The British Columbia Marijuana Party (http://www.bcmarijuanaparty.ca) is making a strong bid for electoral respectability in the upcoming British Columbia provincial elections. According to Vancouver cannabis entrepreneur and party leader Marc Emery, who is putting some of his own funds into the effort, the party can achieve that by coming in ahead of one of the province's two major parties in a few districts.
With the province's New Democratic (NDP) and Liberal parties held in low esteem by British Columbia voters and the populist-conservative Canadian Alliance yet to even field a slate of candidates, the Marijuana Party may well do just that. Prime Minister Ujjal Dosanjh of the NDP, which is expected to lose power to the opposition Liberals, has not yet set the final date for elections to choose the members of the provincial legislature, but it is expected to be May 14th. Elections must be held by June 28th.
"We think we can poll 5% to 8% of the vote across the province," Emery told DRCNet, "and we'd like to come in second in some districts. Watch how we do in Skeena district and Sunshine Coast-Powell River," he hinted.
Garnering numbers like that would be a step up for the party, which received just under 2% of the BC vote in federal elections last fall. But Marijuana Party candidate Dan Loehndorf, also known as the Reverend Damuzi, who is running in the Nelson-Creston district in the interior, says the party is better organized as a result of the previous campaign.
"We're going great," Loehndorf told DRCNet. "We're much more prepared than last time. In the federal campaign, by the time people found out, it was late, but now we're already getting significant attention, and we have tons of people who want to help."
Brian Taylor, the former mayor of Grand Forks, BC, and currently the owner of the Cannabis Research Institute, is running in the West Boundary district just above the US border in eastern Washington and the Idaho panhandle. He, too, is confident.
"We're aiming for second place here," he told DRCNet. "I'm fairly well-known and my NDP opponent is suffering from a medical condition that limits his campaigning. The Liberal candidate is the former mayor of Trail, so it's going to be a battle of the mayors," he said.
"We're getting a surprising amount of support from working class people, and we're getting our program out," Taylor continued. "We also have strong support from seniors. They look at marijuana as another form of natural medicine. Heck, I guess at 54, I'm a senior myself, and I'm not going to put all those pharmaceuticals in my body if I can just smoke a joint. And the yuppies are wanting it too -- pot not Prozac, you know."
For this election, the provincial party has already fielded candidates for 65 of the province's 79 districts in the forthcoming elections for the BC Legislature. "I'm sure we'll get them all," vowed Emery, "even if we have to parachute someone in in some of those remote northern districts."
There are other signs of increased vitality in the BC Marijuana Party. It bought full-page attack ads costing $15,000 (US dollars) in the province's two most influential print media, the Vancouver Sun and the alternative weekly The Province, in late March. "The Liberals will form BC's next government through the virtue of being the only mainstream party left in BC which has never screwed up, and that's only because they have never been in power," said the ads.
"Marijuana legalization is a symbol of prosperity for British Columbians. Marijuana is one of BC's strongest economic engines," read the text. "Marijuana prohibition is a symbol of the undue influence the US has over Canadian laws and policies. This election don't recycle career politicians from failed regimes. Vote for better laws, better police, more democracy, and better solutions."
Those ads also announced a candidates' school, which took place in downtown Vancouver on March 24th. Fifty-five would-be legislators attended.
The party is fielding a diverse crop of candidates, from a 58 year-old suburban grandmother to figures such as Loehndorf/ Damuzi, widely recognized for their cannabis culture antics.
"I'm a pretty open pot smoker," the Reverend told DRCNet. "During the last campaign, I didn't smoke publicly, but I did inform people that I may be smoking pot before some of the candidates' meetings, to demonstrate that after smoking I could do as well or better than the other candidates. And I did."
Still, said Reverend Damuzi, it's not all about smoking pot. "I don't hide it," he said, "but I don't focus on it too much either. I talk about its medicinal use, I talk about marijuana as a symbol of freedom and liberty."
Mavis Becker is the grandmother from Langer, a Fraser River Valley suburb of Vancouver. She is a BC Marijuana Party candidate for her local district. "I started out firmly believing pot was not a bad thing," she told DRCNet. "It never hurt me. When somebody jumped up and said they believed the same thing, that it was time to end this tyranny, I realized I wasn't alone. "I believe in this and am willing to fight for it," said the ebullient Becker, who has enlisted her 80-something parents as two of her most effective campaigners. "So does Dad. He's 87 and he's already out campaigning, handing out Marijuana Party literature. He's one of the best campaign buddies you can have."
But for Becker, like the party itself, the campaign is about more than marijuana. "I have young grandchildren. I don't want to see our health care and education systems go broke because they're paying police officers to bust 50-year-olds smoking a joint."
The BC Marijuana Party platform is centered on the decriminalization of marijuana, naturally, but it also encompasses a variety of planks ranging from the libertarian (school vouchers, no prosecution of people who refuse to register their firearms, legalized prostitution) to the green (decentralized ownership of BC forests, replacement of wood pulp by hemp) to the nationalist (no US drug war advisors, no nuclear weapons).
"These were issues that came forward from our candidates," explained Taylor. "While some planks may not have an apparent connection to marijuana, they all relate to our values of choice, options and tolerance. Take vouchers, for instance. School vouchers are an issue because people want control, they don't want their kids subjected to DARE programs. So, yes, there is a general discontent with the school system, but it also ties into marijuana persecution."
But party candidates also understand that in BC, marijuana is a big industry. "It's a big cash crop," said Becker, "and that's another reason it's an important issue."
US drug authorities estimate the value of the BC crop in the billions and are increasingly focusing on marijuana trafficking across the Canadian border.
For the Reverend Damuzi, campaigning in an area famed for its marijuana production, the industry is an acknowledged component of his constituency. "BC is a major marijuana producing area and you have to look at the real economy," he told DRCNet. "It isn't just growers, it's processors, pickers, dealers, not to mention all the people who profit indirectly."
"Money filters down from marijuana into other businesses, so we feel the pressure when the Mounties put the squeeze on the business," explained Taylor. "We had an operation here last year that took down about a hundred growers. The result was an economic downturn. They took out growers who had been growing for 20 years, supporting their families with their crops. You have to understand that your typical backwoods grower is really just a small farmer; he might make $10,000 in a year."
In a revealing indication of how different the politics of marijuana is in British Columbia, Damuzi mentioned that he had to "overcome the fear of change" among some elements of the electorate. Elderly schoolmarms, perhaps? Redneck ranchers? Not that, explained Damuzi. "Some growers fear that they won't make as much money."
But not to worry, he quickly added. "We have a vision for an expanded and more profitable marijuana economy for all of BC under a decriminalization paradigm. We see no reason why there should be fewer jobs or less work in the industry," he explained. "We'll see massive tourism."
"We want to integrate the BC marijuana industry into society in a beneficial way," said Damuzi.
With a strong enough showing in the elections, the British Columbia Marijuana Party could begin to integrate itself into provincial politics as a member of the opposition coalition opposing the presumed Liberal Party victors.