For some Canadians, the marijuana issue is the first and most important thing that will decide their vote. For many others, it is an influential topic that could swing their vote one way or another. With these two groups of voters in mind, Cannabis Culture evaluates some of the best and worst candidates in every electable party.
Let’s start with the Conservatives, the most unlikely of cannabis compatriots. The pickings are slim here, but there is at least one worth mentioning: Jim Gouk, the incumbent Conservative candidate for British Columbia’s Southern Interior riding.
In 1995, Gouk answered a questionnaire sent to federal MP’s by our publication. In his letter of response, he stated that he was “generally supportive of the suggestions and principles outlined in the [Frankfurt] resolution,” an agreement between certain European cities that called for legalized possession and trade in marijuana, and legalized possession of other drugs. Gouk even criticized the Frankfurt resolution as not going far enough.
Jim Gouk has won his riding in every election since 1995, first under the Reform Party’s banner, and then under the Alliance’s. In the 2004 election, he’s with the Conservatives, who are calling for longer jail time for all inmates, and want to strip prisoners of their voting rights, including those in on pot charges. In the US, where the number of people in prison on simple possession charges is as high as 25%, such rules have disenfranchised the cannabis community, stifling the political power of pot smokers.
The Conservatives have also welcomed into their ranks such pot-haters as Randy White, who on June 21 lashed out at the Marijuana Party for erecting signs demanding that he legalize marijuana.
“I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not support the legalization of marijuana, and it will not happen as far as I am concerned,” White wrote in a press release that claimed the signs confused people about his stance.
The Conservative Party’s general position on marijuana isn’t much better. According to Conservative media relations officer Andrew Skaling, the party generally supports the Liberals’ fake decriminalization bill, which would see more possession arrests and longer jail times for growers and traffickers – provided that the maximum allowable possession amount is lowered from 15 grams to enough to get a mouse high.
Conservative Jim Gouk doesn’t support his party’s position on fake decriminalization. I spoke to him at an all-candidates meeting on June 22.
“Any legislation better be thought out better than the liberal government’s 15 grams or less decriminalization,” he said. “[If] it is criminal to grow and sell it … how do you get marijuana to people to use it? It’s senseless legislation.”
Gouk’s answer? He says he wants to work with the public, to debate the drug issue, including “its health benefits and detriments.” Gouk has the distinction of being perhaps the most enlightened member of his party, which says as much about the Conservatives as it does about Gouk.
The Liberals have long been masters of political double-talk, manipulating Canadians into cheerful acceptance of otherwise heinous new deals by dressing them up. The same is true of the Liberal approach to drug law reform. In the last year, under the guise of “decriminalization”, they almost gave us tougher laws instead of more enlightened ones. Luckily, the decrim bill died when the election was called.
Now to be fair, there are some Liberals who argued for a more enlightened decrim bill. One was Liberal MP Paddy Torsney, chair of a government committee that gave the bill one last look. When I spoke to Torsney during the process, she seemed open to legalizing the cultivation of a small number of plants, but she felt that pot-hating Conservative Randy White, who also sat on the committee, was an obstacle to making the bill better. Some Liberal pot-haters had an influence as well, including MP’s Dan McTeague and Brenda Chamberlain, who met with the US anti-drug authorities to plot against better pot laws. McTeague is running in Pickering-Scarborough East, and Chamberlain is running in Guelph.
Unfortunately, now that Canada is in the midst of an election, Burlington riding candidate Torsney seems deluded that the final version of the decrim bill is a good thing, and has even erected signs that urge voters to support her party, lest such supposed “advances” as the decrim bill be lost. Certainly she worked hard on the bill and deserves some credit. But the final version stinks.
Edmonton-Strathcona Liberal candidate Debby Carlson is probably one of the Liberal’s best candidates, and has gone on the record in favour of full legalization and sin taxes. Although she never handled a doobie herself, Carlson admitted to secondhand smoking the weed at stuffy parties in the 70’s.
Also in Carlson’s riding of Edmonton-Strathcona is the much maligned NDP candidate Malcolm Azania, who on June 11 told the Edmonton Sun that he is “100% anti-drug.” Azania has been panned by the media for other kooky opinions, and is unlikely to take much of the vote. He claims that despite despising drugs, he supports the NDP’s platform of “decriminalization.”
Azania’s paradoxical position may reflect confusion over what “decriminalization” means, especially since the Liberals twisted it into harsher drug laws.
NDP Leader Jack Layton smartly distinguishes between “real decriminalization” and “fake.” In the end, “real decriminalization” isn’t any different from what most people mean when they say “legalization”: no punishments for users, and some form of legal, regulated growing and trafficking. It’s likely Layton uses the word “decriminalization” because polls show Canadians support it more than the word “legalization.” Not a bad strategy.
Still, some in Layton’s party are so turned off by Liberal shenanigans that they prefer not to say “decriminalize” at all ? like Southern Interior NDP candidate Alex Atamanenko, who said his party should change the wording of their policy.
“We want to legalize,” he said at a recent all-candidates meeting. “to work with the players in the game – law enforcement and prevention programs.”
