Where are the true leaders?

Since 1969, when hash-smoking Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau assured the nation that decriminalization was imminent, we’ve had a succession of promises without action from Canadian political leaders. After Trudeau reneged on his pledge and ignored the recommendations of his appointed LeDain Commission (which recommended legalization), Prime Minister Joe Clark in 1979 failed to do the same after he committed to decriminalization.

Then Prime Minister Jean Chretien promised to decriminalize pot possession to a $100 fine in 2003, but failed to act on that. Prime Minister Paul Martin admitted to eating pot brownies his wife made, and Prime Minister Kim Campbell (Canada’s briefest PM, 1992-1993) admitted smoking pot in her youth.

The late New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton famously repeated his line that he never exhaled, and while he never became Prime Minister, he came aboard as NDP leader in 2003 with tremendous promise after being an off-and-on pot smoker for the previous 35 years. Yet since then, over 500,000 Canadians have been convicted on marijuana charges in those more than eight years, with tens of thousands going to jail for those offenses.

Since Trudeau promised decriminalization in 1969, two-and-a-half million Canadians have been convicted of a pot offense. Despite this shocking and egregious injustice, no elected official, including Jack Layton, ever embraced the issue in such a way as to give it the gravitas required to get it on the national agenda. Jack preferred to leave it to NDP stalwarts like Member of Parliament Libby Davies, even though in the months prior to his becoming leader of the NDP, a nine-member Senate Special Committee unanimously recommended marijuana be legalized. (In the foreboding current Stephen Harper Conservative majority government, those days are quaint nostalgia now.)

It’s shocking Jack died so young – and so fast – and was robbed of life in his moment of triumph. He began 2003 with great promise for our movement, assuring me in an interview he solicited on Pot TV [seen here]that he would do his utmost to end marijuana prohibition.

But in the 2004 campaign and each election afterward, he virtually renounced his 2003 video and statement to me and Canadians. While Jack was leader, Dana Larsen and his eNDProhibition campaign were banned from NDP conventions, and Dana and Kirk Tousaw were pushed out as NDP candidates in the 2008 federal election. Jack tried to distance himself from me and my organization even though we had brought him so much support over the years – support that he came and sought from us.

Yes, Layton was a nice guy and got along well with people. But what revolutionary and liberating policies did he offer in his eight years at the helm of the NDP? Other than his initial promise to advocate legalization of cannabis, none that I can think of. What great defense of individual freedom and civil liberties did he put forward in Parliament? None that I can think of. How often did he renounce Canada’s military participation in Afghanistan and Libya? Not very often, if ever. Even Libby Davies was sidelined for her insightful remarks on the mistreatment of Palestinians. He got the NDP 102 seats, and he finished off the Bloc Quebecois – two stunning political achievements perhaps, but nothing of any longevity and value that improved the lives of Canadians. His criticism of Harper was muted and flaccid when we most needed strong opposition to the prison and war expansion in Canada.

The NDP has many great people in the Parliament, but no one knows much about them because none were cultivated to be prominent. A great leader grooms qualified acolytes among his caucus to shine and rise when his or her time is up. This is an attribute of great leadership. Yet there is no one in the caucus known to most Canadians, even after eight years. As leader of the NDP, Mr. Layton failed to groom the talented in his party for leadership. And now there is indeed a vacuum in Canadian politics.

When it comes to the elected headmen of Canada and the US – most, if not all, have smoked marijuana, including Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Trudeau, Campbell, Martin, and many opposition leaders, Senators, MPs, Congressmen – I have never been able to reconcile why, once elected to a position they have sought for much of their lives, they fail to act on this great civil rights violation of our time.

In 40 years, 17 million Americans and Canadians have been convicted of a cannabis offense, and millions of these citizens have gone to jail.

Yet after 50 years of this persecution, we are still no better off with our leaders than cheap laugh-inducing theatrics designed to dodge putting forth a serious answer to the question, “How can you justify the destructive policy of prohibition when the majority of Canadians and Americans want to legalize marijuana?”

Indeed, where is democracy? Where is justice?

Where are the real leaders?

Jack Layton, nice fellow though he may have been, was a consummate politician. If a state funeral was offered up to him – an opposition leader of no particular greatness beyond his kindness and positive attitude – then now it must be extended to former Prime Ministers Joe Clark, John Turner, Kim Campbell, Paul Martin, and Brian Mulroney when they pass, not to mention former Liberal opposition leaders such as Michael Ignatieff and Stephane Dion. Yet none are worthy. Politicians get fawned over and live a largely royal life with perks and privileges galore. Their actual achievements in advancing the western ideals of freedom, tolerance, peace, economic prosperity and prudent, transparent, fair governance are few.

