TORONTO — The Toronto cannabis shop was packed one day in early 2017.
Marc Emery, Canada's "Prince of Pot" who served a U.S. prison term for selling marijuana seeds to American customers and created a successful chain of marijuana-related retail ventures with his wife, was not happy with an arrangement of vape pens in his store.
The female employee who made the display said that Emery grabbed her by the arm and dragged her towards it.
"He shoved me into the display," she told HuffPost Canada on a condition of anonymity, fearing backlash from Emery's supporters for speaking out. She was 25 years old when she worked for Emery at Cannabis Culture in downtown Toronto for about a month.
"He yelled at me and said this is what I had done wrong. I was embarrassed," she said. "There were so many people around me. He didn't seem to care at all that a lot of people were witnessing it."
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'How far can this go?'
The woman quit that day, following weeks of what she called uncomfortable encounters with Emery.
"He'd be grazing my shoulders for a long time, greeting me with kisses on the cheek and then very close to my lip," she said. "It was kind of alarming, and I became conscious of, 'How far can this go?'"
She said he'd act in a similar fashion with some of the other five to eight women who worked there. "It was definitely something a lot of women in that environment were aware of."
Emery told HuffPost on Thursday that he "never dragged an employee anywhere. That's a ridiculous accusation." But that he did "kiss a few employees, male and female," if they welcomed it.
Devyn Stackhouse, who worked in the Toronto shop at that time, said he witnessed the alleged dragging incident, and described the work environment as "uncomfortable," particularly for women.
"It was just a really awkward, sexualized work environment," Stackhouse said. "Marc felt like he was entitled to the lingering hugs, and hands on the shoulders and touching without permission. As far as I'm concerned it is not a healthy workplace."
After HuffPost sent questions to him, Emery posted a statement on Facebook Wednesday night: "I'm a touchy guy probably. But I would like to think that it was modest non-sexual touching always. Since it was always in public and not hidden away. It was only adult women or men I would be giving back rubs to."
HuffPost Canada has spoken to seven people who said they either witnessed or experienced unwanted touching and sexual comments made by Emery spanning 2005 to 2017.
It's a different side to Emery, 60, that most Canadians are familiar with. Long before marijuana legalization was a glint in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's eye, Emery lobbied to change Canada's laws, such as one prohibiting the sale or promotion of pipes, bongs and pot-related items.
He took his crusade to politics, becoming a founding member of the Marijuana Party of Canada in 2000, and unsuccessfully running for various seats in the House of Commons and British Columbia.
Emery also ran a business selling marijuana seeds and paraphernalia. In 2005, American authorities saw him as "drug dealer," and charged him with drug and money laundering offences. He pleaded guilty to one charge, served almost five years in the U.S., and emerged as defiant as ever.
Watch from 2014: Marc Emery speaks after being released from U.S. prison. Story continues after video.
Emery was a popular figure at public rallies across Canada, where masses openly smoked marijuana and listened to him give compelling speeches. By 2016, he and his wife, Jodie Emery, ran several Cannabis Culture "dispensaries" and lounges in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto, as well as an online store.
But it's in these workplaces that former employees allege they were subject to inappropriate behaviour by someone in an influential position.
Heather Bryant first began interacting with Emery online in 2005 when she was 26 years old, and then she visited his Vancouver shop.
"It took about three minutes before he was talking about anal sex to me and my friend," Bryant told HuffPost. "He was intriguing because he was so outrageous."
For the next five years, Bryant would go to Cannabis Culture and the vapour lounge at least once a week, and worked for Emery for about a year.
"I was almost fascinated because I'd lived a very religious, strict life. He was very intriguing and getting us all high. We felt like friends. We were here to fight the cannabis cause together," she said in an interview.
"He's a leader and good at rallying people around him. What I didn't realize is he would attract people around him who were innocent and vulnerable."
I've lived a very outspoken, provocative, possibly even outrageous life. I've thrived on controversy. And I've offended people.Marc Emery
Bryant said Emery would often invite teenage female employees as well as customers to sit on his lap, and smoke from a bong placed between his legs, while asking them about their sex lives and sharing stories about his.
Emery denies most of the allegations presented to him by HuffPost Canada.
"Truth is, I've lived a very outspoken, provocative, possibly even outrageous life. I've thrived on controversy. And I've offended people. Lots of people," Emery wrote in a Facebook post in response to HuffPost's request for comment.
"I'd like to think I've taken care of every employee and every woman I've ever known, of every age, in an admirable and honourable way. I do say outrageous things but it is my sincere belief that I have never harmed anyone, or sexually aggressed anyone, in my life."
Emery said he has made the "occasional but upsetting blurting out of sexual remarks/innuendo/shocking stories that I would say aloud inadvisedly."
Much of his Facebook statement also expressed remorse in bringing "shame" to his wife, from whom he has been separated for more than a year.
Bryant said that by 2009, she'd begun speaking out about Emery's behaviour toward young women to Cannabis Culture staff and her friends. Then, about a month before Emery was extradited to the U.S., she said he came out of a back room and — and in front of customers and staff — said he wanted to have sex with her and humiliate and debase her before he went to prison.
"I thought he was not that bad until that moment," Bryant said. "I realized he only ever thought of me as meat to humiliate."
Emery denied that happened. "That's just nuts," he said.
Journalist Deidre Olsen, who uses the pronouns they and them, met Emery a decade ago under similar circumstances as Bryant: over online messages.
"I had just started smoking weed and thought it was such a big movement," said Olsen, who is originally from Ladner, B.C., near Vancouver. "I thought, 'Oh my god, this cool person is talking to me.' He was really charming and charismatic."
In archived Facebook messages obtained by HuffPost Canada, Emery, then about 50 years old, and Olsen, then 17, maintained regular online contact for more than eight months.
"You, especially, look beautiful and lovely. Fun day! Love, Marc," he wrote to them in May 2008.
Other times he'd sign off with "Kisses, Marc xxx," "Kisses & Caresses" or "Your Prince."
Olsen said they turned down a job with Emery, but visited him at his Cannabis Culture shop in Vancouver. Olsen said he put an oversized bong between his legs, and requested Olsen sit on his lap and take a hit, which they did.
"He was touchy," Olsen said, noting he had his arm around them. After, Emery gave Olsen a pipe he called "red flaming balls" and said ""smoke out of my balls," they said.
Their interactions ended around the same time Emery was extradited to the U.S, Olsen said.
In his Facebook statement Wednesday, Emery said that he regrets that Olsen found the experience traumatizing. "I am sorry I went out of bounds and the experience has become unpleasant. It was immature of me and bad judgement, but I only ever felt positive and glad to know you in our correspondence."
Inspired by the #MeToo movement and a recent documentary about American singer R. Kelly that includes allegations of abuse and predatory behaviour, Olsen used Twitter to recount their interactions with Emery.
"It's been an open secret he's been a creep for a long time, and he's traumatized women into silence. He used his business and position of power to enforce that," Olsen said.
"Now that cannabis is legal and we look back on the fight, people say, 'Yes he contributed,' but he's no longer someone we want in the movement."
Earlier from HuffPost Canada: