CANNABIS CULTURE – Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have secured their coveted majority government in a stunning election-day sweep. Dark days are undoubtedly ahead for Canada’s cannabis culture, but the fight is not over.
As the smoke cleared on the evening of May 2, it was all too evident that our worst fears had been realized: Harper and his marijuana-hating Conservative Party had won more than enough seats – 167 of the 308 in Parliament – to form a strong majority. Add that up with a stacked Senate, a quickly-changing judicial landscape, and a cowardly, ineffectual media and you have – in essence – a Conservative dictatorship.
Harper, an Evangelical Christian who harbors religion-inspired hostilities toward marijuana, has promised to pass all of his party’s dangerous law-and-order bills together within the first hundred days of his majority rule. This includes legislation that would enact mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent marijuana offences, like growing just a few plants in your own home or sharing baked cannabis treats. The enforcement of new laws is sure to lead to a massive and expensive expansion of the prison system, with Conservative-friendly corporations there to build, maintain, and make big profits – with no regard for the pain and suffering of non-violent Canadians.
“Did we just lose one of the most important battles in our movement’s history? Yes we did,” activist Jacob Hunter told Cannabis Culture. “It’s that simple. Harper can now pass any law he wants and he’s going to throw many of us in jail.”
Hunter is policy director of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation and founder of the website WhyProhibition.ca, and had been hustling non-stop for the duration of the election to encourage members of the marijuana community to get out and vote.
“The result of this election was preventable, but it was inaction that caused it,” Hunter said. “Our community was nowhere near as mobilized as it should have been. Why did activist lists like the CCC do virtually nothing? Where were the websites? Forums? Magazines? Compassion clubs? Medical marijuana groups? Businesses? Why did our culture fail to mobilize beyond a few groups, most of whom are in Vancouver, the place least affected by Harper’s idiocy? These issues we must address if we are to mount successful campaigns in the future.”
Though there was considerable hype before the election speculating young people might come out to vote in stronger numbers, it looks like that didn’t happen. Elections Canada reports only 61.4% of eligible voters made it to the polls. That’s up from last year’s 58.8% but still a paltry number when compared to other elections in Canadian history.
Though a Conservative majority will likely be devastating to the marijuana community and all freedom and democracy-loving Canadians, the results of the 2011 election weren’t all bad. Jack Layton and his New Democratic Party surfed a crushing orange wave into second place with 102 seats, nearly drowning the Liberal and Bloc Québécois parties in its wake.
The NDP, the most left-wing of all the Canadian mainstream political parties, has long been an ally of the marijuana community. A recent example: Deputy Leader Libby Davies, Jack Layton’s second in command, spoke at Vancouver’s 4/20 celebration this year, calling for an end to prohibition and the return home of imprisoned Prince of Pot Marc Emery.
Emery was targeted for his marijuana legalization efforts and extradited to the United States by the Harper government to serve a 5-year sentence. In 2003, before he was arrested, Emery had NDP Leader Layton over to his house to film a video for Pot TV. In the video, Jack advocates the legalization of marijuana and likens pot prohibition to alcohol prohibition of the 20s.
In an interview with CC done over electronic prisoner mail, Emery commented on the seriousness of the Conservative election win.
“The fear and dread the cannabis culture feels about Stephen Harper’s majority is legitimate,” he said. “It will be a harsh four years of mandatory minimum jail sentences, new and extreme prohibitions, an attack on Canada’s federal medical marijuana program, and enhanced police powers. It will be a fearful time and the Conservatives will seek to put the cannabis culture on the run. There is no doubt we are in for the harshest time in Canada’s history as far as the cannabis culture goes.”
Emery also discussed the NDP’s historic win, and the election of the first Green Party Candidate to Canada’s House of Commons.
“The NDP will be more radical, more urban, and more vocal, and that helps us,” Emery said. “The Quebec MPs that have flooded into Parliament are largely young intellectuals and many, no doubt, are members of the cannabis culture. Libby Davies remains our greatest ally in Parliament. Elizabeth May, as the first ever Green Party MP, is a tremendous achievement and will be helpful to our culture in Parliament as well. The opposition of the NDP and Green Party is excellent regarding our issues, and there is hope the NDP will form government in 2015.”
“Everyone who hasn’t already needs to join the NDP right away and start getting very active,” Hunter said. “They should join their local riding associations and get active in both provincial and federal politics. The only hope we have is that in four years – if we haven’t been totally destroyed by Harper – that we are strong enough to mount a meaningful campaign against him. Because what we did now wasn’t enough and it wasn’t enough by a lot.”
Kirk Tousaw, a former Federal NDP candidate, attorney, and pot activist, told CC that a Conservative majority means “trouble ahead”, but that he was confident the movement will keep striving under harsher conditions.
“The cannabis culture has been oppressed from Day One and that has not changed,” he said. “We were oppressed before this election and we will certainly continue to be but we have flourished despite that. We continue to enjoy widespread popular support for our political positions with cannabis legalization still more popular across the country than any of the political parties. Stephen Harper obtained 40% of the popular vote, yet cannabis legalization enjoys 50% plus support and medical cannabis more than 90% support. We may be looking at harsher penalties being imposed on members of our community but we will fight that injustice every step of the way. Our movement is going to be stronger because we have to be.”
Tousaw also stressed the vital importance of becoming part of the political process.
“If we go quietly into the night you can guarantee that the politicians go quiet too,” he said. “The only way to actually implement change is to keep the pressure up. You have to remind the people that aren’t in majority control currently that they will have our support if they continue to say and do the right things about the policies that are important to us. Otherwise, our votes will go elsewhere.”
“The only defence for our culture is offence, so participate,” Emery said. “Vote in the Ontario provincial election this fall, in the BC provincial election this fall, in the civic elections this November. Support the canna-businesses that are politically active. Stay educated. Tell others, fight back. But if worse comes to worse, go to jail as a freedom fighter, not a victim of prohibition. Use the prison experience to strengthen your resolve, because many, many thousands of the cannabis culture are going to jail in the next four years.”