Pot activists gear up for BC election

BC Marijuana Party prepares for coming campaign, while their former leader now backs the NDP.

The British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP) is gearing up for a provincial election to be held in May 2005. This will be the second election for the pro-pot party; the BCMP contested its first provincial election in 2001, running candidates in every one of BC's 79 ridings and taking 3.2% of the total vote (CC#33, Marijuana Party makes BC history).
"We will once again be running a serious campaign with a full slate of candidates," said Cannabis Culture publisher and BCMP President Marc Emery. "The only way we won't run a candidate in a given riding is if one of the major parties has a candidate who is strongly and vocally anti-prohibitionist. Then the BCMP would endorse that candidate and not run against them in their riding."

The two main political parties in BC are the governing Liberals and the opposition left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP). Although the BC Liberals are not formally affiliated with Canada's governing Liberal party, the provincial and federal wings of the NDP share a unified party structure and membership.

NDP vs Marijuana Party?

In Canada's last federal election, Emery encouraged Canada's pot-people to leave the Canadian Marijuana Party and support federal NDP Leader Jack Layton. Emery based his support on Layton's Pot-TV appearance, where Layton called marijuana a "wonderful substance" and said his party supported a system where cannabis could be legally purchased by adults at licensed cafes (CC#47, Canada's NDP leader on Pot-TV).

During the election campaign, Layton and NDP House Leader Libby Davies both reiterated their party's commitment to a "non-punitive" marijuana policy, and criticized the Liberals' proposed "decriminalization" bill as inadequate and misleading.

In return, Emery did his best to rally Canada's pot-people behind the federal NDP. "Thanks to my efforts and the support of pot-lovers across Canada, we signed up more than 3,000 new NDP members and delivered about 150,000 votes in the last federal election. I also printed 100,000 brochures outlining Layton's position on marijuana. I even paid $5,000 to buy two tables at a Jack Layton dinner, and donated between $500 and $1,000 to eight different NDP candidates."

Provincial pot problems

The NDP currently governs the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and held power in BC from 1991 to 2001. Yet no provincial NDP party has ever done anything to ease up on pot persecution while in power. BC's last NDP Premier, Ujjal Dosanjh, was extremely anti-pot. He once told the media that he had seen cows go mad after eating roadside ganja plants in his native India, and that was why he was against marijuana legalization!

The only provincial NDP party to take the same pro-legalization stance as their federal counterparts is in Canada's largest province of Ontario. Ontario NDP House Leader Peter Kormos has been extremely outspoken in his party's support for legal marijuana.

"Jack Layton and [Ontario NDP Leader] Howard Hampton will be true to their promise that they will put an end to prohibition," promised Kormos at an Ontario pro-legalization "Green Truth" conference held in March 2004. "Canadians from all walks of life and generations are enjoying trainloads of marijuana. The solution is to legalize it, regulate it, tax it and control it."

Dana Larsen, editor of Cannabis Culture, became leader of the BCMP after the 2001 election. In 2003, Larsen left the Marijuana Party and joined the NDP.

"I am working with the BC NDP in this upcoming election," said Larsen in an interview with Cannabis Culture. "It's true that I have not been happy with the BC NDP's marijuana stance in the past, and sadly current BC NDP Leader Carol James also doesn't seem like she's into legalization. However, the NDP candidate in my riding, Nicholas Simons, strongly supports Layton's views on marijuana and is an occasional toker himself. I feel very comfortable working to elect him and encouraging pot-people in my riding to give him their support."

Larsen also indicated that he is working within the NDP to help push the provincial parties towards legalization.

"When I was in Saskatoon organizing the vigil for Marc Emery, I had the chance to attend an NDP meeting hosted by Frank Quennell, the Saskatchewan Minister of Justice," explained Larsen. "During the meeting, I asked Quennell if the Saskatchewan NDP supported the same marijuana legalization policy as the federal NDP.

He was unable to answer this simple question, saying that it was a federal issue and that the Saskatchewan NDP didn't even have a marijuana policy. He also refused to state his personal views on the issue. Yet in other interviews, Quennell has indicated that the Saskatchewan NDP is putting increased resources into taking out grow ops, so clearly they do have a pot policy, and it is prohibitionist."

Larsen wasn't entirely disheartened by his experience, as he received support from many of the NDP members in attendance.

"There were about 15 people at the meeting; these were the local organizers and hardcore party members who were sitting through this relatively boring three-hour session. During a break, about half of the people in attendance came up to me and specifically thanked me for being there, and said that they supported my efforts. So I saw a disconnect there between the party members and the provincial leadership.

"I think that most NDP members back legalization of marijuana, but that the party leaders have usually been reluctant to speak out on the issue or make it a priority," continued Larsen. "Jack Layton is a change from previous NDP leaders, and from most of his provincial counterparts, because he is the first one to openly say that pot should be legal.

"I have created a group called 'eNDProhibition' which is open to all NDP members who support legal marijuana and an end to the drug war. This group will serve to push provincial NDP parties into adopting the same anti-prohibitionist policies as the federal party."

Regardless of Larsen's efforts within the BC NDP, Emery is confident that the BC Marijuana Party will better its performance in their second campaign. "I'm sure we'll get even more votes this time as we're more organized and the war on marijuana is worse than ever. And who knows? In 2009, BC is likely to have a new electoral system, so if pot still isn't legal by then, we might actually be able to get a few BCMP candidates elected into government."

? BC Marijuana Party: www.bcmarijuanaparty.ca
? eNDProhibition: email info@endprohibition.ca; web www.eNDProhibition.ca

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