Legalize Canada: New Activist Group Targets Key Ridings To Elect Pro-Marijuana Candidates

The recent success of the marijuana legalization movement in the United States is due in many ways to the ballot initiative process, a system where individual states can force any issue before the voting public as long as citizens are able to collect enough signatures in support.

Since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 with Prop 215, a steady stream of states have concurrently chipped away at the monolith of U.S. cannabis prohibition, leading to medical marijuana reforms in 20 states and Washington D.C, as well as the legalization of recreational use in Washington and Colorado.

Most Canadian provinces do not have a citizen-initiated referendum system. The few exceptions that do – like British Columbia – make a win nearly unobtainable with ridiculously high signature collection requirements in an impossibly short time period.

In Canada, a majority dominance of the House of Commons and Senate, like the one now held by the Conservatives, gives the governing party leader a virtual dictatorship.

The only way to enact real legislative change is to elect candidates who will actually vote to make those changes in the House of Commons. Until now there have been few Canadian politicians actually willing to offer support for anything other than decriminalization.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and many in his party are still clinging to this half-assed position. But now Mulcair and his crew are in serious danger of looking stale and antiquated.

The political winds have changed direction, and are blowing-in the sweet aroma of cannabis law reform. The big legalization wins in Washington and Colorado were officially given a pass by President Obama, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and the majority of his party have come out in support of full legalization.

Even the Conservatives are now floating the idea of toning-down the countries pot laws with fines instead of jail-time for possession offences.

Call it political opportunism, jumping on the bandwagon, or finally just doing what’s right (and desired by the majority of Canadians), but it’s evident many Canadian lawmakers now feel more comfortable getting behind the ganja.

So how does the Canadian marijuana legalization community identify and offer support to these candidates?

Enter Legalize Canada – a new activist group that plans to target key ridings and support pro-legalization candidates in the upcoming federal election.

Cannabis Culture recorded the following conversation with Legalize Canada organizer Quito Maggi, about how his group plans to foster the future of pot politics in Canada.

I’ve seen some of the recent press reports on Legalize Canada, but wanted to ask you about the genesis of the group. Can you tell me a little about yourself and how the group got started?

Well, I’m Quito. I’m a campaign manager by trade, and I have for my entire adult life specialized in campaign technology, voter contact, micro targeting, data integration, etc., so that’s the side I’m handling for legalize Canada.

A couple years ago I was approached by a group of cannabis activist friends of mine – going back to high school days – knowing this is what I did, and they asked me to consider how I would approach this from a national campaign perspective, and to lay out a plan and help them execute it.

So I gave it a lot of thought and laid out a plan and started the planning process. We met at a bit of a retreat back in the summer of 2013 at a resort north of Kingston. A whole bunch of people and organizations from across Canada attended that retreat and gave their input and said let’s proceed and launch this.

Then in October we went down to the drug policy conference in Denver and met with a lot of American counterparts – organizers and activists – who had successfully passed ballot initiatives in various states. We learned a lot from them. Obviously the system in Canada is very different. It’s not like we can add a referendum question to a national election, but there are ways.

It’s been reported that you have had some success in your fundraising so far. How much have you raised and how much do you want to raise?

Our ideal budget goal is about $7 million. That would be the budget for the campaign over a two-year period. We’ve raised almost 20% of that already. We’ve been in talks recently with additional funders and we continue to raise money through just individual donations through our website.

We’re hoping it will be self-sustaining very soon in terms of our ability to fundraise from the general public, but we’re always looking for more donors.

How does that money actually translate into support for candidates in the ridings you’ve decided to target?

There’s some redistribution happening in the next federal election, so instead of 308 seats we’re going to have 338 in the House of Commons. So we did some polling along new boundaries and figured out that there are about 100 – 110 ridings where the differential between support for legalization … the differential in those seats is greater than what the difference in the number of votes was in the last election, which means we could elect a pro-legalization candidate in those ridings. There is, of course, a significant number of candidates in existing ridings who are already supportive of legalization.

What we do is voter contact; identifying who the supporters are. So we know as a bulk number right now that there’s enough support in certain ridings to be able to do this, we just don’t know who those people are. So this is about identifying those voters and then getting them out to vote – just like we would for party election campaigns where we want people to come out and vote or support a particular issue.

You want to identify those individuals, so that will involve canvassing, that will involve people signing petitions, that will involve local websites and phone calling. Even though 99% of the campaign is going to be staffed with volunteers, training volunteers cost money, phone lines cost money, and materials that we’ll be distributing cost money. So that’s where the budget will go.

You are a Liberal campaign insider, but I noticed press reports referring to your group as pan-partisan. Can you explain how you will select which candidates to support?

The reason why the guys from the National Post called it pan-partisan is because we have partisan Liberals, partisan NDPers, partisan Conservatives, partisan Greens, and a whole bunch of people that we can’t really say are partisan in one way or another, so that’s why we called it pan-partisan instead of bipartisan.

This isn’t about electing Liberal candidates, it’s about electing candidates who support legalization and we are going to do that riding by riding, not based on a party’s position. If a candidate supports legalization clearly and vocally, they’ll get the endorsement of the campaign. What if there’s a riding with two candidates who are both supportive of legalization? The simple answer is, whoever’s leading the polls is who we’ll try to support. I don’t mean in the national polls, I mean whoever’s leading in a particular riding – that’s who we will support.

Raising 20% of your total fundraising goal straight out-of-the-gate is pretty impressive. Do you have large donors? Bob Erb perhaps?

I’ve had some conversations with Bob, but he’s not on our funders list yet. But I hope he will be very soon.

We have a few larger funders but I would say less than less than 5% comes from large funders and the rest is small individual funders.

The Conservatives have recently been publicly suggesting fines as an alternative to jail time for marijuana possession. What is Legalize Canada’s position on this idea?

It’s a move in the right direction, but this is Conservatives trying to get ahead of this issue and it’s not nearly enough for what the majority of Canadians believe is the right thing.

Right now the police have essentially refused to arrest people for possession in many areas. Is it possible that this is just a way to actually punish more people by incentivizing increased police action?

I think the problem with decriminalization and the problem with the current governments’ solution is that it doesn’t address the public safety issue. Street gangs and organized crime derives a huge percentage of its revenue from trafficking drugs, and a huge percentage of that is from marijuana. That poses a public safety risk. Anything short of full legalization and regulation doesn’t go far enough to protect the public good.

What can people do to help Legalize Canada accomplish its mission?

We need a lot of help. There are 338 ridings out there. We need volunteers and helpers in every single riding. I would encourage people to contact us and get involved. 

We’re just starting to build momentum now. We’re doing a launch event in Toronto in a couple weeks and will be announcing that date and location very soon. We are working with a whole bunch of groups and will be working with others, including Sensible BC. Lots of groups and individuals are coming on board. Everybody realizes it’s a big group effort to do this, but that the ultimate goal is worthwhile.

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