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Canada: Pot Infighting On The Campaign Trail

Pubdate: Thu, 03 Jun 2004
Source: Hour Magazine (CN QU)
Copyright: 2004, Communications Voir Inc.
Author: Charlie McKenzie


Where There's Smoke There's Fire As Marijuana Advocates Face Off In The Run-Up To The Federal Election

Canada's budding marijuana movement has some festering political fissures that could surface when activists from across the country gather this weekend on Parliament Hill.

The movement is caught between two Marcs: rock musician Marc Boris St-Maurice, leader of the ever-fledgling Marijuana Party, and former ally, B.C.'s millionaire seed salesman Marc Emery, now crusading for Jack Layton's NDP.

Both will present their 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. 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.

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

That pipe dream fizzled when a Supreme Court decision upheld the marijuana laws last December. The court tossed it back to the politicians who dithered throughout the spring on a haphazard decriminalization bill that, mercifully, died when the election was called.

"It was eye opening," said Jody Pressman. "There was a clear, predetermined outcome to change the laws as little as possible."

Politicians have promised marijuana reform for over 30 years, he points out, but marijuana offences are at record levels today, and he warns that Parliament's failure to act comes with a heavy price.

"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 seeking change in the pot laws were drawn to the Marijuana Party. While their numbers were never great, they certainly helped put the issue in the public mind.

Last fall, NDP leader Jack Layton called on Marc Emery and did a taped interview for Emery's POT-TV ( ) - the marijuana movement has been in turmoil ever since.

On tape, with the obviously overbuzzed Emery, Layton clearly - more or less - - states: "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's his way of indicating he wants thousands of new members to come and take over the reins from these many moribund NDP riding associations filled with old codgers."

Emery promptly saturated his websites with Layton's remarks.

"Now," he boasts, "the NDP is stuck with the position, even though the over-55 folks who control 80 per cent of all NDP riding associations get nervous every time they hear it."

Politicians change sides faster than a windshield wiper, but they rarely turn on former allies as vehemently as the self-styled "Prince of Pot." In various online forums, Emery accused Marc Boris St-Maurice and the Marijuana Party of "ridiculous, treasonous, self-indulgent egotism" for even thinking of running against Layton's NDP.

"Even though there will be Marijuana Party candidates of generally poor quality, running without my endorsement," he wrote, "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."

Over Emery's objections, the Marijuana Party will field 100-odd candidates across the country. Party leader St-Maurice isn't losing sleep over his former colleague's defection but concedes the personal slurs are bothersome.

"This second-grade name calling is unbecoming," he said. "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."

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

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

As for the NDP, party officials last week issued a terse statement disavowing Emery's crusade.

"Mr. Layton did not and does not endorse the legalization of marijuana," they said. "The NDP endorses its decriminalization."

Emery's activities were not sanctioned by the NDP, they said, nor is he authorized to speak for the NDP.

Veteran activist Philippe Lucas, director of Canadians for Safe Access, finds the movement's infighting disturbing.

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

Another veteran, Mike Foster, 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."

Fill the Hill organiser Jody Pressman stays above the fray, choosing instead to focus on the movement's objective.

"Whatever party," he says, "the answer is political activism. Get involved, write essays, research the issue - all these and more, and the more we do them the sooner Canadians will see an end to this unjust prohibition against marijuana."

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