Marijuana issues are again taking front seat in an election that is guaranteed to be the most entertaining, confusing and unpredictable ever! In the last few days, Marijuana Party leader Marc Boris St Maurice attacked the NDP’s pro-pot position and the NDP threatened to sue international marijuana activist turned NDP-supporter Marc Emery. Green Party Leader Jim Harris then agreed to an exclusive interview with Cannabis Culture Magazine.
Polls show the Green Party hovering at around six percent support nationwide. That’s about the same level of support the NDP had in 1993, when they won nine seats, says Harris. Of course the NDP now have closer to twenty percent support.
“The Green Party have been in favour of not decriminalization, but legalization, for twenty years,” Leader Jim Harris told Cannabis Culture. “We have been ahead of the change curve on this.”
We present more of our interview with Harris near the end of this article.
Inner turmoil has plagued the marijuana movement since at least June 3 when an Hour Magazine article quoted Marijuana Party leader St Maurice blasting the NDP as proving itself a “dud when it comes to doobie,” implying the NDP had backpedaled considerably from its original stance. St Maurice’s comments took aim at NDPotties, a group of marijuana activists led by Emery who support the NDP.
Hour Magazine writer Charlie McKenzie then claimed the NDP had issued a “terse statement,” distancing themselves from Emery and saying that the NDP supports decriminalization, not legalization. Indeed, NDP Leader Jack Layton came out publicly in favour of decrim on June 2 in the Surrey Now. The final effect: the Hour Magazine article made the NDP look like inept, lying politicians.
The NDP’s comments against Emery ? combined with NDP Leader Jack Layton’s use of the word “decriminalization” ? raised a few hackles in the marijuana movement. Many were reminded of the so-called “decriminalization” bill that the Liberals tried to pass last year. This bill, under the guise of decrim, would have created a cash-cow ticket offense to streamline and increase busts of users and boosted jail time for growers and traffickers. Needless to say, activists were horrified by the bill. At the time, the NDP were the only force in parliament dedicated to exposing and humanizing it. Meanwhile, the majority of Canadians were oblivious to the nefarious legislation and still believed decrim could be a good thing.
That’s partly why Emery still supports the NDP, and sees Layton’s use of the word decrim as good sound-byte politicking.
“Jack Layton used the word ‘decriminalization’ because it has more support from a wider range of Canadians than the word ‘legalization,'” explained Emery. “As far as I can tell, he hasn’t changed his policy at all. But it’s his job to get as much support as possible for his party.”
Indeed, the term “decriminalization” has long been popular among activists, and for most Canadians the semantics on this one are kind of fuzzy. Decriminalization and legalization have acquired historically different meanings that can’t be found in online dictionaries, which essentially equate the two. “Legalization” has come to mean something similar to what happened with alcohol at the end of prohibition: no punitive measures for possession and ? at worst ? a strict regulation of the production and trafficking industries.
It gets a little more complicated when we get to decriminalization, which now has two meanings. “Grassroots decriminalization,” as enacted by many US states, means no punitive measures whatsoever against users, and no extra jail time or punishments for growers and traffickers. “Fake decriminalization” is the kind favoured by the Liberals, which far from reducing penalties for pot, actually increases them: it is the Orwellian doublespeak of marijuana politics.
NDP position on pot
Does that mean the NDP supports the style of fake decriminalization that the Liberals propose? Anything but. On June 3, Jack Layton was featured on POT TV and clarified his party’s decrim plans.
“Let’s start with a solid and real legislation, not like the sham of legislation that we were seeing in the legislature [under the Liberals], and then move toward a rules-based framework,” he said. “Everyone agrees that there should be some rules around age, around driving, around production for personal use. Let’s have a good discussion with Canadians, agree on what those rules should be and then get moving in that direction.”
The NDP’s policy statement doesn’t mention “decriminalization” or “legalization,” but more clearly advocates a “non-punitive approach”. Which means the NDP doesn’t support the Liberal’s cash-cow scheme that would have cops writing wads of tickets to folks carrying hardly a speck of pot. But what would this non-punitive approach look like? For those of us who disregard party policy statements as electoral toilet paper, to be thrown away after they’re used to wipe up the vote, what would the NDP do if ? and polls suggest the possibility ? they formed a government with the Liberals, who are promising to bring back fake decrim if they win?
