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Canada: Pot Shots On The Campaign Trail
Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jun 2004
Source: Ottawa X Press (CN ON)
Author: Charlie McKenzie


Fill The Hill Rally Goes Ahead Despite Wrangling Between Marijuana Party And NDP

Canada's budding marijuana movement could show some internal divisions when activists from across the country gather this weekend on Parliament Hill.

The election finds the movement caught between two Marcs: rock musician, Marc Boris St-Maurice, laid-back leader of the ever-fledgling federal Marijuana Party, and his former ally, B.C.'s millionaire seed salesman, Marc Emery, who now crusades for Jack Layton's NDP.

They'll present their respective cases at Saturday's "Fill The Hill" rally.

The brainchild of Carleton graduate Jody Pressman, 23, Fill the Hill was planned well before the election call as a day of forums and pro-pot speeches. Among those expected to join St-Maurice and Emery are Osgoode Hall law Professor Alan Young, Tory Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, and Philippe Lucas, director of Canadians for Safe Access.

Lesser-known crusaders like former narcotics officer Jack Cole, director of the U.S. organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and Jude Renaud, Canadian director of Educators for Sensible Drug Policy, also said they were coming.

A year ago Canada was raising hackles in Washington and eyebrows in Amsterdam as we seemed to be leading the world in marijuana reform and there were hopes that eight decades of pot prohibition would soon end.

That pipe dream ended when a Supreme Court decision upheld the marijuana laws last December and tossed the issue back to the politicians, who dithered throughout the spring on a bill which former justice minister Martin Cauchon called "an alternative penalties bill." It died when the election was called.

Watching all this with a wary eye was Pressman. "The process was very eye opening," he said. "There was a clear, pre-determined outcome to ignore all recommendations and change the laws as little as possible."

Politicians have promised marijuana reform for over 30 years, he pointed out, but marijuana offences are at record levels today, as are consumption rates. And Parliament's failure to act, he warned, comes with a heavy price to democracy.

"Our legislators need to be held to account," he said. "There is definitely a correlation between these failed policies and how young people are least likely to vote."

In previous elections many young voters seeking to change the pot laws were drawn to the Marijuana Party. While their numbers were never great, they helped put the issue onto the political agenda.

Then, last fall NDP leader Jack Layton called on Marc Emery and did a taped interview for Emery's POT-TV ( ) and the smoke-filled backrooms of the marijuana movement have been in turmoil ever since.

On the tape, Layton said, "The NDP would like to see legislation that allows people to consume marijuana, particularly that they might grow themselves, and some technique that would allow them to be able to purchase safely, knowing what the quality is, and have that all be a legal activity."

For Emery it was both a revelation and a PR windfall. "When Jack Layton came to my home and recorded those statements," he said, "it [was] his way of indicating he wants thousands of new members to come in and take over the reins from these many moribund NDP riding associations filled with old codgers, and rejuvenate."

Well, maybe. Late last week party officials issued a terse statement discounting Emery. "Mr. Layton did not and does not endorse the legalization of marijuana," they said. "The NDP endorses its decriminalization."

They further state that Emery's activities are not sanctioned by the NDP, nor is he authorized to speak for the NDP at the Fill The Hill rally, "or any other date."

Politicians have been known to change sides faster than a windshield wiper, but rarely do they turn on former allies as vehemently as Emery.

In the online forums of Cannabis Culture Magazine - which he also owns, lock, stock and roach clip - Emery accused St-Maurice and the Marijuana Party of "ridiculous, treasonous, self-indulgent egotism" for even thinking of running candidates against Layton's NDP.

"Even though there will be Marijuana Party candidates of generally poor quality running without my endorsement, loyalty to our movement requires that we support the NDP. Our movement is badly served by letting sorry ass people represent them in shoddy campaigns that have no achievable goals."

Despite this, the Marijuana Party will still field 100 or so candidates across the country, and while party leader St-Maurice isn't losing sleep over his former colleague's defection, he concedes the personal slurs are a bit bothersome.

"It's one thing to choose to work with another party - that's everyone's right - but it's quite another to attack those fighting for the same cause," he said.

Nor is St. Maurice all that impressed with the NDP's marijuana position.

"The NDP fall short of being the outspoken marijuana activists they were supposed to be," he said. "I fear, my predictions of the NDP being a dud when it comes to doobie, are about to come true."

Medicinal marijuana activist Alison Myrden, the NDP candidate in Oakville, will represent the party at the rally. Meanwhile, veteran activists who have known and worked with both men over the years can only shake their heads and watch.

Philippe Lucas, founder of the Vancouver Island Compassion Club and Director of Canadians for Safe Access, finds the infighting among marijuana boosters disturbing.

"I've been quite torn throughout this campaign," he said. "The important thing for the cannabis community to keep in mind, whether they're recreational or medical users, is that we should absolutely not vote for any party that considers us criminals.

One of Canada's most amiable activists, Mike Foster, owner of Crosstown Traffic, is running for the Marijuana Party in Ottawa Centre.

"At this point," he said, "I think it is more effective to lobby the major parties rather than join one. Once you join a major political party your freedoms are limited as to what you can say. If you don't toe the party line then you're ousted faster than you can say 'John Nunziata.'"

Fill the Hill organizer Pressman has stayed out of the fray, choosing instead to focus on the movement's singular objective.

"Whatever the party, the answer is political activism," he said. "Get involved, start a campus pot club, write essays, research the issue - all these and more. And the more often we do them in an open, honest, organized manner, the sooner Canadians will finally see an end to the failed and unjust prohibition against marijuana."

xxx On a related note, Ottawa's classic rock authority, CHEZ 106.1 FM, is refusing to run an ad for Fill the Hill because "We weren't comfortable with the language of the ad," according to Danny Kingsbury, CHEZ manager. "Something like, 'smoking marijuana is good for you, not bad.'

"As for the event, we have no problem promoting it," he said. Foster told XPress the station's sending mixed messages. "This is hypocrisy of the worst order in my opinion," Foster said, because CHEZ had initially approached him to sponsor a 4:20 p.m. Bob Marley spot. "To me, a ... Marley spot says 'Hey everybody, it's time to light up!' Our message said that the law needs changing."

Foster was reimbursed his $2,000, which he "promptly handed over The BEAR."


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