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Inside Marc Emery's creepy cannabis empire

Groping, oral sex at work, drug-fuelled 'lotion parties' with teens — the degrading work culture allegedly created by Canada's Prince of Pot.

by Manisha Krishnan and Rachel Browne
Jan 29 2019, 6:58pm

UPDATE: VICE News made repeated attempts over several days to obtain comment from Marc Emery prior to publication. He received the questions but chose to respond after publication, in a Facebook post. In the post, he denied multiple allegations. Read more here.

They were called “lotion parties.”

Typically, they would take place after working hours either on the main floor of Cannabis Culture’s downtown Vancouver headquarters or in the vapour lounge on the third floor, according to Melinda Adams, who started hanging out there in the summer of 2008. She was 17.

“We would be smoking weed and there would be the occasional alcohol and then the drugs would kind of come out," she says.

Adams’ boss, the so-called Prince of Pot Marc Emery, then 50, would walk around offering employees and invited guests, including teenage girls, MDMA and LSD, she tells VICE News. Other former employees tell VICE News Emery gave out MDMA and DMT.

“Once everyone was rolling and high and stuff, he always had lotion,” she recalls.

“It seemed like an innocent thing at that point in time. But now looking back ... what the hell were we actually exposed to?"

Adams says Emery would take the lotion—often made from hemp—and rub it on the backs of the younger girls, then encourage them to massage each other. Two other former workers who spoke to VICE News also say they witnessed these gatherings dubbed “lotion parties,” but one of them wasn’t certain Emery was present at the party she attended.

Adams recalls sitting on a futon in the upstairs lounge during one party. The space was split into two sections, with black coffee tables, couches, and bean bag chairs strewn throughout. She says there were at least four other girls, ranging in age from from 17 to 19.

“All the girls laid down massaging each other.” She recalls them rubbing each other with lotion on their arms, legs, back. Some were in their bras.

“It seemed like an innocent thing at that point in time. But now looking back as an onlooker, we’re like ‘what the hell were we actually exposed to?’” the 27-year-old says in a phone interview from Vancouver.

Adams says she was having the time of her life working her dream job at Cannabis Culture, and accepted Emery’s behaviour as part of the culture of the illicit weed industry. Looking back now, she is deeply troubled by it.

VICE News has interviewed seven former Cannabis Culture employees who allege Emery created an uncomfortable, hypersexualized working environment where he would grope or touch his employees without consent, subject workers to tales of his sexual exploits, probe their sexual histories, and surround himself with teen girls, sometimes providing them drugs at parties in the workplace. They also allege he was verbally abusive.

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Marc Emery and Jodie Emery at the opening of one of their Cannabis Culture stores in Montreal in 2016. (The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson.)

VICE News has also spoken with four individuals who never worked for Emery, but who say they witnessed or experienced behaviour by him they describe as lewd and predatory. They say Emery enjoyed a celebrity status as a legalization martyr, making it difficult to speak out about his alleged behaviour. They were also hesitant to draw attention to working for a legally dubious business.

But they are coming forward in a post-#MeToo era and forcing a reckoning for Cannabis Culture. Once a Canadian institution for pot activism, the chain’s three remaining dispensaries will be forced to shutter at the end of this month because of a B.C. Supreme Court decision, a move that coincides with the unravelling of the reputation of the brand and its founders.

In a January 13 Twitter thread, freelance journalist Deidre Olsen accused Emery of grooming, harassing, and sexual assaulting female employees while running Cannabis Culture. (Disclosure: Olsen has freelanced for VICE.) In a phone interview with VICE News, Olsen cited Surviving R. Kelly, a docuseries on the singer’s alleged abuse of young girls, as the inspiration for her Twitter thread, which thrust the rumours about Emery that had existed for years within the cannabis world into the public sphere.

"I do say outrageous things but it is my sincere belief that I have never harmed anyone, or sexually aggressed anyone."

Within days, Olsen’s allegations and others relating to sexual harassment were outlined in the Huffington Post and other outlets.

In a response posted on Facebook on January 16, Emery, who’s now 60, said he has never “harmed anyone, or sexually aggressed anyone” nor has he had sex with anyone under the age of 19. He did admit to smoking weed with 17-year-olds. He described himself as a “touchy guy” who gave back rubs to adult women and men at his store and vapour lounge, and openly discussed sex.

