During a live debate on POT TV on Saturday, Canadian Marijuana Party Leader St Maurice and BC Marijuana Party President Marc Emery discussed merging with the NDP for the upcoming federal election.
Cannabis Culture Editor Dana Larsen recently resigned his leadership of the BC Marijuana Party and joined the federal NDP, followed by federal med-pot exemptee Alison Myrden of Ontario. Larsen has won the support of the former NDP candidate in his riding, and many of the riding’s party officers.
During the debate it became obvious that St Maurice was cautious about joining the NDP, while Emery – a main backer of the Canadian Marijuana Party – saw it as the next logical step in the evolution of pot activism in Canada. Emery pointed to an excellent POT TV interview he had done with Jack Layton, in which Layton had expressed unqualified support for legalization. Layton also did spots for POT TV, saying “Hi, I’m Jack Layton, Leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, and you’re watching POT TV.”
“I thought it would be 10 years before anyone [like Layton]said that kind of stuff,” enthused Emery. “I believe [Layton] is sincere and intelligent. He identified all the key issues that are relevant to us in the Marijuana movement… without sounding like he was reading from a policy statement.”
Emery cited the Canadian media’s declining interest in the Marijuana Party, and the effectiveness of Larsen and Myrden in garnering countrywide press for the issue just by announcing their intention to run for NDP nominations in their ridings.
“That says it all,” he affirmed. “All things considered, we have to unify behind the NDP… They can be more effective with our message than we could be as the Marijuana Party. What do we have to gain from running against them? We appear disloyal to a group that is trying to welcome us.”
St Maurice’s objections to the NDP merger included criticisms of the NDP’s sincerity.
“It smacks of political opportunism on the eve of the election,” he replied. “They will promise you the earth before the election, but try to get a phone call afterward… If the NDP are truly sincere, they should support the issue whether there’s a Marijuana Party or not… Should this bubble burst I should keep the Marijuana Party alive… I will be glad to be there to greet people back to the fold.”
Furthermore, he was concerned about the NDP’s support in his home province of Quebec.
“The NDP are not even on the map in Quebec… The Marijuana Party beat them in virtually every [Quebec] riding. I don’t want the job of rebuilding the NDP in Quebec.”
In response to St Maurice’s concerns, a member of the audience, former Marijuana Party Official Agent Rob Gillespie, noted that during the NDP’s recent leadership convention, every candidate advocated pot legalization, indicating the NDP’s thorough dedication to the issue. St Maurice countered by pointing to an NDP history of not following their leader. A quick response came from Dana Larsen, who promised to resign from the NDP, nationally embarrassing them, should they double cross on their pot promises. Emery pressed forward by promising to visit ridings with NDP candidates and appear beside them.
“If they don’t want to appear beside me, I will know they don’t support the issue,” he said.
Emery was also confident that the NDP in Quebec would make a better showing in the next election, and cited polls showing NDP support on the rise.
During the following question period, it appeared that most western pot activists supported Emery’s pro-NDP strategy, including David Malmo Levine and other former Canadian Marijuana Party candidates. A common concern was the potential congealing of the right, since the Alliance is strongly against legalization and in favour of mandatory minimum prison sentences for pot offenses. Meanwhile, the Liberals under Paul Martin may prove as hostile to marijuana as the Alliance.
Many saw the best tactical response as being a union of the left. At least one marijuana activist noted the NDP’s excellent track record: NDP MP Libby Davies, for example, has been instrumental in positively influencing the proposed so-called decrim Bill C-38 and in keeping pot activists abreast of relevant national issues.
It was a busy weekend. A meeting the day before the debate brought together pot intelligentsia from across the country to strategize the next two years of activism. Included at the meeting were St Maurice, Emery and Larsen. Also in attendance were Vancouver Compassion Club Founder Hilary Black; Vancouver Island Compassion Society founder Philippe Lucas; Ontario Marijuana Party Leader Tim Meehan; Cannabis Health Editor Brian Tarylor; Marijuananews.com creator, former US Norml head and former POT TV anchor Dick Cowan; internet pot activist; mapinc.org webmaster Matt Elrod; and many others including med-pot law challenger Bill Small and well-known weed anarchist David Malmo Levine. Support for the NDP was high, but some also wanted a sign that the NDP would remain true to the issue. They wanted to see, for example, the NDP’s pro-legalization policy on the NDP’s website. The same sentiments were expressed during the debate.
At both the meeting and the debate Dana Larsen stood up to explain that although the policy hadn’t been finalized yet, a formal statement by Libby Davies said that NDP policy was outright marijuana legalization.
Larsen and lawyer Eugene Oscapella (founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy) have been consulted in the finishing process of the soon to be released NDP election policy on the repeal of marijuana prohibition. Larsen said that he had advocted for a policy which included taking all former possession records off the books, eradicating laws against personal cultivation and non-commercial trafficking, and creating a licensing scheme for commercial cultivation. Also included in the policy was a call for free pot for medical users, either supplied by the government or subsidized from independent growers.
“I don’t know what the official NDP policy will look like, as I am not directly involved with the policy committee,” said Larsen. “But I have spoken to NDP MP Svend Robinson about this, and he agreed with these basic principles. He is on the policy committee and he seemed confident that the NDP would adopt these principles as official policy.”
Would it be enough for St Maurice to throw the Marijuana Party’s weight behind the NDP for the upcoming election? The question came up more than once.
“Circumstances that dictate whether the marijuana Party will throw its weight behind the NDP will be nothing the NDP can provide. It’s something that the Marijuana Party itself must provide,” he said, intimating that eastern Marijuana Party members would have to be as enthusiastic as those in the west.
Later, St Maurice provided further conditions. “If [famous pot law expert and university prof]Alan Young decides to run for the NDP, I’ll consider it,” he said. Yet later he added: “If you can get [Conservative Senator] Nolin to put his weight behind Layton, I’d jump over the moon!” He also wondered why he hadn’t gotten a phone call from NDP leader Jack Layton, something Emery promised to work on.
Despite differences in strategy, the debate also demonstrated continued respect between Emery and St Maurice. Both acknowledged each other’s sincerity and dedication to marijuana legalization. After the sometimes icy, sometime volcanic debate, Emery and St Maurice parted by shaking hands, a commonly vacant political gesture that won symbolic efficacy from the pair’s identity as true and committed activists.
* Marijauna Party of Canada wesite: www.marijuanaparty.org; contact: [email protected].
* BC Marijaua Party website: www.bcmarijuanaparty.ca; contact page.
* NDP website: www.ndp.ca; contact page.
* NDPot website: www.ndpot.ca contact page.