In late October, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr?tien called for a federal election to be held on November 27. As politicians and parties prepared to do battle for control of Parliament, a new political party was being born in Canada. The Marijuana Party ran 73 candidates across the country in its first election, changing the face of Canada’s political debate with their relentless promotion of the cannabis issue.
In the back alley of Crosstown Traffic ? Ottawa’s foremost hemp store and current Marijuana Party headquarters ? is Jean Charles Pariseau’s wheelchair trailer. It is attached to the back of Ray Turmel’s car, an unrecognized monument to the Marijuana Party’s difficult birth.
Pariseau is one of Canada very first legal medical-pot exemptees, but he still has problems with the law, because his dealers continue to be busted. Aubert Martin, Marijuana Party candidate for Ottawa’s Hull-Aylmer riding, was the first of Pariseau’s suppliers to be busted. Ray Turmel, Marijuana Party candidate for the Ottawa-Vanier riding, was the second.
The Marijuana Party’s federal leader, Marc-Boris St-Maurice, and another candidate, Alex Neron, are also facing charges of distributing cannabis to sick people after a raid on the Montreal Compassion Club last February, only eight days after St-Maurice announced the birth of Canada’s Marijuana Party. Similarly, Grant Krieger, a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer and long-standing medical cannabis activist in Alberta’s Calgary East riding, is still attending court in a constitutional battle against cultivation, manufacturing and distribution charges for his work with Calgary’s Universal Compassion Club.
Alex Neron and Grant Krieger both have the support of their entire families. In fact, Neron’s mom, dad and sister are all running with the Marijuana Party in separate Montreal ridings. Neron’s girlfriend leapt into the fray against prohibition soon after. Then a boarder who just arrived at their home, 18-year-old Elena d’Apollonia, also joined the Marijuana Party as a candidate, becoming possibly the youngest person ever to run in a federal election. All jumped into the running after Neron took on Conservative Leader Joe Clark in Nova Scotia and was unfairly excluded from an all-candidates’ meeting by the ex-prime minister (See CC#28, Canada’s Marijuana Party).
“Their interest really began since I got busted with Boris at the compassion club,” clarified Neron. “That was the big starting point. They finally had proof that something was wrong in society with that. That is why my family decided to run.”
Grant Krieger, who suffers from MS, found campaigning too exhausting ? so his son, Grant Adam Krieger, stepped up to take his place. In 1996, a young Krieger Jr had seen Regina City Police tear the family home apart for medical bud, while verbally abusing his parents.
“I was only 16 years old,” said Krieger Jr of the raid. “Just seeing what happens in a situation when a police raid comes upon you, it is one of the reasons why I am running as a candidate in support of my father. I also have personal reasons. The government is mainly giving cannabis out to people with AIDS, MS, and Hepatitis. That is only a small fraction of the diseases treatable with cannabis. Who are they to say one disease is more important than another?”
Despite a recent Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in the case of Terry Parker (that Canada’s cannabis laws are unconstitutional and must be rewritten within one year or be declared void) Liberal government bureaucrats have told Cannabis Culture that they plan to rewrite the laws to keep prohibition operating the same way as it does today. Which is to say that they plan to continue with heavy regulations for medical users. Terry Parker, who lives with epilepsy, is running with the Marijuana Party in the Parkdale-Hydepark riding.
Like all candidates, Cannabis Culture editor Dana Larsen needed 100 valid signatures on his nomination papers in order to qualify as a candidate in the federal election. He is running in the West Vancouver ? Sunshine Coast riding, with a large contingent of folk leading alternative lifestyles. “You can never tell who is going to sign,” said Larsen. “I had many elderly women say ?right on, I’ll sign your papers’ while some young hip-looking people didn’t even want to talk to me.”
18-year-old Elena d’Apollonia, of Montreal’s Lac St Louis riding, gleaned a wealth of signatures at school. Sotos Petrides, of Ontario’s Ottawa-West riding, collected signatures outside of the Ottawa Citizen’s mail room. I am running in BC’s Kootenay ? Boundary ? Okanagan riding, where I picked up 100 signatures outside of the movie “Saving Grace,” about a middle-aged English woman who is forced to grow pot to save her home. Chuck Beyer, a former NDP candidate who is now running with the Marijuana Party in BC’s Victoria riding, reflected on the difference in public attitude toward Marijuana Party candidates.