Emery wrote another Facebook post on January 17, claiming that no one has ever formally reported his conduct. “I have never had anyone complain to any authority ever about my behaviour. In 40 years as an employer not a single complaint to a labour board, police, or any kind of authority,” he wrote. “The accusations are getting outrageous. 14 year old girls offered DMT? That person’s parents would have raised a storm immediately. Police would have got involved.”

VICE News sent multiple requests for interviews to Marc and his wife Jodie Emery, along with a detailed list of questions. Neither of them has responded before publication. Jack Lloyd, a lawyer representing the Emerys, told VICE News in an email that Marc Emery “received” the requests and questions. However, he said he could not confirm that Jodie Emery had received the questions. According to his Instagram feed, Marc Emery is currently in Argentina attending various cannabis events and learning Spanish.

Jodie, who usually posts frequently on her social media accounts, hasn’t posted anything new in more than a week.

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Marc Emery smokes in front of police headquarters in Toronto. (Photo by Vince Talotta/Toronto Star via Getty Images.)

After meeting at the Global Marijuana March in Toronto in March 2008, Emery and Adams began chatting online, she says. The fact he was more than 30 years older didn’t bother her. She was inspired by Emery, who had gained notoriety after decades of protesting against cannabis prohibition, and facing a slew of criminal charges. It became her dream to move out to Vancouver to work for his Cannabis Culture empire that, at its height included a vapour lounge, head shops, media outlet, and dispensaries.

In July 2008, Adams made the 4,400-kilometre journey from Toronto to Vancouver on a Greyhound bus with a ticket she says Emery bought for her. She had spent the last couple years couch-surfing at friends’ places and was broke. But she was optimistic for the future on the west coast that promised excitement and opportunities that would change her life.

She says Emery invited her to stay with him and his wife Jodie in their one-bedroom-plus-den condo, while she worked for them.

“I considered them almost like a mother and father figure," she says.

After a quick shower and bite to eat the day she arrived, “he had me scrubbing bathroom floors,” says Adams. From then on, she worked most days at the Emerys’ 420 Convenience store — a bodega selling munchies, rolling papers, and lighters, located across from Cannabis Culture headquarters — from 10 AM to 6 PM. She says she earned $50 cash a day. Most of the employees, she says, were young women in their late teens or early 20s.

As the months went on, Adams became manager. After turning 18, she started working at the Cannabis Culture headquarters and vapour lounge, selling bongs and other cannabis-themed merchandise.

VICE News spoke to one of Adams' former colleagues, Anthony Olive, who confirmed many details of her account. (Olive was fired from Cannabis Culture in 2009.)

“He used to tell me how I should be grateful that he brought me out to B.C. and saved my life."

For years, the hazy lounge overlooking Victory Square was a tourist attraction in Vancouver, which has long been the unofficial weed capital of Canada.

“People would come in all the time wanting to meet Marc, wanting to smoke weed with Marc,” former employee Alexandra, who does not want her last name disclosed due to concerns about her career, tells VICE News. “I felt like he hired all these pretty young girls to be his harem for the media and for the people who came in.”

Adams recalls sexually inappropriate behaviour, not being paid on time, and being subjected to yelling and belittling.

“He would come and tell us [that] a lot of us workers we were expendable,” says Adams. “He used to tell me how I should be grateful that he brought me out to B.C. and saved my life. It made me feel like crap but it pushed me to work harder.”

She says Emery would frequently threaten “older” female employees—women in their early 20s—that he could easily replace them with someone “younger, hotter, more complacent.” Former Cannabis Culture worker Ajia Moon tells VICE News she was fired by Emery in 2008 for being “too old” and was replaced by Adams. She was 23 at the time.

“He’d come and smack your butt. He’d come over and start giving you shoulder rubs and stuff like that,” Adams says. While living with him and Jodie, Adams says Emery would often walk around fully naked.

“I was just so utterly grateful for the fact that I had a job, had a place to live,” she says. “I was living the glory life ‘cause I was living with the Prince of Pot.”

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Melinda Adams wearing a Marc Emery shirt. (Photo via Melinda Adams.)

