuana activist, the self-styled Prince of Pot, may soon be changing his moniker to Prince of Prison.
Facing a possible life sentence in the United States if extradited and convicted on charges of selling marijuana seeds to online U.S. customers, Marc Emery has agreed to a deal that would see him spend a minimum of five years behind bars in Canada.
Although the plea bargain is not yet "signed, sealed and delivered," Mr. Emery, 50, said that he expects to be heading to prison as early as March.
Should the five-year prison sentence be confirmed, it would be one of the harshest punishments in some years to be served in Canada for a marijuana offence.
Mr. Emery, founder of the B.C. Marijuana Party and publisher of Cannabis Culture Magazine, had been openly selling marijuana seeds from his Vancouver store since the 1990s with little interference.
But the so-called "war on drugs" south of the border ensnared Mr. Emery in 2005.
He was busted by the RCMP on an extradition warrant from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, charging him with conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds and marijuana, and conspiracy to engage in money laundering.
The prison deal was suggested in a letter sent late last year by U.S. assistant district attorney Todd Greenberg to Mr. Emery's Vancouver lawyer, Ian Donaldson.
"Four days ago, I agreed," Mr. Emery said. The legal compromise includes a commitment to drop charges against associates Greg Williams and Michelle Rainey, who are also facing charges in the U.S.
"That's the only reason I took it ... to save my two co-accused," Mr. Emery explained. "Michelle has Crohn's disease and her lawyer said she might have died in jail. I didn't want that on my conscience."
Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, declined comment yesterday on the proposed plea bargain.
"I don't think it is appropriate to say anything about what Mr. Emery is saying. We have submitted an extradition package [to Canada] and we are patiently waiting for the process to play itself out," Ms. Langlie said.
The U.S. charges against Mr. Emery and his co-accused provide sentences ranging from at least 10 years in prison to a maximum of life.
Mr. Greenberg's letter said extradition proceedings would be dropped if Mr. Emery accepted a 10-year sentence in Canada, while agreeing to waive his right to seek an early release for at least five years.
"It's a pretty severe deal for a non-violent first offender," Mr. Emery acknowledged. "There's been no crime, merely a law that's been broken. In Canada, it might be a $200 fine."
But lawyers have told him that almost no one escapes extradition from Canada to the U.S. on an appropriate warrant, no matter how different drug laws are in the United States.
As he held court for reporters in the basement of his Cannabis Culture headquarters on a seedy downtown street, while acolytes in the next room weighed out leaves from a high-inducing Peruvian cactus, Mr. Emery said that prison holds no fear for him.
But he was bitter about Canada's co-operation with U.S. anti-drug authorities.
"We are basically licking the bootstraps of the Bush administration and the DEA, and outsourcing Canada's justice system to the United States," Mr. Emery said. "I'm not concerned about me, but this is a terrible travesty of justice and a violation of our sovereignty. Canada is selling its people out."
He said he expects details of the prison deal to be completed before the extradition hearing for the three accused goes ahead next week.
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