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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A Canadian marijuana activist has reached a tentative deal with U.S. authorities to plead guilty in a case that ignited debate over the countries' diverging drug policies.
Marc Emery said on Monday he has agreed to plead guilty to U.S. charges of illegally selling marijuana seeds to American buyers, in return for being allowed to spend the bulk of his prison sentence in Canada.
Emery, nicknamed the "Prince of Pot," was willing to fight the charges on principal, but said the deal is designed to help two co-accused avoid lengthy sentences in a U.S. prison and to keep him closer to family and friends.
U.S. officials say Emery illegally sold millions of dollars of marijuana seeds from his business in Vancouver, but he and supporters said his activities were well known and tolerated by Canadian officials, including the federal Health Department
"My complaint is that there is no victim. Nobody who can say I hurt them, yet there are thousands of people who I can point to and say I helped," said Emery, who paid taxes on his earnings and gave money to charities and political causes.
Emery also helped found the B.C. Marijuana Party, whose offices were raided in 2005 when police arrested him.
Emery said he has agreed to plead guilty and will receive a 10-year sentence, five of which must be spent in prison. He will waive his right to early release or an appeal.
The deal has been approved by U.S. prosecutors but must be okayed by Canada. A court hearing is scheduled for January 21.
A U.S. grand jury in Seattle indicted Emery in 2005 for conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds and for money laundering. He could have faced life in prison.
Emery said being in prison will curb his political activities, but he has not given up the fight.
"I'm going to sit my time in jail, but when I get out I have expectations," he said, suggesting Canadians should reward him with political office for taking a longer jail sentence than he would receive in a Canadian court.
Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Rob Wilson