On Sunday, journalist Deidre Olsen posted a Twitter thread presenting allegations from several individuals that Marc Emery, a Canadian cannabis activist known as the “Prince of Pot,” created an uncomfortable, sexually charged environment at his groundbreaking Cannabis Culture dispensaries. The accusations even go as far to say that he based women’s employment off of their tolerance for his “unwanted sexual harassment.”
“I was watching Surviving R. Kelly and couldn’t make it through the first episode, I was so upset,” Olsen (who uses the pronouns they and them) told High Times. “I have not been traumatized into silence. I decided that enough was enough.”
Olsen was 17-years-old when they first met Emery online. He would often send them flirtatious messages, and on a trip to a Cannabis Culture store, he put a bong between his legs. Emery then invited Olsen to sit on his lap and take a hit. He went so far as to offer Olsen a job at Cannabis Culture, which they turned down with their mother’s support.
Marc Emery is known as a leader in the Canadian cannabis legalization movement. In 2005, he was arrested and extradited to the United States on charges of selling marijuana seeds by mail. He served four years in jail. In 2016, he and wife Jodie opened six illegal Cannabis Culture dispensaries. The chain grew, at one point swelling to 19 locations in three provinces. The City of Vancouver has ordered the closure of three of the remaining locations at the end of this month. After Jodie limited his role in the Cannabis Culture stores, Emery has conducted one-man protests of dubious effectiveness, unsatisfied with the government’s decisions in Canada’s post-federal legalization-era.
In the years following their interaction with Marc Emery, Olsen realized they weren’t the only person who had been inappropriately sexualized by him. In their Twitter thread, Olsen posted anonymous testimony from Cannabis Culture employees who claim that Emery gave out MDMA at company parties and gave workers back rubs “very sexually.” One woman claims he told her that he would “have to fuck me” when she offered her services as photographer to help raise money for his legal fees.
On Thursday, Huffington Post published an account from an anonymous woman who says the activist initiated unwanted sexual contact when she worked at a Cannabis Culture location in early 2017. “It was kind of alarming, and I became conscious of, ‘How far can this go?’” she told HuffPost.
In response to Olsen’s allegations, Emery published a 1,700-word Facebook post on Wednesday that centered around Jodie’s hurt feelings and “good intent”.
“Truth is, I’ve lived a very outspoken, provocative, possibly even outrageous life,” Emery wrote. “I’ve thrived on controversy. And I’ve offended people. Lots of people. I’ve defended Louis CK, had arguments with the trans activists, have been sexually outspoken all my life, am seen around young women because I am popular with men and women, many of them young adults.”
He also addresses a photo he posted in 2014 admiring the legs of European teenagers. “It didn’t signify any thing but a moment, had been used [sic] to call me a pedophile and other scurrilous terms.”
Nonetheless, Emery concedes that Jodie eventually banned him from playing an active role at Cannabis Culture due to his “touchy” behavior: “Jodie did find this uncomfortable, along with occasional but upsetting blurting out of sexual remarks/innuendo/shocking stories that I would say aloud inadvisedly, Jodie asked me to go, for everyone’s benefit and peace of mind, she felt.”
“It’s possible other lurid stories may come to light of my behaviour,” Emery wrote.
He did not respond to High Times’ multiple requests for comment.
It seems unclear to what degree Marc Emery has admitted culpability for the serious allegations lodged against him. The day after posting the Facebook missive, he insinuated on Twitter that it’s “quite possible” that those slandering him would eventually find themselves in court.
Olsen is unimpressed by Emery’s response. “He has played off my allegations as a consequence of his personality and a product of the cultural context of the 2000s,” they said to High Times. “He used age-old stereotypes of men to exonerate himself while making sure to keep the legal age of consent in mind as to not implicate himself.”
Olsen, who’s also a journalist, has received “nasty messages” since publicizing the allegations, but says that the overall response has been “hugely supportive.” “I feel safer, stronger, and more empowered than ever”.
Despite signs that the cannabis industry is opening up to women in leadership positions, this is not the first time one of its prominent figures has been accused of sexual misconduct. The CEO of Portland cannabis extract company Cura, Nitin Khanna, resigned last year amid allegations that he’d assaulted a woman at his own wedding in 2012. Previous studies have uncovered rampant sexual assault in the illicit market cannabis industry. A 2017 investigation by New Frontier Data and Women Grow reported that 49 percent of survey respondents said someone they knew in the cannabis industry had been the victim of sexual harassment.
These numbers are damning and should be of concern to anyone who values building a diverse cannabis movement.
“I never pursued any further activism after my interaction with Marc Emery,” says Olsen. “It felt more like doing drugs to be cool than forwarding a cause to bring medicine to the people.”
In the aftermath of the allegations against Emery, many will try to shift the focus on what he has brought to Canadian marijuana history. What’s harder to quantify is what he likely took away with his alleged behavior; and the people, like Olsen, who may have been alienated from the cannabis movement because of it.
“Maybe we’d be even FURTHER in our pursuit of true legalization and freedom if the movement hadn’t been led by an abuser,” says Coral Reefer, a California cannabis activist. “How many advocates silenced themselves or moved elsewhere as a result?”
Now, what we have to consider is: how do we protect advocates and cannabis industry workers going forward?
Despite everything, Olsen has hope for the future. “The cannabis industry is new, and there is no place in it for the sexist, predatory dinosaurs of old.”
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