“I haven’t had one person be nasty to me at all, out of hundreds of people,” laughed Beyer. “I can tell you that when I was campaigning for the NDP last time that I didn’t get that kind of attitude. It was a lot worse.”
Early in the campaign candidates were receiving significant local attention. Chuck Beyer received coverage on Chek TV, Dana Larsen appeared on a televised debate on Coast Cable, I appeared on the Shaw Cable Children’s Society Telethon, and Marc Emery, Vancouver Centre candidate and western party coordinator, appeared on Almanac, CBC Newsworld, and a variety of other radio stations and media. Emery was also invited by Vancouver Television to speak as an analyst during their election-day coverage.
In Quebec, Party Leader Marc-Boris St-Maurice was so busy, he was forced to tell the media that he wasn’t available until other party candidates had filed their nomination papers, a necessary step in getting them into the election race.
Boris needed at least 50 confirmed candidates before the Marijuana Party was official, otherwise all candidates would be forced to run as “independents.”
“If I put my energy toward the media right now,” said St-Maurice, days before the candidates’ deadline to file nomination papers, “then I will be selling them an empty shell.”
Days before candidate nominations would be closed, Marc-Boris St-Maurice was calm and friendly despite the mounting pressure. He barely had time to light a joint. 85 candidates were phoning him all at once with questions and stories about certain local electoral officials (called returning officers or RO’s) harassing them over the signatures on their nomination papers. I was shocked by the news, because my own RO has been so kind and helpful.
It was down to the last day, and some Marijuana Party candidates had gone in person to their RO’s offices in hopes of filing their papers. They were turned back without receiving even the promise of an appointment. Others suffered illegal over-scrutiny of the signatures on their documents. The Marijuana Party’s principle agent, Hugo St-Onge, was in the office with St-Maurice to witness much of the debacle.
“Some returning officers played a game to scare the people into thinking it was hard to run,” said St-Onge, “They didn’t want our party on the ballot. Some lied to our candidates. Some over-zealous returning officers, they called all the people on the list in the first step. I had some returning officers ask questions of the people they called, like ?why do you support this candidate? Do you know this guy?'”
According to electoral law, Elections Canada officials were not supposed to call people who had signed the nomination papers except as a last resort in verifying addresses, and certainly not to harass them for signing legal documents. Around the country, stories of electoral abuse poured into the central office. Elena d’Apollonia, of the Lac St Louis Riding in Quebec, waited for an hour for her returning officer despite the fact that she had an appointment. When she finally got in she was told she wouldn’t cut it as a candidate.
“I had a 150 signatures and they said they are probably no good,” reported a disappointed d’Apollonia. “When we called in yesterday and asked why they were so scrutinizing, the secretary said maybe it is just our party name.”
Several Marijuana Party candidates buckled and dropped out of the race, convinced that the process was bureaucratically impenetrable. Marc Emery, the party’s western coordinator, rallied party members to stay in the fight for marijuana freedom. He and Dana Larsen worked to pull in signatures for other candidates as far away as Vancouver Island.
Meanwhile, Emery was busy leaping his own bureaucratic hurdles, and had learned that his returning officer had misinformed him about how many signatures he should collect.
“I called up the returning officer for Vancouver Centre, said Emery, “the one who made me get 200 names because she was calling everyone personally and if they didn’t answer, she didn’t count the signature! I said I was considering legal action against her for prejudiced and illegal demands and requirements. She called the Elections Canada office and lo!… we were right!”
Eventually, said Party Leader St-Maurice, Elections Canada’s central office sent out word to stop harassing Marijuana Party Candidates. On November 6, Elections Canada contacted St-Maurice to report that the party had more than filled the quota of 50 candidates. With 73 confirmed candidates nationwide, the Marijuana Party became an official and registered political party in Canada.