These are not the people who should be honored with state funerals. There are so many more deserving individuals who have dedicated themselves to actually improving the lives of many others in direct, real ways. For example, I hope David Suzuki receives a state funeral when he passes; after all, his own country, Canada, threw him unjustifiably into an internment camp in the 1940’s for being born with Japanese ancestry, yet he rose out of such an ordeal to impact on the lives of every Canadian. He has taught us over the decades about the inter-relationship between Canadians and their environmental habitat, and the profound vigilance required to maintain the quality of life for both people and the planet. His lifetime influence is everywhere in Canada today, in our consideration of how we treat our forests, rivers, oceans, the air we breathe, animals, humans, our diet, our health. This is a great man who actually and profoundly changed all our lives for the better.

Stephen Harper’s cynical (faux-gracious) offer to hold a state funeral for Layton is to reinforce Harper’s deeply-held view that the political class is the barometer of our deepest held value system. It is government that determines the national agenda, the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. It is the political class that Canadians must submit to, Harper believes, and it is the political class that he wants “good guy” Layton to be part of. “I wish I would have had time to jam with Jack,” said Harper in his eulogy, offering forth the bilious image of Harper playing his lounge-act rock and roll to show how human he is, when you and I know Harper is anything but.

I believe the reason people are so torn up about Jack Layton is because nature is essentially unjust – if nature were just, the good would live happy and long lives in good health until they were 100 years old, and the evil would be consumed by their insidious demons and die young and quickly as a reward for their bad choices and as protection to the good people.

But that isn’t what happens. Good people get murdered, raped, stricken with cancer, suffer horribly, lose loved ones to tragedy, and more unfortunate suffering and ordeals, while evil people can prosper – often in politics, high finance, and other similarly vaunted strata in society. Humans try to ameliorate this natural injustice by instituting law, government, and its social engineering extensions, but this largely fails, usually creating more war, suffering, famine, financial chaos, misery, inequity.

What the candlelight vigil was really saying was “people dying suddenly, who don’t deserve to die so soon, frightens me,” and “That could be me, or someone I know”, and it scares them. They can see in Jack Layton the paradox of here today, gone tomorrow, literally. And that other famous line, “There but for fortune go I.”

The lesson is that life is short, and we have to make the most of our time. There are many individuals who inspire others and achieve greatness – not for their gain alone, but for the betterment of many lives. Politicians are too often seen as the great decision makers and the only ones who can save us, but they don’t really accomplish anything as individuals while working within a party in government when compared to people who have dedicated themselves to improve the world in a more direct way, outside of politics.

Our country needs, but hasn’t had, a great leader. When have we had a champion of civil liberties, of a reduced military, of a peacekeeping nation, of prosperity and freedom for all, of fairness, of justice? When did we have a leader who inspired great idealism and nobleness in citizens of every class? We have never had that. We have certainly had bad leaders who led Canada in the wrong direction; we have that in Prime Minister Stephen Harper now! But we’ve never had a good or great leader. We’ve always had calculating politicians for leaders, but never a statesman or peace-loving visionary.

And that’s the tragedy.

– Marc Emery
Yazoo City Medium-security prison
Yazoo City, Mississippi, USA

Marc Emery
Marc Emery

Marc Emery is a Canadian cannabis activist, entrepreneur, and politician. Known to his fans as the Prince of Pot, Emery has been a notable advocate of international cannabis policy reform for decades. Marc is the founding publisher of Cannabis Culture and Pot TV.



  1. Anonymous on

    I sincerely hope that he gets into office. We need to end the fed! It is the single most important thing that we can do right now.

  2. Marie Matt on

    Its really unfortunate to hear about the same over n over again. After knowing the medical uses of marijuana, the government still does not provide any concrete action regarding marijuana legalization and marijuana laws.