***

Emery’s penchant for civil disobedience dates back to his time as a bookstore owner in his hometown of London, Ontario, where he fought against porn censorship. He was convicted in 1991 of selling “obscene material” — the 2 Live Crew album As Nasty As They Wanna Be that includes the track Me So Horny. Eventually, Emery moved to Vancouver, where he began selling cannabis seeds illegally online, making millions of dollars that he used to found his own magazine, Cannabis Culture, in 1995. He also opened the lounge, head shop, and later started Pot TV, a site for weed activism videos. Emery founded the BC Marijuana Party in 2000, a political party advocating for the legalization of weed. The party won a little more than three percent of the popular vote in the 2001 provincial election.

The illegal seed sales caught up with Emery. He was extradited to the U.S. in 2010, where he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and was sentenced to five years in jail. He was released in 2014. The sentence cemented his status as an anti-hero; he was at the center of a Free Marc Emery campaign, an image of his face, toking a joint, plastered on t-shirts and posters.

In 2014, he was the subject of a documentary, Citizen Marc, in which he compares himself to Spider-Man and Martin Luther King Jr .

“I’ve brought more to this country, more to this province, perhaps more to this world than almost anyone else alive,” Emery is shown telling a crowd in the documentary. The film also features a montage of Emery embracing various women, and telling an anecdote about performing oral sex on a former girlfriend while high.

“Life is short. Cram as many women into your life as possible, don’t give in to monogamy,” he says during an interview.

“All these women were attracted to me… because of my principles.”

He says he didn’t have a single date in high school, but that changed once he became an activist.

“All these women were attracted to me… because of my principles.”

In 2006, he married Jodie, his second wife and protegé who eventually assumed the helm of Cannabis Culture. Together, the media crowned them the Prince and Princess of Pot, a brand that earned them respect among anti-prohibitionists worldwide.

In 2014, Jodie lost her bid to become a federal Liberal party candidate in Vancouver, later cancelling her party membership and calling out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not imposing a moratorium on weed arrests.

In a 2016 profile of Jodie in Flare magazine, she describes her childhood growing up in Kamloops, B.C. as happy, until her dad died by suicide when she was eight. In high school, she immersed herself in the cannabis world, but asked to be sent to boarding school in Victoria, B.C. because of her problematic cocaine use. There, she began to use weed instead of cocaine as a way to manage her depression. It was around the time she first connected with Marc on the Cannabis Culture chat forums.

They first began chatting in December 2001, when Jodie was 16 and Marc was 43, according to the documentary Citizen Marc.

“It was cool that this famous guy who was in the media would actually talk to people … He inspired me,” Jodie told Flare.

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Marc and Jodie Emery on their wedding day in Vancouver in 2006. (The Canadian Press/Richard Lam.)

She says she attended the University of Victoria to study liberal arts, but left shortly into her first year after she was sexually assaulted. She was traumatized and could no longer focus on school. She told Flare she didn’t report the incident because she “didn’t want to have to deal with the ordeal of it.”

She insists she and Marc were just friends until she was 19, when Marc asked Jodie’s parents’ permission for her to move to Vancouver, she told Flare. He was her first boyfriend, as well as her boss. The pair wed in 2006 in the rose garden of Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver.

In 2018, she opened her own coffee shop, Jodie’s Joint, in Toronto’s Kensington Market. She and Marc separated more than a year ago, according to his Facebook posts.

“When I see Jodie hurting so bad for accusations made against me, that I will discuss, I feel very, very low inside,” Marc wrote in his January 16 post.

•••

As an activist, Marc Emery hosted rallies across the country, sometimes goading the police by blazing right outside of their headquarters. But he also used these events as a means of meeting young women and girls, according to several women who spoke to VICE News.

Hayley, 35, recalls meeting Emery in Hamilton, Ontario during his Summer of Legalization tour in August 2003.

“I looked up to him. I admired his candor and I thought, like many people still do, that he was some hero to the cause of legalization,” she says.

Then 19 and living in London, Ontario, she had attended several of his events but says they didn’t speak until the one in Hamilton, where a few dozen people were in attendance. Afterwards, she says he offered her a ride home to London.

“I didn’t let on ‘cause I was really horrified and uncomfortable.”

She says Emery, who was then in his mid 40s, quickly steered the conversation to sex.