Other NDP candidates who prefer the word “legalization” include Melanie Thomas from Alberta’s Lethbridge riding.
“I personally strongly favour legalization for a number of reasons,” she told me during a phone interview this week. “I know sick people who are in desperate need of marijuana, and the prohibition of marijuana has put society as a whole at risk from organized crime. We need an open and clear legal framework. We’d all be safer.”
Thomas appeared on June 18 hefting a megaphone at a local pot rally and railing against five cops who showed up to baby-sit peaceful protesters.
“I thought it was overindulgent,” she said, “especially considering there is a serial killer on the streets of Edmonton, preying on women in the sex trade.”
Thomas expressed respect for her riding’s Marijuana Party candidate, Dustin Sobie, who despite being only 18 and still attending high school, managed to hold the rally she attended and run in the election.
There are many other excellent NDP candidates thoughout Canada. Rui Pires, from Ontario’s Davenport riding, works with harm reduction groups. Crystal Leblanc, from Ontario’s Ottawa-Orl?ans riding, spoke strongly at a national pot protest on the steps of Canada’s parliament. Libby Davies, from Vancouver East, has sat in Parliament for many years and worked hard to humanize the Liberal’s fake decriminalization bill.
Some NDP candidates benefit from the help of committed pot activists. Kennedy Stewart, from Vancouver Centre, is buoyed with the support of people in the medpot community. Nicholas Simons, from West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast, has the aid of Dana Larsen, the editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine.
The award for best pro-pot NDP candidate goes to Alison Myrden, a long-time legalization advocate and pot activist who uses cannabis to treat MS and has appeared in court several times to defend her right to medicate.
The Green Party
Not to be overlooked is the Green Party, which hopes to win at least two seats in the election. Green Party Leader Jim Harris spoke to his party’s platform in an interview last week.
“The Green Party has been in favour of? legalization, for 20 years,” he said. “We have been ahead of the change curve on this.”
After the interview, Harris’ staff pointed me to many excellent Green Party politicians, including Deputy Leader and BC’s Saanich-Gulf Islands candidate Andrew Lewis. Lewis is one of the Green’s highest hopes for taking a seat in Canada’s next parliament.
“By full legalization we actually gain control and basically eliminate the underground economy, the criminal element,” Lewis said when I called him. “I think we need to get the criminal element out of the supply chain?it’s undermining the social fabric. We need police and enforcement dollars focussed elsewhere instead of trying to go after grow ops.”
Lewis sees the potential 2 billion from high sin taxes on pot going to drug education efforts aimed at increasing awareness in schools and “breaking the taboo of drug use in our communities.”
Scott Leyland, from BC’s Southern Interior riding, also demonstrated a commitment to the Green’s legalization platform. During an interview, he empathized with one of his sick friends, who uses marijuana to treat a chronic and fatal illness but can’t get a reliable supply of good bud under the Canadian government’s current medpot regulations. Then he went even further and denounced the war on drugs as a whole.
“I basically say the war on drugs is a complete and utter failure…” he told me. “I feel what I imagine relatives of mine might have felt going behind the green door during prohibition. They knew it was completely ridiculous and unenforceable. It’s not such a society destroying drug that it needs to have such a heavy hammer of the law hanging over it.”
There are excellent Green candidates in Ontario, as well. St Catherines candidate Jim Fannon – according to Green Party media officials – once owned a head shop, and Windsor West candidate Rob Spring was more well-spoken on the topic of legalization than anyone in his party.
“The Liberal candidate in my riding is the federal prosecutor,” Spring said, chuckling. “I stood by the federal prosecutor and said I want to legalize. The eyeballs I got from him were pretty hilarious at times. At a high school debate, in an auditorium full of kids, he started his speech by saying that if they got caught with marijuana, he would be the person they would face – him or someone from his staff. That’s what’s wrong with our system. They’d rather piss money away than make money. They’d rather control behaviour.”
Although the party had a pot policy in 2000 when Spring joined, he prides himself on helping to develop the party’s stance since that time.
Who to choose?
With so many great candidates to choose from it might be hard to decide where to put your vote.
In some ridings, a few votes could make the difference in whether a pro-pot candidate wins or not. However, in ridings were pot-hating Liberals and Conservatives dominate, your vote can still count. A new law gives political parties $1.75 per vote, every year. So if you vote for the Green Party or the NDP, you vote will still count for something. These parties will use the money to further their causes, which include legalization.
Canada’s most cannabis-committed party, the Marijuana Party, also hopes to get in on the $1.75-per-vote windfall. Currently, though, a party must receive 2% of the votes nationwide to qualify for the cash. The Marijuana Party is unlikely to take that high of a percentage since it is running in less than one third of the country’s ridings and didn’t show well enough in the last election for that to translate into 2%. But they are challenging the 2% law in a court case that Canadian Marijuana Party Leader Marc Boris St Maurice calls a “slam dunk.” In other words, he and his lawyers think the chances are excellent that they will win.
Never before have so many excellent choices faced the electorate. Strong voices are needed in every political party, now more than ever. Canada is on the verge of becoming either more enlightened or sinking deeper into drug war misery. Your vote will make the difference. On Monday, June 28, get out and vote cannabis!