Marijuana Party candidates are largely underfunded and understaffed. With offical registration, candidates can issue tax-deductible receipts for donations, participate in debates, and enjoy other ancillary benefits of being an official national party.
This article was written in the midst of the campaign, before the election was held. It’s very unlikely that any Marijuana Party candidates will win any seats in Canada’s Parliament. But it is guaranteed that the issue of marijuana prohibition was brought up and debated during this election season like never before, and that Canada’s Marijuana Party is going to continue to grow in strength and numbers until cannabis is once again free to grow on Canadian soil.
Other parties on pot
? The Conservatives: In 1979 ? under current Party Leader and then Prime Minister Joe Clark ? the Conservatives included plans to decriminalize marijuana in their throne speech, but were roundly defeated by the Liberals before they had the opportunity. In 1993, under Prime Minister Kim Campbell, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-85 to replace the Narcotic Control Act, which would increase penalties for marijuana offenses.
Now that Joe Clark again leads the Conservatives, he refuses to comment on his past support for decrim.
? The Liberals: In the early seventies, the Liberal government formed a Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical use of Drugs, known as the “Ledain Commission.” In 1972, the Ledain Commission recommended legalizing cannabis possession, and Pierre Trudeau, pot-puffer extraordinare, added it to his election platform. He won the 1972 election, but quickly backed down on changing the pot laws.
In 1978-79 the Liberals commissioned another report ? this time in secret ? which advocated legalization and decriminalization as solutions to a failed drug war. Rather than follow the recommendations, however, the Liberals caved in to international pressure and signed the UN’s anti-pot Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
In 1996, Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s Liberal government introduced and eventually passed Bill C-7, which increased the penalties for cannabis offenses, and gave police the power to seize the homes of growers. The Liberal’s passed C-7 into law despite opposition from every single drug policy, social welfare and legal group that testified on the bill (see CC#00, An Analysis of Bill C-7; and CC#04, What every Canadian should know about Bill C-7).
In 1997, powerful Liberal MP’s Alan Rock (Minister of Health) and Anne McLellan (Minister of Justice) told the media that they planned to legalize medical cannabis, but then backed off. Rock created the current bureaucratically challenging “Section 56” exemption system only when ordered to do so by the courts.
Under Prime Minister Chretien, the Liberals have resisted medicinal marijuana and are fighting the will of the people when it comes to legalizing the healing herb.
? The Alliance: It is the Alliance Party’s mandate for MP’s to represent the interests of the majority of people in their individual ridings, regardless of their personal views.
However, despite a poll done by Angus Reid in 1997, showing 63% of Canadians in favour of legalization, and a poll done by COMPAS this year showing 65% of Canadians in favour of decrim, the Alliance Party voted pot-policy off of its party platform at their inaugural convention this summer. The change in direction came less than a month after Alliance Party Leader Stockwell Day (a self-admitted past toker) promoted lighter cannabis laws in a by-election that he won against Marijuana Party Leader St-Maurice in the pot-rich Okanagan riding.
On November 7, the same day that the Marijuana Party was officially registered with Elections Canada, the Globe and Mail printed a story which quoted from an “official but confidential background policy” sent out to Alliance candidates, which said that their party would commit to a “free vote in parliament” on marijuana legalization if elected to government. In an interview with Cannabis Culture the next day, leading Alliance media-handler Paul Fitzgerald denied the Globe’s allegations.
“We haven’t decided how we are treating marijuana, and there is no policy,” asserted Fitzgerald.
The Alliance Party supports a “tough on crime” platform, which would see increased penalties for most crimes, and a consequent expansion of the prison system.
? The NDP: The NDP have a long tradition of claiming to support marijuana decriminalization. Yet despite Party Leader Alexa McDonough’s confession that she once smoked reefer, decrim isn’t listed as one of their year 2000 party platforms.
For an example of how the NDP plan to implement their pot policy, one only need look to the provincial NDP in BC, who have held office for the last eight years. Former NDP candidate Chuck Beyer speaks about the provincial party’s shameful treatment of the issue.
