Toke me to your leader
Fresh from its success on the national stage, the Marijuana Party is gearing up for the provincial election. Jane Seyd dropped in on its first convention
Tune in. Toke up. Go vote. Amid a distinctive waft of ganja that made boring policy discussions much more bearable, the B.C. Marijuana Party officially turned on to the West Coast’s impending provincial election last week.
As political conventions go, the pot-party scene was pretty mellow. Twenty-five candidates spent the weekend hanging out on the Sunshine Coast in pot pundit Marc Emery’s living room, talking about the general unfairness of Canada’s drug laws, the pain in the butt of police harassment and the basic idea that the government should just get off everyone’s case.
There were a few of the usual sort there — the Gulf Islands artisan into “medical plants,” the young guy with dreadlocks and the stoner hangers-on. There were also people like Rob Gillespie, a self-described “business consultant,” Libertarian and gun nut who says the reason he’s involved is “it’s none of my goddamn business what other people put in their bodies.”
Besides a call to public service, another thing that several of the candidates have in common is they’re up on charges of marijuana cultivation. Brian Taylor, the 53-year-old leader of the party, was himself under indictment for illegally growing low-THC hemp in his backyard when in 1997 he was elected mayor of Grand Forks — “the biggest pot producing area of the province,” he says. Dressed in a big cowboy hat, jeans and cowboy boots, Taylor himself looks more like Marlboro Man than a doobie-smoking flake.
Since losing his mayor’s chair in a subsequent election, he’s more of a cannabis capitalist anyway, busy promoting a handy little device he’s calling the Personal Growing Unit, or PGU. Sales to California, Washington and Oregon could be huge, he says. What Taylor won’t say is whether he inhales. “You can call it hypocritical if you want, he allows, adding “the opposition would love to paint us as a bunch of Cheech and Chongs.”
Marc Emery, whose claim to fame is founding Vancouver’s Hemp B.C. store and who these days funds his Cannibis Culture magazine through the lucrative business of seed sales, isn’t nearly as shy. “I certainly have no problem telling people I smoke marijuana,” says Emery, who estimates 80 per cent of his candidates are tokers.
But stunts like smoking up for the TV cameras are definitely being discouraged. “I expect people to look serious,” he says.
Emery himself has dressed in a dark suit and tie for the convention. It’s all part of the election strategy — which along with the usual pot-legalization measures, includes appealing primarily to right wingers with platforms ranging from no new taxes to promoting a voucher system for private-school education and coming down against gun control. “I don’t think there’s much future in a left-wing vote,” says Emery. “People who are hard-core socialists or want higher taxes on SUVs, we’re not dealing with them. We need less government and more freedom.”
Forming a political party is a great attention-getting device, says Emery. Back in November, he organized and bankrolled the federal Marijuana Party campaign to the tune of $70,000. He expects the B.C. election to cost him around $100,000. “It costs us very little,” he says. “We get a lot of coverage.”
By mid-afternoon, a couple of party members are feeling the effects. A non-candidate named Mark, who is here to support his brother, says, “I find the whole thing pretty amazing. I like the fact that we have Indians running.” Wayne, one of the Indians and an advocate of “medicinal” pot “to relax,” says he thinks the pot party is worth a look, because all the other politicians are knobs.
Later on, Sunshine Coast candidate Dana Larsen — who distinguished himself in the federal election by getting 1,649 votes, more than any other pot party candidate in the province — is found cuddling on the couch with a fellow candidate. As a hotbed of cannabis sympathizers and pot growers and home to people like Emery and pot poster girl Rene Boje, on the lam from marijuana charges in California, the Sunshine Coast, he says, is one of the ridings being targeted by the party for a half-decent showing.
Larsen says he’s ready — and appropriately fortified. “I smoke pot every day. Vast quantities of it,” he volunteers. “It’s the finest quality B.C. and the Sunshine Coast can produce.” As editor of Cannabis Culture magazine and host of the TV show Weedy Wednesday, “lots of excellent pot comes my way.”
Larsen says he doesn’t mind talking about his own drug use. “I can afford to be public. If everyone who smokes pot stood up and smoked pot in public, the drug war would be over. Overgrow the government,” he says. “That’s our message.”