Four years into a 5-year prison sentence for selling seeds to grow marijuana plants over the Internet, Canadian Marc Scott Emery — the publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine and the founder of a marijuana legalization group — was placed in solitary confinement for a week at the Yazoo City Federal Correctional Institution in Mississippi.
Emery was held in solitary confinement for allegedly using a smartphone, which is a prohibited item at the prison.
Emery was released from solitary confinement and sent back to his normal prison cell on June 11 after a Special Investigative Services (SIS) investigator spoke with the prison staff member who took the photos.
“I’m so relieved to know Marc has been released from solitary confinement after being forced to stay locked in a small cell for a full week,” Emery’s wife Jodie said. She continued:
“I was worried sick every hour of every day, not knowing anything about his safety or how long he would be there for. The reason he was put in solitary confinement was grossly unfair and unjustified. We know that solitary confinement is considered a form of torture with serious negative health effects, so of course I’m grateful Marc is no longer enduring that, but tens of thousands of other people are being put through the same kind of abuse and torture for months, years, even decades at a time.”
According to Cannabis Culture, Emery was sent to solitary confinement after his band was photographed during a rehearsal. Emery said the photos were taken with a prison camera and with the permission of prison authorities, including one of the SIS investigators. He said that authorization paperwork likely exists, as well, which it did.
“They interviewed the staff person,” Jodie Emery said, “and he said, ‘I have the forms, I have at least four different signatures from prison authorities, and I’ve got the negatives of the photographs.’”
Emery was placed in solitary after prison officials believed the photos of the band rehearsal may have been taken with a smartphone, Cannabis Culture reports. But Emery maintained the photos were developed by prison staff and sent to Jodie through the U.S. and Canadian postal services.
“Prison has him in solitary confinement to ‘investigate’ the photos of his band that the prison itself approved,” Jodie Emery wrote in an online statement. “The investigation (which could take months) is to see if Marc had a cell phone to take the band photos – despite proof the prison camera was used!
“The warden, guards, music/recreation admins – everyone – knows Marc got official permission for those photos. Yet they put him in solitary?!”
Smartphones are banned in most prisons along with access to the Internet since the device may allow prisoners to contact people and coordinate gang violence, drug deals, intimidate witnesses and more.
According to Terry Bittner, the director of security products with the ITT Corporation, a company that creates cellphone-detection systems for prisons, phones are a serious security concern for prisons.
“The smartphone is the most lethal weapon you can get inside a prison,” Bittner told The New York Times in 2011. “The smartphone is the equivalent of the old Swiss Army knife. You can do a lot of other things with it.”
In a blog post for Cannabis Culture in April, Emery shared photos of the band, Yazoo, and explained where all of the music equipment came from and where and when the band practices.
“In early March, we were able to take photographs of our band performing in the band rehearsal room (the photos that accompany this blog). All the equipment in the music program, and all equipment or recreational items used by the inmates, are paid for by the inmates expenditures at the commissary (the inmate grocery store),” Emery wrote.
The prison’s Special Housing Unit, where all of the prisoners who are being held in solitary confinement are located, has informed Emery that his case is being investigated by the Special Investigative Services department at the prison, according to Cannabis Culture.
In solitary confinement, Emery was locked in his cell 23 hours a day and denied basic prison amenities.
“He had to beg for a pen and for a razor to shave,” Jodie Emery told Cannabis Culture. “All they give him to wear besides his orange prison suit is a pair of 4XL shorts with string tied around his waist to hold them up, and one pair of socks with enormous holes in them. I cried when I saw him, and he did too.”
Taken into U.S. custody
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Emery in July 2005. According to a statement from DEA Administrator Karen P. Tandy, the agency believed that Emery’s arrest would keep marijuana advocacy groups in the U.S. from receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Emery, since his seed business and magazine were thought to generate about $5 million per year in profits.
The agency also said that his arrest was politically motivated, saying that “drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on.”
Emery was extradited from Canada to the U.S. in 2010. He’s reportedly eligible for an early release from the prison in about 394 days and has asked to finish his prison sentence in Canada.
“Right now his transfer application to come home to Canada is in the U.S. Government’s hands,” Jodie Emery said. “We need everyone to encourage them to approve his transfer application and get him out of solitary confinement, out of federal prison in Mississippi, and on the way home to Canada!”
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but has been legalized for medicinal purposes in about 18 states plus Washington, D.C. Recreational use of marijuana was also legalized in Colorado and Washington in November 2012.
Though laws vary from state to state, medical marijuana patients generally have the ability to grow their own plants. In order to do so, many buy seeds. Because marijuana is banned under federal law, finding seeds to grow a plant can be difficult, so some Americans turn to the Internet.
However, selling seeds across state lines is a federal crime, even if both states have legalized medical marijuana. Since Emery was selling seeds across an international border, his seed sales were a violation of U.S. federal law.