The most solid answer we can find comes from a look at the NDP track record.
Last year, enlightened NDP MP Libby Davies sat on a committee that considered the decrim bill, and introduced many amendments and arguments to abrogate decriminalization’s tougher measures and make it more humane. Davies’ campaign team pointed me to her website, where I found specifics about the NDP’s plan for decriminalization. These plans have been on Davies’ website for over a year, and don’t differ from what Jack Layton and the NDP propose now.
“The federal NDP has long advocated for the full decriminalization of marijuana,” reads Davies’ site. “The NDP believes we must have a national discussion that would approach the topic in a rational and thoughtful way. The federal NDP wants [to]examine a non-punitive, regulatory approach to adult marijuana use with an emphasis on prevention, education and health promotion.”
She also blasted the Liberal’s version of decrim.
“We had hoped Bill C-38 [the Liberals so-called decrim law]would be a first step in recognizing the harms associated with a prohibitionist policy towards marijuana. However, the Minister of Justice has continued to make comments and push a national drug strategy that perpetuates the myth that the criminal law can resolve problems relating to the use of drugs.”
Many NDP candidates and representatives have already voiced support for humane marijuana law reform too, including Alison Myrden, Peter Kormos, Rui Pires, Chris Charlton, Kennedy Stewart, and Crystal Leblanc.
Manufacturing lack of consent
Hour Magazine caused quite a stir when it told readers that the NDP supports decriminalization, not legalization. The mag put the icing on the cake when it further claimed that the NDP had issued a “terse statement” against pot activist Marc Emery, affirming that Emery is not a spokesperson for the party.
Cannabis Culture investigated the NDP’s alleged “terse statement” and discovered that Hour Magazine writer Charlie McKenzie had under-expressed the whole truth. We traced the NDP’s “terse statement” to press secretary Ian Capstick. Then we phoned Capstick and asked what had impelled him to issue it.
“Hour magazine sent me a list of rather outrageous comments made by Marc Emery. I was simply responding to that. Hour made it sound like I commented without any provocation.”
In fact, during an interview with Capstick, Hour Magazine writer McKenzie listed a series of characteristically provocative comments Emery made during an earlier interview and on the internet, and then asked the NDP for their response. McKenzie managed to leave his leading questions out of the article, making it appear as though the NDP had issued the statement regarding Emery of their own initiative.
NDP to sue Emery?
Yet even McKenzie didn’t fuel the fire all by himself. Emery believes that some old guard of the NDP are threatened by his brazen promotion of Layton’s pro-pot comments.
In fact, says Emery, NDP Federal Secretary Chris Watson phoned and threatened to sue “his ass off” over promotional literature Emery’s organizations donated money toward printing. The literature is a 3 x 5 brochure that explains the positions of the various parties’ leaders on marijuana, including Layton’s support for lighter laws, sports a logo that is different from but looks like the NDP’s, and was innocently intended to help get votes for the party.
Although Chris Watson was unavailable for comment, Press Secretary Ian Capstick attempted to summarize Watson’s concerns.
“I think it was the unauthorized use of a promotional item, logo and picture of Jack Layton. If Marc wanted to do his own thing, he should have used his own pictures and logo. Both of those are owned by the party and he doesn’t have the right to use them.”
Marc Emery was shocked by Watson’s threat.
“If the NDP sues me, I cannot understand on what basis,” he said. “The sponsorship of the literature is pretty clear, it is cleverly designed, the quotes are all verifiable, the picture of Jack is handsome. It’s going to be an explosive election, indeed, though I had not thought the explosion would be between Jack’s own comments and literature advancing those comments. NDP campaign workers for [NDP candidate] Kennedy Stewart came by today and took fifty of them. Labour supporters love them. I spoke to a prominent labour lawyer today who said he would represent me in court, because he doesn’t think the NDP have a leg to stand on. We have 23,000 distributed already. The NDP have an agenda, we are reminding them of it. They are furious of course, because they aren’t controlling it. It’s all about controlling the spin.