“They made Ujjal Dosanjh, drug warrior number one, the head of the provincial party. I have been sparring with Ujjal for years by e-mail on the marijuana issue and there is no way you can reason with him about it. BC marijuana charges have skyrocketed under the provincial NDP.”
Dosanjh has repeatedly spoken against decriminalization and claims that cannabis harms both individuals and society.
“It is very fair to compare the federal and provincial NDP,” said Beyer. “They are unlike every other party in Canada in that if you join the NDP, you are not just a member of the provincial or federal parties, you are a member of both. They call themselves a movement, but how can they call themselves that when they are moving in two different directions?”
? The Greens: On October 27, Green Party Leader Jean Russow sent out a press release announcing that her party supported the legalization of marijuana, and its sale in a liquor store-style market. Her announcement came after running against Marijuana Party Leader St-Maurice and Alliance Party Leader Stockwell Day in last summer’s Okanagan riding by-election.
Whenever a strong voice comes forward to speak on marijuana, Greens around the world have responded admirably by adding legalization to their platforms, demonstrating their true concern for public opinion. However, once in office, Greens in both Germany and New Zealand have sorely paid little to no attention to the issue, backing off on their radical stance and focusing on other concerns.
Marijuana Party Policy
1. The immediate removal of all criminal sanctions related to cannabis.
2. That any person imprisoned for any cannabis-related offense is to receive an immediate and unconditional pardon.
3. The immediate withdrawal from all international treaties which would restrict Canada’s ability to control our own cannabis policy.
4. The immediate repeal of Section 462.2 of the Criminal Code which censors cannabis literature, and bans bongs, pipes, and other marijuana implements.
5. That there be no legal or regulatory controls on which adults may cultivate or grow cannabis. We will accept regulation and taxation only in regards to the commercial sale of cannabis products and prevention of use by minors.
6. That affordable medical-grade cannabis be made readily available to those who require it for medicinal reasons.
7. An official apology from the Canadian government, for their seven decades of war against cannabis users.
8. The Amending of Canada’s Electoral Act to allow for more proportional representation in Parliament.
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Worldwide Pot Parties
In England it’s called the UK Legalize Cannabis Alliance. In New Zealand, it’s called the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party. In Israel it’s the Green Leaf Party. In the Australian states of New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria it’s the HEMP Party. In New York it’s the Marijuana Reform Party, and in New Jersey it’s the Legalize Marijuana Party. In Canada it’s the Marijuana Party. Everywhere it is the same phenomenon – marijuana activists lifting themselves from beneath the jack-boot of oppression and carrying their joints like torches of freedom into federal elections.
The torch of Canada’s Marijuana Party was sparked by the efforts of Marc-Boris St-Maurice, who founded Quebec’s Bloc Pot. The Bloc Pot won over 10,000 votes in Quebec’s 1998 election, enough to get them some government subsidies for their future campaigns. Through the efforts of countless other activists and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Party took shape.
Marc Emery plans to continue raising marijuana awareness in the upcoming BC provincial elections, by the formation of the BC Marijuana Party. Having honed their skills in a federal race, the provincial candidates should have a vivid presence in BC’s spring election.
? Bloc Pot: tel (514) 528-1768; CP 361, succ. “C”, Montreal, Quebec, H2L 4K3; email [email protected]; website www.blocpot.qc.ca
? UK Legalize Cannabis Alliance: PO Box 198, Norwich NR2 2DE; tel 01-603-442-215, email [email protected]
? Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party: PO Box 27-315 Wellington, New Zealand; tel 04-934-9389; email [email protected]; website www.alcp.org.nz
? Australia HEMP Party: email [email protected]; website www.green.net.au/hempvic
? Israel’s Green Leaf Party: Ale Yarok Party, POB 1454, Even-yehuda, Israel 40500; tel 972-52-451-451; website www.ale-yarok.org.il
? New Jersey Legalize Marijuana Party: Ed Forchion, PO Box 444, Browns Mills, NJ 08015; tel (609)893-1893; email [email protected]; website www.tlmp.org
? New York Marijuana Reform Party: Tom Leighton, PO Box 20420 DHCC, New York, NY 10017; tel (212) 439-4860; website www.marijuanareform.org