POT ADVOCATE ANNOUNCES CREATION OF MARIJUANA PARTY
MONTREAL ( CP ) - Marc St-Maurice wants to have a pot party in the House of Commons.
The founder and leader of Quebec's Bloc Pot - which garnered almost 10,000 votes but no seats in the 1998 provincial election - announced Saturday he has applied to create the federal Marijuana party to lobby for legalization of the illicit drug.
The fluently bilingual pot advocate said he hopes to lead the new party but will gladly step aside if challenged by a more seasoned candidate.
"However, I don't think Pierre Elliot Trudeau would be interested in leading the Marijuana party," said St-Maurice, 31, a bass player in a Montreal rock band.
The Marijuana party is the culmination of a decade-long passion for St-Maurice - a passion sparked by his first of several arrests for simple possession.
The latest arrest came in February after a search of the Compassion Club, a group with chapters in Toronto and Vancouver that offers pot to people who are ill.
St-Maurice and another volunteer at the club were arraigned on possession and trafficking charges.
He says he and the sizable portion of Canadians who have smoked the drug don't deserve to be branded as criminals.
"My lawyer told me 10 years ago, 'If you want to do something about it, get elected,' " St-Maurice said.
"Our anti-drug laws undermine our social fabric, alienating people into the criminal element for using a natural plant - and that merely breeds contempt for the establishment. It's divisive.
"I want people to know they arrested the wrong guy."
St-Maurice said the new federal party would be, to his knowledge, only the third of its kind in the world - the others are in New Zealand and Israel.
He made the announcement during a demonstration Saturday in the streets of Montreal, where many of 3,000 marchers smoked up with impunity under the noses of city police officers.
"I've been organizing this event for seven years, and the cops have been somewhat more lenient for the last three," he said. "Our cause has made significant progress - but the war on drugs will only end on the federal stage."
The march was part of a worldwide event called the Millennium Marijuana March, held in 85 cities around the world.
Last week, Conservative Senator Pierre Claude Nolin said he expects hearings to begin in the fall into decriminalizing recreational drug use.
Nolin, who freely admitted he has used marijuana, said current drug laws are as ineffective as the ill-fated alcohol prohibition in the United States in the 1920s.
On Friday, Health Canada announced it is looking for suppliers of high-grade marijuana for clinical research trials to gather scientific evidence on its safety and effectiveness in treating medical conditions.
St-Maurice said approval of his Marijuana party by Elections Canada is only a matter of time, and that the new party will have no trouble drumming up support and fielding the minimum 50 candidates if an election is held this fall.
The Bloc Pot has about 700 members in Quebec, and St-Maurice hopes to double the numbers with a cross-country tour beginning June 1.
"This issue is a hot potato right now," he said, adding he has documented proof that at least one high-profile Canadian politician called two decades ago for looser drug laws.
"But nobody - police, the courts, politicians - wants to take public responsibility for changing these laws," St-Maurice said. "We want to bring this issue to the forefront of public debate and help get out of this impasse."