Last Thursday, veteran Canadian marijuana reform activists announced they had formed a national Marijuana Party. The Vancouver press conference took place in an empty building formerly housing the Cannabis Cafe, shut down by authorities in May 1998 in an effort to quash open marijuana consumption. Party organizers revealed plans to run at least 15 candidates in British Columbia and more 50 nation-wide during the next federal elections.
The new party's platform is simple -- to legalize marijuana in Canada.
Citing poll numbers, arrest statistics and usage estimates, party leaders Marc Emery and Mark St.-Maurice told assembled reporters that marijuana law reform is past due. "There are 7.5 million Canadians who have admitted to having tried marijuana," said St.-Maurice. This is not isolated in some narrow band of society of alternative what-nots. The interest in political action is very high, and the time is right."
St.-Maurice, 31, of Montreal, is the founder and interim leader of the Marijuana Party. The new national party builds on the work of St.-Maurice and others, who won 10,000 votes for the "Bloc Pot" in the 1998 Quebec provincial elections. They hope to garner ten to twenty times that number of votes in the next elections, which must be held by next spring, but could come as early as September.
Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture, director of Pot TV and owner of Canada's largest marijuana seed company, will head the campaign in British Columbia, the nation's most important marijuana-producing region. Along with emphasizing civil rights abuses and the hypocrisy of the major parties, Emery also pointed to the economic impact of marijuana production for the province.
Emery estimates that "B.C. Bud," as the high-potency local product is known, is one of the province's largest cash crops, worth up to $5 billion Canadian to the British Columbia economy.
"If the police campaign [to eradicate marijuana] were successful," Emery asked at the press conference, "how could the province possibly cope with a $4 to $5 billion drop in revenue? That would be the most catastrophic economic event to ever happen to this province."
Emery told DRCNet that in British Columbia the party will field candidates primarily in urban districts and on Vancouver Island, a pot growers' bastion. Emery said the party will make extensive use of the Internet as a campaign tool.
With some two-thirds of Canadians supporting decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to a recent poll in the respected National Post newspaper, the Marijuana Party is optimistic about its prospects, but also realistic about what it can achieve.
"We don't expect to win any ridings (districts)," Emery, who will manage the campaign in British Columbia, told DRCNet. "Our objective is to shame the other candidates and the parties who have publicly committed to decriminalization, but done nothing," he explained. "We will make marijuana a central issue and we'll be unrelenting until they legalize."
St.-Maurice agreed, telling DRCNet, "The Canadian electoral system is not geared for small parties to get win seats. We'd like to see a system of proportional representation; with that system we would absolutely win seats."
"What we're trying to gain is some real leverage and we'll do it the old fashioned way, with votes, not dollars," he added. "By getting voter support and quantifying the number of Canadians who support marijuana legalization, we can gain leverage and generate the political will to change the laws."
St.-Maurice, who is barred from the U.S. because of previous marijuana convictions and who faces trafficking charges arising from his role in the Montreal compassionate use movement, will himself run, although he has not yet decided on a district. And, he says, he would very much like to see Canada "send a wakeup call to our neighbors down south."