  3. Anonymous on

    Whatever you do Jodie, don’t let Marc relive his Caribbean memories as they were him in a bum bum threesome for a bored bi sexual London married couple. The Caribbean is where Libertarian superstar Marc Emery experienced getting it up the ass by the husband.. Thats what Marc wrote here in his own forums – and he gloated about getting it up the ass, his own words..and what makes you think he will ever be allowed entry into any country in the world except Canada?
    Forget about travelling for the rest of your life- Your husband is forever on INTERPOL lists as a confessed drug lord..he;s the Prince of Pot and by default you are the Princess of Pot. So it’s a lifetime of being strip searched everytime you step off a plane

  4. Anonymous on

    stoners are the stupidist people on earth

  5. Anonymous on

    its too bad you are also an asshole

  6. Norm Smith on

    My opinion: I will be happy when Marc is out of the Gulag, and able to communicate with the public face to face like a free man. This is good writing, and it points people in the right direction.

    Marc was preoccupied (like any normal person) with protecting himself from unjust extradition his last 5-6 years in Canada. Unfortunately, the BC Marijuana Party (BCMP) went into a tailspin, and virtually stopped fielding candidates in elections. It came down to Marc saying “vote NDP” or “vote Green” because Marc was not flooding the ridings with BCMP candidates anymore. Marc was too busy fighting the American Beast. Hobbling the BCMP was a huge part of the DEA’s agenda, and unfortunately it worked. It was sad seeing an intelligent party leader telling people to vote for someone else’s party. Obviously Marc now sees that he was used by Jack Layton.

    When Marc gets out it will be nice to see the BC Marijuana Party, and the Marijuana Party of Canada restored to their glory days, with candidates in every riding, getting “justice and equal rights for the peaceful cannabis community” back on every newspaper’s front page.

    We had teachers, healthcare workers, Mayors, City Councillors, professionals, etc running as candidates all over BC. It was during this period that the polls changed forever, and a majority of Canadians first started supporting full legalization for adults.

    You just can’t have an effective political party without a slate of candidates representing your party in each local riding.

  7. Anonymous on

    Was really hoping there would be an article on this.
    I have been asking this question for a while.
    May Jack rest in peace.

  8. guitarod on

    Great article Marc.
    Politicians are legends in their own minds. Although many politicians have smoked pot during their lives, i don’t remember any of them turning into heroin addicts, as the lawmakers would try to make us believe.
    I wonder if Jack Layton was using medicinal marijuana while battling cancer. If so it was kept hush hush.
    I thought democracy was about equal rights for everyone in the country. This does apply to everyone except pot smokers. We apparently have no right to freedom of expression or personal choice.
    Those who advocate it are still persecuted, which is totally undemocratic in my view.

  9. Anonymous on

    The Prince is fighting for his in prison from an incurable spider bite
    he is not a dick no matter what most people think
    he will walk out of prison in a few years and then he will take over as leader of the NDP and then eventually fullfill his distiny as ruler of canada, and if the USA has not gone broke in the meanstime , become presideint of the United states too.Ron paul can be the vise principle under Marks regeeme of drug peace and TOLLERANCE
    Nelson mandella went from commie terrorist to king of South Africa after his purification by prison and then banished his many enemies and dumped his dipshit wife Winnie the witch mandella who had fucked everything up in his absence, so can Mark Emery the prince of Pot become the leader of us all and do the same plus fire and imprison every cop in the world so we can get back to nature, the tree of life and someday force vegetarianism on everybody who resists progress

  10. Anonymous on

    I for one have to say this, Jack Layton introduced me to politics when i was very very young and continued to teach and inspire me until he died. he was an amazing person, i understand he didnt inspire you but please dont denounce a positive experience that inspired many many youth to vote simply because you dont understand it. you make very strong assumptions in this letter, and it kinda sounds like youve taken every person whos sad because of this and go awe its ok you dont really feel how you did because of personal experiences with him and influences from him, your just scared of death. im sorry but if you think that you SERIOUSLY have not taken the time to listen to people. i realise Canada is in a bad state but i personally have in my life been hugely impacted by jack layton for speaking to my generation when we were very young and teaching us about politics, not the specifics of this party or another but what politics are, how to vote, why its important to care etc.. i could go on and on and on about how jack layton continued to influence me personally over the years but i dont feel like it would be necessary here as i dont need to justify my feeling to anyone. but i will justify others, and i know if i was touched by so many huge things jack layton did than others are too.

    main message? dude just died, he impacted a huge population of Canada weather they voted for him or not, your note there reads as someone who is so pissed off by politics (as i am) but that youve let that anger get in the way of whats important. allowing everyone to feel how they feel, thats the whole point in Canada and politics and what were fighting for, to feel how we feel, without continual negative spin, to believe what we want to believe and to do what we need to do. if this is the Canada we all want, then why on earth would anyone denounce the feelings and thoughts of Canadians? And unless your willing to go to every single Canadian that is sad about this and ask them specifically what their experience was, don’t assume what it was.
    Im sorry you were not influenced and effected in the same way so many of us were by Jack Layton, but just because you weren’t and don’t know what we experienced doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and doesn’t make it any less important. Allow us to grieve and please don’t denounce our feelings, we get that enough already.

