Loud cheers and large clouds of pot smoke arose as Marc Emery, 56, arrived in this border city after completing his five-year sentence for selling marijuana seeds from Canada to American customers.
Emery hugged his wife Jodie Emery, who wants to run in next year's federal election for the Liberals — Leader Justin Trudeau supports legalizing marijuana — then launched into a long, pro-Liberal speech peppered with prison anecdotes.
"I do believe that they are sincere that they will legalize marijuana," Emery said.
"I know it's the most uncool thing in the world to have to say, especially to young people, that voting is the answer, but it is. It absolutely is."
Legalization of marijuana — which Emery said should include expunging the record of everyone ever convicted of a related offence — is the only issue in the next election that can have a "profound impact" on Canadians' lives, he said.
"Critics say, 'Well, Canadians are interested in far more important things,'" Emery said. "I say, 'What? What are you interested in? The economy? The environment? Health care? You can't do anything about that by voting. No vote's going to change that."
Emery acknowledged that he has a lot of work ahead, as many people in the "cannabis culture" don't often vote, but he called it an "underestimated voting block," with a lot of potential power.
"If we can get this Liberal majority government next year we'll never need to go to the polls to make marijuana legal ever again," he said.
In the meantime, he plans to hit 30 Canadian cities next year ahead of the election, tour universities in the winter and take his message international, going to countries such as Spain and Ireland.
"Whenever we make those appearances we're going to be giving the same message and it's a worldwide message: Nothing good comes of marijuana prohibition," Emery said.
"If you don't want young people to smoke marijuana that's one thing, but to give them a criminal record, to stigmatize them with a criminal record, to put them in jail for one night...to me that is a very traumatizing thing."
Emery said he has been arrested 28 times for "marijuana civil disobedience" and his just-completed sentence is just the latest.
"It may not even be the last if I have to continue to prove my point," he said.
Emery also plans to go back to work at the Cannabis Culture store in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Shortly after Emery finished his speech in which he frequently vilified Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the public safety minister issued a statement connecting the "convicted drug trafficker" to the Liberals he supports.
"While the Liberals would try to make it easier for our children to access marijuana, Canadians can count on our government to put forward policies that keep drugs off our streets and keep our families safe," Steven Blaney said in a statement.
When Emery was first arrested almost a decade ago, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration heralded his seizure as a "significant blow" to the legalization movement.
He was extradited in 2010 and said he spent his time in prison learning to play the bass, reading thousands of supporters' letters, as well as books and magazines.
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