Marijuana party politics
While he rebuffs threats from the NDP, Emery doesn’t think the Marijuana Party can do much to help forward the cause of marijuana legalization.
“The Marijuana Party is a fraud, really,” charged Emery. “It is unable to represent our point of view and get our dreams actualized. Boris [St Maurice] should resign and encourage others to take over the organization. There are no buttons, no brochures, no signs, and he has had four years to do it. Every candidate they’ve chosen is unsuitable except Mike Foster from Crosstown Traffic.”
With decrim on the horizon, says Emery, the game has moved to a new level, and being restricted to public relations campaigns just won’t cut it. That’s why he has also issued tentative support for the Green Party, who he sees as a more realistic alternative to the Marijuana Party in ridings where an NDP candidate doesn’t strongly support more humane pot laws.
“What I’ve told people is to contact their NDP candidate, and if the NDP isn’t satisfactory, then vote for the Green Party candidate,” Emery said. “Those two parties will get funding or recognition for their position over time. We support the leading anti-prohibitionist candidate in every riding. If that is the NDP, then support them, and if not them, then support the Green Party.”
Why the emphasis on parties that might get elected?
“We want bodies in the House of Commons who will speak for us,” Emery said. “We have bodies on the outside of Parliament 365 days of the year, but without some influence, contacts, friends, etc inside the House of Commons, it will be a long and cold stretch of four years.”
Green Party on marijuana
In an exclusive interview with Cannabis Culture Magazine, Green Party leader Jim Harris showed political astuteness and sensitivity to the pot issue. He said that he believes the Liberal version of decrim is a sham.
“In Australia, where marijuana was decriminalized, but fined for possession, what happened is the number of cases went up threefold and half of the people didn’t pay their fines,” Harris said. “So rather than unclogging the courts, it clogged them up more and people were getting criminal records for non-payments of fines.”
The Green Party’s vision, said Harris, would see the estimated six billion dolllar-a-year industry taxed to the tune of about two billion in revenues for the federal government. Somewhat similar to the NDP, the Green Party sees weed-war reform as an opportunity to drive organized crime out of the industry, impose age restrictions, and regulate and sell marijuana like alcohol. In other words, the NDP and Green Party positions are very close. The difference, said Jim Harris, is that the Green Party says what it means ? “legalization.”
Jim Harris also expressed indignation at the recent raid on the Vancouver Island Compassion Club.
“The fact that there was a raid on the compassion club in Victoria is completely unacceptable, because in our medical system we use morphine which is infinitely more powerful. When you think that medical marijuana users are people who are in pain, people with glaucoma, people wasting away with AIDS, people with neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis, it is amazing that our medical system doesn’t provide marijuana in an open and accessible way. It makes me angry. The old-style politicians are clearly out of touch.”
We asked Harris what his party would do if the Liberals brought back their fake decrim bill. Would the Greens join an NDP initiative to make a fake Liberal decrim bill more humane and grassroots?
“What I want to do is talk about our policy rather than hypothetical positions. Here is what I can tell you: as a minimum condition to work with any other party to form a coalition government, we would first demand proportional representation. The reason that’s important to you is that in a system of proportional representation the voices of Canadians get heard on issues – any issues. All of a sudden, if you can get five percent of the vote across Canada, you can get seats in the House of Commons. So the top issue on our agenda is democratic reform. That is good for your readers.”
Harris has a point. Both the Marijuana Party and the NDP agree with the Green Party on the issue of electoral reform as an underlying cure for the nation’s democratic woes. The model country in this regard is New Zealand, where Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party members were prominent movers and shakers in making proportional representation a reality in their country some years ago.
If nothing else, the increasingly heated debate over marijuana is keeping the topic foremost in the press and minds of Canadians, as parties scramble to prove who most supports this important issue. With any luck, the anti-prohibition movement will continue to enjoy ever-increasing support, and one day our beloved herb will be free.