“It seemed like he was trying to get information out of me I guess, about myself and my sexual history.”

Hayley, who does not want her last name revealed because her family doesn’t know what happened, told Emery she was a virgin, though she also confided in him that she had been drugged and potentially sexually assaulted that same month.

“It was a really fucked up time for me,” she says. She says Emery pursued her “aggressively.”

Hayley says she and a friend attended another one of Emery’s rallies on Parliament Hill—she believes it was the event that took place in late September 2003 but says she can’t be sure because her memory has faded over time. Afterwards, she says Emery told her to crash in the spare bed of his hotel room instead of bussing back to London.

“He kind of insisted on cuddling with me to where I fell asleep,” she says. She says she woke up in the night when she heard noises. She looked over and saw Emery on the other bed, “violently masturbating.” She pretended to be asleep.

“I didn’t let on ‘cause I was really horrified and uncomfortable.”

Haley said they began chatting on Cannabis Culture’s online forums and eventually she says he bought her a round trip flight to Vancouver to visit for a week in January 2004.

“I didn’t know what to do. I kinda felt beholden to him in a way because he had flown me out there.”

Hayley says Emery put her up in a hotel room for the week. Near the end of the trip, she says he came over to her hotel room, and they got so stoned she had to lie down. “He came and laid down beside me and stuff and was like licking my ear and pawing at me. It was really gross,” Hayley alleges.

“I didn’t know what to do. I kinda felt beholden to him in a way because he had flown me out there.”

But Hayley says housekeeping staff kept knocking on the door, so Emery left.

Before she left, she says Emery took her to dinner where he berated her about her alleged sexual assault until she cried.

“He starts telling me that I was worthless to a man now anyways because I wasn’t a virgin anymore, and that was the only value I would have.” VICE News was unable to speak to anyone to corroborate Hayley’s experience.

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Marc Emery and Loretta Nall at a rally in Ottawa in 2004. (Photo via Loretta Nall.)

One of the women Emery met through Cannabis Culture forums, Loretta Nall, has launched a defence of him on Facebook in the wake of the harassment allegations.

Nall, 44, an Alabama-based cannabis activist and founder of the United States Marijuana Party, came across the forums in the early 2000s. She says she and Emery immediately began exchanging sexually explicit messages.

“He’s a complete sexual extrovert,” Nall tells VICE News.

She says Emery flew her out to Vancouver in September 2002, when she was 28, for a weekend of “dirty, delightful, hot sex” at his apartment. Nall hosted Pot TV News from 2003 to 2005.

Nall says Emery would frequently fly out women he met through the Cannabis Culture forums. During her first visit, Nell says she saw women younger than her working there, but “I didn’t see... a young harem for Marc.”

In her Facebook post, she describes him as being “incredibly sexually graphic and at the most inappropriate times.” However, she says she enjoys his candor about sex.

“If [people] went in blind saying that they didn’t know that Marc was a sextrovert and that if they got within shouting distance he was going to hit on them, then they’re lying, because everybody knows that.”

***

Former Cannabis Culture employees tell VICE News Emery would massage their backs and shoulders, give lingering hugs, offer hoots from a bong placed near his crotch, and comment on their clothing and bodies—including remarks about their breasts looking good in certain tops. He was also known for bringing up subjects like anal sex and sexually transmitted infections unprompted.

“A lot of his inappropriate conversations would kind of catch you off guard, but it was an alternative working environment where rules didn’t really apply,” says Alexandra, who worked at Cannabis Culture when she was 19 from 2007 to 2008. Once, she says Emery even gave her unsolicited advice on “how to clean my butt in a public bathroom if I ever needed to.” VICE News has been unable to independently verify the conversation.

Another former sales employee, Ashley Schoffenburg, 36, says she recalls stumbling upon a lotion party one day. She also says the MDMA Emery handed out at one party turned out to be ketamine, making everyone sick. Another former employee who says she worked for Emery in 2009 tells VICE News he gave DMT to her and other girls who came into Cannabis Culture.

Heather Bryant, 41, moved from Washington State to Vancouver in 2006. In 2007, she started working for Emery and stopped working there in 2008. However, she continued regularly hanging out at Cannabis Culture. She says that in 2010, Emery told her—in front of staff and customers—that he wanted to have sex with her.