    just to be clear, i have no problem with the comments you made about his politics, i just didnt like: ‘I believe the reason people are so torn up about Jack Layton is because nature is essentially unjust’ and ‘What the candlelight vigil was really saying was “people dying suddenly, who don’t deserve to die so soon, frightens me,” and “That could be me, or someone I know”, and it scares them. They can see in Jack Layton the paradox of here today, gone tomorrow, literally. And that other famous line, “There but for fortune go I.”

    I am sad because of the personal influence jack layton had on me and my youth and experiences. i am sad because i felt like someone bothered to care when i was young and he died and i will no longer get to receive any future inspiration from him, but i know that everything hes said in the past i will carry with me and it wil be ok. but it still makes me sad.

  11. More than just one issue on

    I’ll give Marc the benefit of the doubt that since he is unjustly in an American prison he can’t possibly witness what has been going on in Canada. Otherwise I can’t see why he would write such a damaging article to himself, the anti-prohibition movement and it’s followers.

    The truth is people are genuinely upset about the loss of Layton. The loss is several fold. One is people genuinely liked him, but that is clearly not all. Layton was a true leader, he inspired people who had previously been cynical, particularly young people. Even though he never won and had a chance to govern, he was the choice for prime minister a large and growing number of Canadians. He was our Prime Minister. I’ve been involved in the NDP a long time and the young age of the people who showed up at the vigil was striking.

    I think this article is damaging in three ways.

    1. Marc comes off as a huge dick (sorry but its true), speaking ill of a popular and effective ally in the fight against prohibition. Jack always favored decriminalization even though he had to back off of “legalization” due to party policy. It’s almost as if he wants NDP activists and sympathizers to be mad at him and I can’t see how this furthers the cause.

    2. It fails to connect decriminalization with the broader issue of social justice. Jack and the NDP are about the whole package and the package includes seeing criminal justice as a way to prevent people from harming each other, not enforcing a “moral” code. Criminalizing people is marginalizing people, which is why decriminalization is a better way to look at the issue. Personally legalization would be nice, but decriminalization is what matters because it doesn’t “other” people. Jack in the whole way he conducted himself worked to include and empower people. That is what love is about.

    3. The thing I take most issue with though is that it encourages cynicism. Jack’s ability to break through to people, particularly young people, and bring them from cynicism to hope and empowerment. I can understand Marc is in a bad place right now, figuratively and literally, but encouraging others to be cynical is bad for all of us. Cynicism only plays into Conservative politics because it discourages people from being active and voting. If we want to change things we do have to have hope and optimism.

    I also take issue with the comment about not developing talent. In the history of the NDP I’ve never seen a leader better at attracting talent in the party. Whether its Jack Harris, Robert Chisolm, Megan Leslie, Thomas Mulcair, Charlie Angus, Françoise Boivin, Romeo Saganash, Lewis Cardinal… the list goes on. There is unmistakable talent.

    Love Hope and Optimism Brother.

  12. Jodie on

    Marc said he got that magazine and loves it, he dreams of going to the Caribbean with me at some point after he gets home – that would be so wonderful… Unimaginable really, since we never got to take time off together anywhere far from home! So thank you for giving him some material to fantasize. 🙂

  13. avraam on

    Hope you like Caribbean Travel and Culture magazine, should be there is a couple of weeks.

    Politicians, once elected, seem consumed by the desire to stay in office and thusly lose the gumption to do what is right.

    They are too afraid lto legalize it.

  14. Anonymous on

    Very true.Where are the true leaders ?Of all the politicians, Jack Layton was probably the one with whom the marijuana cause had more chance to advance.But in Canada everything pertaining to marijuana politics is laughable. There are very few political defensers of marijuana only.There are politicians who would like also to include LSD or cocaine or ecstasy on the decrim issue or would like to see other drugs decrim. Not a chance. This is only about marijuana and with stephen harper even the natural herb marijuana is endangered.
    The bourgeois canadians dreams of gettin cannabinoids from big pharma in pill form and thats all there is to canadians: a bunch of pill poppers unable to enjoy the smoke of a natural herb and realize how useful and good it is a s a medicine.Pityful!!

