California referendum could deal devastating blow to BC's lucrative marijuana export industry

In Vansterdam, pot growers are taking note of California's referendum and speculating on its economic impact on BC's biggest cash crop.

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Canadian police arrested Emery on July 29 that year at a local HempFest in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia, executing a warrant issued by the DEA, although he doesn‘t face any charges this side of the border.


In order to save his two friends and co-accused Michelle Rainey and Greg Williams from similar charges, Emery attempted a plea bargain, whereby he would serve five years in both US and Canadian prisons, but this fell through in March 2008, after the Canadian Government refused to approve its side of the deal. 


As a June 2009 extradition hearing loomed, Emery agreed to plead guilty to one charge of drug distribution and accept a five-year sentence in the U.S.


He formally entered his guilty plea on September 21 2009 and was imprisoned at the Surrey Pre-trial Centre a week later prior to extradition, but was released on bail on November 18.  As Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson hasn’t yet carried out the extradition order, Emery is still working out of his Cannabis Culture office.


While Emery said he made a total of $4 million from his seed business, he maintains that he donated all proceeds to cannabis activist groups around the world.


Both Austin and the Emerys say they believe criminal organizations with ties to Vancouver prefer pot prohibition because of the profits of the black market.


Yet, if California voters legalized marijuana, the impact on BC police would change little in the short term since pot  “causes a considerable problem for law enforcement,” said RCMP Sergeant Dave Goddard.  “It’s still going to be illegal here in Canada,” he said.


Meanwhile Staff Sgt. Goddard, a 20-year veteran of narcotics enforcement, said criminal organizations in search of new markets may expand their networks further afield to Europe and Asia.


If other U.S. states such as Washington and Oregon legalize cannabis, Staff Sgt. Goddard said the impact would eventually be felt in Vancouver.  “It would certainly reduce the market for BC bud and it would certainly have a domino effect here,” he said.  “But we won’t be seeing that for some time.”


The California Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act would allow the recreational use of up to 28 grams of weed for adults over 21 and cultivation of up to 25 square feet of plant per household.  It would be illegal to smoke in public, in the presence of minors, or on school grounds.  Driving under the influence of pot would remain prohibited.


If cannabis becomes legal in California, the state will take ownership of an industry with an estimated value of $14 billion, which would help its bankrupt government plug a deficit of $42 billion in 2009.


Nonetheless, those who oppose the measure - a coalition including California law enforcement officials - are also gearing up for a legislative fight, as President Obama’s drug czar, R. Gil Kerlikowske, condemned legalisation in an address to police chiefs in San Jose.


Brandon Steele, who works at the Vancouver Seed Bank on East Hastings, points out that if the referendum in California passes, Canadians will get a better deal on purchasing weed at home, as cheaper pot in California would drive down prices throughout the industry.  And anyone with an even minor drug-related charge on their record would have no choice but to continue buying pot in Canada, because anyone charged on a drug-related offence is denied entry into the US.


“If you can’t cross the border you can’t cross the border,” Steele said.


Recent polls show just over 50 per cent of Californians are in favour of legalising marijuana and taxing it to help reduce the state's budget deficit. A Gallup poll found that 44 per cent of Americans favoured legalisation.


A 2003 report by the Canada parliament concluded that the cannabis export business in BC was worth an estimated $6 billion annually.

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