“‘You’ll let me hit you and humiliate you, pee on you and debase you,’” Emery allegedly said, according to Bryant.

“It made me feel like a piece of meat,” says Bryant. VICE News has been unable to independently verify the conversation.

One woman tells VICE News she was a virgin when she met Emery in 2005. She had posted a thread on the Cannabis Culture forums about being a virgin in her late 20s.

The woman, who does not want to be identified because she says she feels ashamed, tells VICE News Emery repeatedly asked her to get lunch. At the time, she thought of him as the leader of a great cause. She finally agreed to have lunch, and she says Emery walked her from his office to a hotel, where they had consensual sex.

In the months that followed, the woman says she performed oral sex on Emery on two different occasions in the bathroom of the basement at Cannabis Culture. She didn’t work there at the time, but says Emery gave her a part-time job months later.

Emery isn’t shy about his sexual preferences. In his recent Facebook post responding to the allegations against him, he said his wife Jodie was uncomfortable with his “blurting out of sexual remarks/innuendo/shocking stories.”

In a 2005 Cannabis Culture forum thread on anal sex, he posted 781 words asserting that anal sex is about “control” and “male dominance.”

“Its [sic] Ok if the woman is uncomfortable, nervous, unsure about you ass fucking her sweet little bung hole, by the time you are a raging ass bandit, it'll be too late for her doubts to get in the way,” he wrote. “Every woman wails and howls and cries or some kind of psychic resistance but this will be conquered...once you begin thrusting. Her body is defeated.”

In that same thread, Jodie Emery replied “Amen! That's how you do it, boys.”

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Marc Emery posted this photo of a group of teenage girls on his Instagram in 2014. He has since deleted it.

In 2014, Marc Emery posted a now deleted photo to Instagram of a group of teenage girls with the caption “a gaggle of teenagers and their lovely legs.”

“Jodie and I were people watching at this outdoor cafe in San Sebastián and Jodie mused about how age ravages a woman's body. Then these youthful women came by and we contemplated the undeniable attractiveness of teenage beauty and how fleeting it is,” he commented under the post.

In his January 16 Facebook statement, Emery said the photo of the teens “had been used to call me a pedophile and other scurrilous terms,” but out of stubbornness, he refused to take it down.

In a now deleted tweet from 2017, he said “brilliant artists” in every major era over the last 500 years “had inappropriate or age-sensitive sexual relationships with women.”

“It’s possible other lurid stories may come to light of my behaviour,” Emery wrote in his recent Facebook post. “But over a 60 year life, there’s many mistakes in there.”

“It’s possible other lurid stories may come to light of my behaviour. But over a 60 year life, there’s many mistakes in there.”

•••

Marc and Jodie Emery were heading to Spannabis, an annual weed trade show held in Barcelona on March 8, 2017, flying out of Toronto Pearson Airport.

But instead of boarding their flight, the Emerys were arrested by Toronto police officers as part of Project Gator. They were each charged with trafficking-related offences connected to their chain of Cannabis Culture dispensaries, which sold weed to anyone over 19.

Nine months later, the couple pleaded guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking, and possession of the proceeds of crime. Marc Emery also pleaded guilty to trafficking weed. They were each sentenced to two years probation and $150,000 fines. They were ordered not to take part in the illicit cannabis industry.

The convictions came at a time when the couple’s brand was already taking hits over Emery’s alleged creepy behaviour—a Facebook page called Marc Emery - The Truth Exposed had been set up to air old grievances. There has been outcry over Marc’s comparison of dispensary raids to the Holocaust, and Jodie Emery’s statement that alcohol causes rape, but weed doesn’t. Emery has also defended Jian Ghomeshi and Louis CK, both of whom have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Adams tells VICE News both the #MeToo era and the fact that cannabis is legal now makes it far easier to speak out.

Meanwhile, the Emerys no longer have the same clout in the cannabis world they once did.

“We’re not gonna be labelled as rats and snitches,” she says. “Those skeletons in our closet … we can actually dance with them and set them free.”

With files from Sarah Berman.

Cover Image of Marc Emery by Laura Lezza/Getty Images.

This story has been updated to clarify when Heather moved to Vancouver.

Follow Manisha and Rachel on Twitter.