  15. Anonymous on

    for once some interesting interaction here……did jack layton deserve a state funeral…well opinions vary,,,here’s mine…….harper would have looked somewhat petty for not allowing layton his due…hence the state funeral…but did all the pomp and ceremony for the deceased leader actually cause the ”burial” of his party………..ie…there will never be another”jack” etc…creating a vacuum the next ndp leader will never be able to fill….

  16. Arachne646 on

    I’m afraid the prominent politicians you mentioned either have the attitude that marijuana is something that the “gentleman” or intelligentsia can take or leave alone, but the rest of us would be slacking off on the job and losing track of the instructions for our vacuums, that it must never become legal. Mostly, though, when anyone really ascends to power, the “system” becomes clear, and without victimless, rarely/discretionarily prosecuted crimes, or crimes of race/class/place; one of your best tools is gone.

    Any time you start holding state funerals for human beings, you’ll have a problem with your heroes. David Suzuki accomplished a lot for Canada and the living world, but the narcissism that enabled him to achieve left the typical victims in its wake, like the first forgotten 2 kids I went to school with near UBC that he divorced while he was “that Hippie scientist” there. Just a footnote in his autobiography–but that’s not an unusual part of life.

  17. Anonymous on

    S T A T E * F U N E R A L S * F O R * A L L !!

  18. Bud Grinder on

    Yet one more reminder that politicians, all of them, are venal, self-serving scum. Most of them would sell their own grandmothers into slavery if it would enhance their standing within their party. As for a politician’s standing with the public?… who cares about the public? The public isn’t running the show… the politicians are.

    And who are these politicians? For the most part they’re lawyers.

    Anyone who expects lawyers to look out for the public’s welfare is sadly deluded. Lawyers look out for lawyer’s welfare first and a government of lawyers looks out for the welfare of the governing lawyers, not the governed.

    That’s just how it is, has been and will continue to be until there is a revolution.

  19. cormacobear on

    We Know your a libertarian who believes if government disappears all our problems will magically solve themselves, markets will solve poverty etc. etc..

    I like many came to marijuana advocacy not through love of cultivation or love of pot but through human rights activism. Men Like Stephen Lewis, Layton, Broadbent, and Tommy Douglas are who inspire people to get involved. I mourn Jack for doing all the things you said he didn’t do well enough and save my disdain for those who do nothing or actively make things worse. Marijuana activists have been given a place in the NDP, true it’s not full control of the party but it is a space there is also a space for the radical youth wing, labour, environmentalists, academics and they don’t all get along. So you can criticize the dead and regret you’re not the parties favorite son but there is no other party so willing to write and pass the laws we think just except the NDP. So I’ll not spit on the floor of the only home to give marijuana activism shelter in the storm.

  20. Anonymous on

    Well, what do you mean where is the democracy…. This is the result of a democracy at its finest. I believe if we all looked up the actual definition of all the words we use, we would see the real problem for what it is. The lack of knowledge …without getting spiritual , it really is it, I would just like to add… Lack of knowledge about the true nature of the law , we pay for. Untill we do our own defense in every single case there will be no justice just temporary relief at the hands of the ones holding the knowledge. Reading their laws and or codes the truth is revealed , that we have all consented…marc emery for example in his case could of simply represented himself, not giving consent by not signing the pro per form and just objecting for lack of Real Party of/in interest and the case would of been dismissed by the rules of procedure…look it up, marijuana cases like marc’s do not have a Real Party of interest to sign the verification on the original charging instrument. a real party does not exist…the law says if you do not object then you AGREE…Marc gave jurisdiction to the court by hiring the attorney, then he had no choice but to play, because he made his choice by accepting the attorney , he made a statement to the court…look this up in the American Law Encyclopedias… In Personam Jurisdiction.

    Marc could be at home if not for the attorney he hired, the attoreneys are the safety net that will prevent anyone from standing in court as a true living man. This is the cold truth “We” have been irresponsible, bottom line, no one to blame but ourselves, for expecting those that benefit from the status quo to eliminate the exact corruption that puts the fat checks in the accounts of the attorneys, worldwide. A Chilling fact but it is true…the truth we do not want to face… When we do we will really see justice.

  21. Michael Dunne on


    Death is a myth, you can not die. The politicians only have the power you give them. Nothing can really hurt you in this dualistic creation. You are an amazing wonderful son of truth, keep it up, you are the best Canadian I have ever heard of!